Mahershala Ali Almost Played The Leading Man Joel in The Last of Us, Jeffrey Pierce Confirms The 2021 Story

In a new interview, Jeffrey Pierce has confirmed our earlier story that Mahershala Ali was once in talks to star as Joel in The Last of Us.
The Last of Us Mahershala Ali The Illuminerdi

It’s safe to say at this point that The Last of Us is one of the most acclaimed television series of the past couple of years, and among the many aspects of the show that have been praised by critics and fans alike is the casting. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey play Joel and Ellie, respectively, the two leads and the very heart and soul of the show. Well, apparently that pair could have looked very different.

According to Jeffrey Pierce, who played Tommy Miller in the game and had a supporting role in episodes 4-5 of the show as Perry, Kathleen’s second-in-command, two-time Academy Award winner actor Mahershala Ali was in talks with HBO to play the lead character of Joel. This is what he said in an interview with The Direct:

“So… I think initially they had talked to Mahershala Ali about playing Joel, which is an obvious cue that I’m not gonna play Tommy… And when they cast Pedro [Pascal], I knew like, yeah, that was certainly not going to happen regardless, I’m older than Pedro Pascal. So I was not under harboring any illusions about that, for sure.”

RELATED: The Last Of Us: Mahershala Ali Offered Lead Role Of Joel In Upcoming HBO Series: Exclusive

What is extra interesting for us about this comment is that it confirms a story that we at The Illuminerdi had run back in early 2021, saying that the network had offered the role to Ali. Perhaps more interestingly, the news came out within hours of Hollywood trades confirming that Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey had been cast in the series. It’s currently unknown if an offer was indeed extended to Ali, or if he had just been in conversations with the producers, and in any case, what made them fall apart. Ali was already in business with HBO at the time, having starred in season 3 of True Detective, which had aired two years earlier.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

The Last of Us Pedro Pascal Bella Ramsey HBO
Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) in episode 5 of HBO’s The Last of Us.

Ali’s almost-casting is certainly a great piece of trivia for future conversations around The Last of Us, but it’s not the only one. In March of 2014, for instance, Sony announced they were developing a film adaptation of the 2013 video game, with Neil Druckmann on board, producing and writing, as well as Sam Raimi as a producer. They even held a panel at San Diego Comic-Con that year, where they revealed they had been in conversations with Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams to star as Ellie. After a few years of development hell, Druckmann ended up signing with HBO to develop the series adaptation we are witnessing right now.

That was also not the adaptation that Naughty Dog considered for the video game. As revealed by Pierce to The Direct, an animated series was also in the works at some point:

“[I never had any hopes to reprise the role of Tommy], not in the course of the HBO show. There have been a couple of different iterations over time. There was a movie at one point. There was a motion-capture cinematic animated series at one point. And both of those are things that I thought, ‘I got a pretty good shot at being involved to some degree.’”

RELATED: The Last of Us Premiere Draws 4.7 Million Viewers Sunday Night

The Last of Us Pedro Pascal Bella Ramsey HBO
Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ellie) in episode 5 of HBO’s The Last of Us.

The power of hindsight tells us that the best option endured and survived. A film adaptation, or even a two-film adaptation given the heavy themes and thick story at hand, would have been fascinating, as well as an animated series, but HBO delivers the best television that is out there and having a series adaptation from them still seems too good to be true.

The same goes for Ali’s casting — at this point, with two Oscars on his mantle and probably more on his way, Ali seemed like a perfect choice for Joel. But now that we have it on our TVs we can’t really unsee Pedro Pascal as Joel, both on his own and paired up with Bella Ramsey’s Ellie. Another television couple for the ages has been born.

The Last of Us will return on Sunday, March 12, for its season 1 finale, which will wrap up the story of the first game. A second season has already been greenlit by HBO, that will adapt 2020’s The Last of Us: Part II (it’s unknown if it will cover the entirety of the game, or if it will be split into two seasons).

In a recent interview with Collider, Pedro Pascal even said there is a good chance he will be shooting season 2 before the end of 2023, putting a 2025 release date on HBO as a likely candidate (as a reference, principal photography on The Last of Us season 1 began in early July 2021 and wrapped in June 2022).

What do you think about Ali almost being cast as Joel? Do you still prefer Pedro Pascal, or would you have rather Mahershala Ali in the role? How excited are you for the season finale? Let us know on our social media, and stay tuned for more on The Last of Us!


Source: The Direct