Protecting ‘The Last of Us’ with Star Gabriel Luna

When you’re Gabriel Luna, and you’ve already been a Terminator and a Spirit of Vengeance, what’s the next logical phase in your life? How about surviving a hostile post-apocalyptic wasteland of zombies, cannibals, and marauders! Luna plays Tommy Miller in the new HBO adaptation of the Naught Dog masterpiece video game The Last of Us. And we were fortunate enough to speak with him about the series and his role as Tommy.

Now if you’re anything like me, and you’re a huge fan of The Last of Us franchise, you’ve been waiting on pins and needles for this adaptation of Neil Druckman’s epic story. Well Outbreak Day is finally approaching, as this Sunday, January 15, the highly anticipated series makes its debut on HBO. As previously stated, Luna is taking up the reins of Tommy, the younger brother of one of the series’ protagonists, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal). And wouldn’t you know it? We were given the great fortune of being able to sit down with him to discuss what it was like to bring Tommy and these epic video game’s story to life. Here’s what he had to say:

First off, if I can just use the first few seconds of this interview to gush about you as a fan — Robbie Reyes is amazing. I loved your Ghost Rider. I loved your Terminator. And now getting to see you play Tommy in the adaptation of my favorite video game ever? You are just knocking out all of my favorite things here, and doing them justice!

LUNA: Thank you, Mike! That’s very kind. I appreciate you!

I have to ask — I’ve been a fan of this game and been waiting for it to come to life such a long time. And having seen what I’ve seen so far, this is the best game adaptation put to screen. Were you a fan of the games as well? Did you have experience playing through it?

I was a huge fan. I was someone who experienced it when it first came out. But I didn’t own it. My buddy’s PlayStation was the proxy. And I got to experience the first bit of the game when it was released. And then when I was told that Neil and Craig were thinking of me to play Tommy, I thought it would behoove me to get on that. So I bought the Remastered edition on the PS4 and started playing that. So I logged about a week’s time spent during a few sessions with the game — I think I was leaving Boston. I can’t exactly remember when — but I thought, ‘at least I’m familiar with it now, so when I talk to Neil and Craig I’ll have a frame of reference.’ But I went in wanting to study Tommy as a character, but all that quickly dissipated and I was completely enthralled by what I was dealing with: the level of storytelling and the innovative gameplay. And the ability to pick and choose what one sees. I thought all of that was phenomenal. So I spent two-and-a-half months playing the game. Trying to learn about Tommy. But really it just became fun. Work and fun!

I love it! That’s the best type of work. The one you’re enjoying! It admittedly took me two years to play the game. I kept getting stuck and frustrated, but I loved every minute of it. But by my standards two months is impressive! I love that you played it to get a feel about Tommy but just got lost in it. How do you take a character like Tommy from the games and just make it your own? What did you do for that?

Well in terms of my preparation for Tommy, it was multi-pronged. A multi-pronged approach. The central thrust of that was relying of the authenticity of my own experience being born and raised in Austin, TX. Knowing Tommy, knowing people like him, knowing that I’m one of those people. Basing a lot of it off my relationship with my brother Timothy, in terms of the Tommy/Joel dynamic. Basing a lot of Tommy on my cousin Adrien, who passed away shortly after I completed Terminator. But he was just a fun guy. One of the coolest guys man. And he gave me a lot of inspiration. The game was important because I got to learn the relationships, learn where the story was going, learn the arc. Get a sense of Jeffrey [Pierce]’s performance and voice. Take note of a lot of physical relationships, the spatial relationships in certain scenes; where Tommy stands, and how he holds his body. Just to take note of that, then from there spring off into everything I want to do. Truly relying once again on how closely I identified with this character. And that’s a blessing when you get to play guys who are just another side of you.

I also have a lot of combat training, driving, weapons training, that I’ve acquired over the years from all the roles I’ve done: The Matador, Ghost Rider to Terminator. But I did call Jack Nevils, who trains army snipers. He was our military consultant on Terminator. And he and I had lengthy conversations about technique and what it is to be an army sniper. What it is to care for your weapon, protect your weapon. What it is to know how to fight on the run and on the move… put all that together and that’s my Tommy Miller.

And you can see it for sure when you’re watching your performance. You see it, and you think ‘That’s Tommy from the games, but that’s also Gabriel’ in terms of knowing the roles you’ve brought to life so far! It’s great to hear all this and thank you for putting yourself in Tommy as well as bringing him to life. So really super important question: What scares you the most? Runners? Bloaters? Or Clickers?

I think Runners, mainly. Bloaters are manageable. They’re slow and trotting. Clickers I can get to, because I’m soft-footed in my approach. And I’m all about shivs, man. I’ve built many shivs. And I’m never at a loss for shivs in my pack. So I like to handle these monsters up close…when I’m being merciful in ending their existence. But these Runners, man. You don’t know what to do with these Runners. They sneak up on you!

I’m a big stealth person when I play as well. So I love taking out Clickers.

You might be a bit young, but back in the day there was a game called Tenchu Stealth Assassins. That was the first stealth kind of gaming experience my brother and I had. And you’re this ninja. And you’re taking out all these daimos, and bad guys and stuff. So your Splinter Cells, your games like that, it’s always super fun! I always love that stuff!

Those are my favorite. I gotta play it myself. Because I used to love Metal Gear a lot. So I have to look it up. But all that training has led you to this! To being able to take out Clickers and everything like that! Which is awesome. For my final question I really have to ask about Bella [Ramsey] because my god. She just blew me away. I loved her so much as Ellie. What was it like working with her? Did you build up a rapport when you had a chance to meet and work with her?

Oh, I couldn’t love that young lady any more than I already do, man! But I’ll find a way because she’s constantly surprising you. I’d describer her as a young woman with a poet’s spirit. And everything she does in her acting, in her music, in her writing, in everything she does. We all fell in love with her as Lady Mormont of Bear Island. I could spend the whole interview just gushing over my admiration of her and her ability. She’s diminutive in stature, but an absolute giant as an artist. And that’s what she needed to be to become Ellie. Those are the prerequisites. And she does it, man. She does it, she succeeds. And I’m very proud to be part of this show with Bella Ramsey, Pedro Pascal, Nick Offerman and the rest. This is spectacular. I saw it two nights ago. I was hoping we got it right. I had confidence we did. But you never know until you see it. And after I did, I just couldn’t be more ecstatic about what’s to come for the audience.

As a huge, huge fan of this franchise, you guys just nailed it. And don’t sell yourself short, because they’re lucky to be with you too, because you nailed the role of Tommy. So thank you for bringing him to life, and thank you for bringing this show to life as well!

See Luna in action as Tommy Miller in The Last of Us when it debuts on HBO this Sunday, January 15, 2023!