The Last Of Us ascends to new heights in its landmark third episode, where the romance between paranoid survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) and lost, charming survivor Frank (Murray Bartlett) takes centrestage.
Directed by Peter Hoar (It’s A Sin, Daredevil) and written by show co-creator Craig Mazin, Long Long Time is a heartfelt, decade-spanning exploration of a relationship set to the backdrop of post-apocalyptic America. It’s moving, honest, heartbreaking and surprisingly sweet, even when raiders come banging on the fence.
Bartlett, Peter Hoar and cinematographer Eben Bolter discussed making the episode during a screening in London last week, where they shared some of the behind-the-scenes work and surprise nods that went into putting Bill and Frank’s lives on screen.
Murray Bartlett’s involvement was driven by Craig Mazin
Murray Bartlett: “I knew nothing about the game so I had to dig in and investigate. I was a huge fan of Chernobyl which Craig Mazin created – that was one of the first things that really got my attention. It was such beautiful television.
“I saw the scenes he’d written, I didn’t have the full script yet. They were just so tender and unexpected in this world. They were tender and unexpected in anything. It is such a beautiful script, we were all completely flawed by it. I think the entire crew was treating this episode with such reverence because everybody loved it so much. We came to set the first day and I feel like everyone was on the verge of tears – we hadn’t even shot anything yet!”
Yep, that window shot is a reference to the game’s menu screen
Eben Bolter: “There were a lot of conversations about that shot. For one, the road, the car disappearing into the distance – that’s all VFX, none of that was there. So we had a lot of pre-conceiving and we had to fight for that shot if I’m honest.
“The main thing was that we really wanted Joel and Ellie driving off into the next episode, into the sunset. But we wanted to have that final reminder that this was Bill and Frank’s story. It just felt like a lovely way to do both things at the same time.”
Frank’s shirt is a reference to a shirt Joel wears later in the game
Peter Hoar: “There were lots of game things in the episode. I don’t want to spoil them for you but there’s loads. We both did geek out a little bit like, ‘Oh, we’re doing that bit! That’s that shirt!’ [Frank] wears the shirt that Joel eventually wears, which is his hero shirt from the game, so we just threaded that through.”
Bill’s town was built in Canada after a flood
EB: “We were in Calgary, Canada and, without the whole story, they built a town. There was a flood and all the houses washed away, and all there was left was trees and tarmac. There were no foundations, nothing. So it was a perfect backlot for us to build Bill’s town. Every house there was built by the production designer and the art team.
“None of the roofs were built. All the roofs were VFX. That was a thing. So all of the exterior was almost like a western town we built in the middle of nowhere, and all of the interiors were on a soundstage. We sort of found our moments to try and link the two of those things together.”
Murray Bartlett helped guide Nick Offerman on and off screen
EB: “In the piano scene in particular, there was a sort of meta thing happening where in the story [Murray] is leading and guiding him a little bit – he’s doing something new for him. And I felt that in the real world as well. I felt there was a fragility to Nick Offerman as an actor and he was doing something new. He’s not, I don’t believe, a method actor – he’d crack jokes between takes, he’s Nick Offerman – but I seem to remember seeing his hand shaking between takes on that piano scene. I remember sort of [thinking], he’s so in it and that’s the character and that’s him. And I think [Murray] was guiding him as a character and as an actor.”
MB: “I think there’s some truth in that. I’ve done a fair amount of scenes that were in the ballpark of some of the scenes that we have. I don’t think [they were] quite as beautiful as these scenes were written, but I think you’re right in that. I had a familiarity with the type of material that he, I think, was craving to dive into. And I think we both were aware of that dynamic as actors and leant into that because it really made sense for the characters.”
Craig Mazin is the reason Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Long Long Time’ is in the episode
EB: “Not only was it in the script, Craig had a voice memo of the cadence of how he wanted Nick to sing it beat by beat.”
PH: “We did some training, if that’s the right word. Some singing training. [Murray] was very good, but he had to be bad. And Nick was worried about not being good enough. That [singing] is real by the way, that’s live. It wasn’t about perfection, it was about heart, it was all about digging into that.”
Peter Hoar originally wanted to use a piece of music from the episode in It’s A Sin
PH: “There’s a piece of music in there by Max Richter which stayed there. A lot of the time you put temp music in and then it’s like, ‘too expensive!’ But this is HBO. What was really great about it was I tried to put it in It’s A Sin and then they took it away from me. I’ve never felt as much listening to a piece of music as I do listening to that every time.”