As you’ll find out in just two weeks’ time, Naughty Dog’s keenly-anticipated new survival adventure The Last of Us does a phenomenal job of making you really care about its two protagonists, Joel and Ellie.
Partly through Neil Druckmann’s nuanced writing, partly through the tactile, reactive gameplay, and partly through the pitch-perfect performances of the voice cast, The Last of Us packs an almighty emotional wallop to go with its blockbuster action set-pieces. It’s bar-setting stuff from the Uncharted studio, and these are characters that will resonate with you long after the game’s epic conclusion.
To find out a little more about how Naughty Dog pulled it off, we sat down for a quick chat with Ashley Johnson, the young actress bringing world-weary teen, Ellie, to life.
How did you first get involved with the project?
Ashley Johnson: My voice-over agent sent me the audition and asked if I’d be interested in doing a video game. She warned me that it was motion capture and that whole thing. I said yes, so I went out for the audition and met with Neil, Bruce and Evan. I did a few auditions and got the part. After that I put on the mo-cap suit and we did auditions for Joel, until we finally settled on Troy (Baker).
How did you get on with mo-cap? Was it your first time?
Ashley Johnson: Yes, it was my first. It’s been really fun. It was definitely difficult at first to get over the fact that you’re wearing this really strange suit but once you get into the scene and get into the character… Neil would show us all the environments and we’d get to see pictures of the world we were in – that made it pretty easy.
Does the suit make it more difficult to really inhabit the character?
Ashley Johnson: It definitely was very different for me because I’m not used to it. Sometimes when you’re playing a character, how you’re dressed or what shoes you have on, that changes the way you walk and how you act. So when you have that funny suit on – just a skin-tight jumpsuit – and your hands are covered, and you have a sock on your head, it can be a little challenging at first! But a couple of hours in you get used to it. I actually think it helps in a lot of ways. You have to expand your imagination a little bit more, which I think is really good.
Have you played the final game yet?
Ashley Johnson: I’ve played parts of it. I haven’t been given a finished copy yet. But I’ve played parts when I’ve visited Naughty Dog. I’ve been tempted to play more… but I want to wait. I want to experience it as a whole. I don’t like spoilers and I don’t like watching trailers – I like to play something from start to finish.
Has what you’ve seen of Ellie in the game surprised you at all?
Ashley Johnson: It’s very weird. I think if you were voicing a character and then you see that person walking around with your body movements you’d think it was weird too. Weird and exciting. Mostly I’m just so excited that it’s done and I can’t wait for people to play it, knowing where the story goes. It’s going to be good!