We’re only a couple of months away from the start of the new year, but The Last of Us looks set to be one of the most talked about shows of 2023. Based on the beloved video game franchise and co-created by Chernobyl Emmy-winning writer Craig Mazin, HBO’s exciting new zombie series, has garnered widespread critical acclaim and millions of viewers since its Jan. 15 premiere, leading many to call it the best video game adaptation of all time.
Jeffrey Pierce is in the perfect position to explain why The Last of Us has struck a chord with so many. The 52-year-old actor not only appeared in multiple episodes of the show as Perry, a rebel commander in the post-apocalyptic fray of Kansas City, but also provided the voice and motion capture performance of supporting character Tommy Miller. in the original game, as well as the 2020 sequel.
A renowned video game actor, the BAFTA (British Academy Film and Television Arts) winner for Best Performer in a Supporting Role actually got his start in the medium thanks to Matt Damon. According to Pierce, when High Moon Studios was developing Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Damon was offered $1 million for four hours of voice acting.
“She declined, because her mother was on the board opposing violence in video games,” Pierce says. “Luckily for me, they asked me to be Jason Bourne. They didn’t pay me $1 million. But it was a great entry into the world of video games.
House on the range
Pierce may now be a familiar face (and voice) on screens around the world, but his roots go back to the Front Range. The actor was born in Denver and raised in Loveland until kindergarten, when his family moved to Virginia.
“I have a lot of memories of playing in the snow and walking to school in the snow,” Pierce says of those early days in Colorado. “I still have a huge attachment to the state. A couple of my aunts still live in Loveland.
In the 10 years before being tapped to replace Damon, he had been an actor working in film and television, appearing in S1m0ne with Al Pacino and The Foreigner with Steven Seagal, as well as appearing in such blockbuster shows as The West Wing, NCIS , Boston Public, Charmed and Judging Amy.
“Like many people, my place in the industry has had its ups and downs. Sometimes you hit home runs. Sometimes you did your best, because you needed the next job,” Pierce says. “I’ve never been a guy who made five years in a show and saved up a chunk of the cash.”
It was the 2007 and 2008 writers’ strike that forced Pierce to look into the world of video games. “He’s been hammering the industry,” she says. “After eight months of unemployment, I told my agent to tell me about whatever was out there. He said, ‘Would you ever consider making a video game?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah!’”
“Very, Very Lucky”
Following his work on The Bourne Conspiracy, along with Prototype and two Medal of Honor games, Pierce was called in to read for Neil Druckmann, who had just written and co-directed The Last of Us for the California-based video game developer . Bad Dog. His audition was for the main character of the game, Joel Miller.
“It has been a fantastic process. Neil was just such a wonderful thoughtful presence and had great notes and ideas. It was really cool to audition,” Pierce says. “Then I ended up not getting the job, which was shocking at the time. Until I met Troy [Baker], who played Joel. Then I realized she had the perfect guy to play Joel.
Druckmann knew Pierce would be ideal for the supporting role of Tommy, Joel’s brother. He was clearly right, as this was the part that earned Pierce his BAFTA honor. “He was completely off the field,” he says. “But yeah, it really has been such a rewarding part of my career, more than anything I’ve ever done.”
Pierce wasn’t surprised when he learned that HBO and Mazin were developing an adaptation of The Last of Us. Especially since he has remained close friends with Druckmann, who is co-creator, writer and producer of the show.
“Our friendship has been one of the joys of my life. Artistically, we just have a good intuitive understanding of how each of us works,” he says. “When I heard about the fit, I sent him a message saying, ‘Tell me what I can do to support what you’re trying to do.’ I was very, very lucky that there was something for me to do.
When it comes to the huge success of the show, Pierce was never in doubt. “I knew the source material was as solid as it could be in terms of character and story and the kind of metaphor of lore and mythology within it. I knew it was as good as anything I’d ever read.
Working on The Last of Us has been so rewarding for Pierce that he’s not quite ready to go back to the normalcy of other projects just yet. “I told my agents, ‘I want to move forward. I’d rather do nothing than do something that won’t make me feel as satisfied as I felt on that set.’ Right now, rather than just finding the next job, I want to find something that makes me happy.
ON THE SCREEN: The Last of Us airs Sunday nights on HBO at 7:00 p.m. through March 12.