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The Last of Us’s Gabriel Luna on Finding Tommy

Photo: Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage

Spoilers follow for episode six of The Last of Us, “Kin,” which premiered on HBO on February 19. 

After The Last of Us premiere episode, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” Gabriel Luna’s Tommy disappears. The Desert Storm veteran who in 2003 defended bar patrons from an infected customer and saved Joel (Pedro Pascal) from the soldier who killed Joel’s daughter, Sarah, and was active with the Boston rebel group the Fireflies in 2023, has gone (literally) radio silent in Wyoming. His absence is a narrative question mark, and in a world with no electricity, little gas, and spotty long-distance communication, Tommy will be practically impossible to find. But Joel won’t give up, and the brothers’ reunion in “Kin,” against so many odds and after months of physical separation (and years of emotional distance), feels like a miracle.

“We’re thriving and we’re building and we’re growing as a family,” Luna says of Tommy’s new life on a commune in Jackson, Wyoming, with wife Maria (Rutina Wesley) and a child on the way. In “Kin,” Tommy and Maria show Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) around Jackson, which is the most normal community the traveling pair has seen yet: The commune has electricity and designated housing, shared chores and tasks, even alcohol and movie nights. There’s action, too, in the form of Joel and Ellie leaving Jackson to find the Fireflies base, learning that the Fireflies have moved on, and being attacked by raiders who grievously wound Joel in an episode-ending cliffhanger. But the bulk of “Kin” is devoted to Joel and Tommy’s relationship, and to the complementary tenderness and fierceness Luna displays as a character who is finally given the opportunity for further definition.

You have such a look of shock when you see Joel for the first time. How did you approach that scene emotionally?
That first moment when they reunite — that embrace is pretty iconic when it comes to the games and the people who know the story. For me, it feels like there’s a sense of surprise that he came to find me, considering where we left it. You find out later, in the scene at the bar, that there’s a sense that I grew to not recognize my brother. The way he was living his life, and the darkness that he was living through, started to envelop me, and that was very much the reason why Tommy set out on his own. It’s just a surprise that he had come all this way and that he succeeded in finding me, considering there was radio silence prior to his arrival.

Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Tommy in the game, was also in the show as Perry in the Kansas City storyline. Did you two ever meet or discuss Tommy?
Jeffrey and I met at the premiere about a month ago. We had met via the internet about a year ago, and he has always been so, so positive and so welcoming. As far as the TLOU family is concerned, he’s been a champion of mine. On the internet, when some people were a little less than confident in my casting, Jeffrey has been on the front line in defense of my participation in the story. I told him as much when I saw him at the premiere and gave him a big hug. I got a little emotional when I saw him and told him “thank you” — for his phenomenal performance, from which I absorbed quite a bit, and for his stellar defense of Tommy and myself and the role.

How much were you pulling from the game for your characterization of Tommy? He has such a central role in The Last of Us Part II; I’m curious what knowledge you came in with.
I played both games, so I knew the story start to finish, knew how important Tommy certainly is in the latter half of the story. What I was trying to uncover with my research in the game was less, How do I match Jeffrey’s performance? and more, What’s Joel and Tommy’s relationship? A lot of what you learn about Tommy comes through Joel’s mouth as you’re on your journey and you’re listening to him and Ellie develop their relationship. I always find that it’s more accurate in terms of who the person is if you listen to the context and how others perceive that character. The voice and the movement, all of that was important. But I felt once I put the boots on, the character was mine to inhabit.

There’s this big gap of time between when we meet Joel and Tommy in 2003 in the premiere and then when we see Tommy again in “Kin.” What was the episode filming order? Did you and Pedro film together for the first time and then actually have that span between you reuniting?
The pilot, obviously, we shot first, in summer 2021. I was there for about three months, including quarantine time and prep time. We got to shooting episode six in the winter — we were waiting for snow. I had gotten this other gig but wasn’t able to do it because we had to shift the schedules because of the Alberta snow and how important it was for this episode. I was getting geared up to ship out to Calgary and finish the job, and then it just kept continually getting pushed by another week, another week, just trying to wait for the snow. And it was perfect. I’m glad we did that, because what director Jasmila Žbanić and director of photography Christine Maier did in this episode — it was just phenomenal. They captured the landscape in such an epic way, with all of the Western undertones.

Whatever relationship we started in that pilot between Joel and Tommy that was starting to bud, it had to be already flowered — it had to be two men who have relied on each other and have been each other’s only family for many years. It was just a matter of being open and having a constant dialogue with Pedro. I really admired him, and it was easy to love somebody like that, who works as hard as he does and is as talented as he is. That carried on to that next episode, and I hadn’t seen him in a while. It’s been a few months, and he and Bella had been on their journey. It was kind of a parallel landscape in terms of the story and our real lives and having that time apart. The Last of Us was shot over 217 shoot days, and to see him after having gone through several months of a really rough shooting schedule in a very, very demanding environment, it felt very real to come back to that and to see the toll it’s taken.

Joel and Tommy have two meaningful conversations in “Kin”: the first, in which Joel lies about Tess being alive and who Ellie is, and the second, when he comes clean. In the first scene, you’re doing the questioning. In the second scene, you’re doing the listening, you’re letting Joel unload, until he asks you to take Ellie to a Fireflies outpost through this dangerous stretch of road, with raiders and Infected along the way. How did you decide when to look at Pedro during that scene, and when to look away? There’s a lot of rawness there.
A lot of that scene plays on Tommy’s response to seeing his brother in this weakened state. To see this person who’s always been this rock in my life — to see water from a stone in that moment — it’s somewhat uprooting. It’s kind of scary for me. It’s unsettling, but then it’s also somewhat shameful, as two men who are very strong-minded, strong-willed. That’s when I turned from him, and I think part of it is just being uncomfortable.

Beyond that, we didn’t leave things in the best way. And now here he is bringing a bit more chaos into my world. I start to get the gist of what he’s asking, and he’s asking me to potentially abandon my family. There’s all the love I have for him — I would do anything for him — and I end up agreeing to do just that. But I think Tommy’s fighting a lot of emotions: How dare he? How dare he come here and do what he’s always done, which is lean on me and make me do what he wants me to do? It’s just tearing me up to see him this way. And being the two Texas boys we are, showing each other this type of emotion is not that typical for the relationship. There’s a lot of reasons why my instinct was to turn away from it, even though I’m going to give in.

Did you approach the good-bye scene with Joel as a final good-bye, or does part of Tommy really believe that Joel can come back?
Part of me wonders if I’ll ever see him again. I try to give him a hug that will last because for both him and myself, there’s no guarantees. There are all kinds of feelings in there. There’s a sense of relief, a bit of trepidation and concern for my brother. But in the end I’m proud of him, and I’m thankful to him, and I pray for his return, so I give him a hug to try to say all of that.

Your final lines to Joel are “Adios, big brother.” Was there ever a discussion of having you and Pedro speak more Spanish as Tommy and Joel?
There was once in the pilot episode where I think Craig Mazin had wanted to add a few lines in Spanish. But as somebody who’s of Latino descent, I thought that it maybe wasn’t necessary. It’s very rare that you have two Latino leads onscreen to begin with. The fact that we were there onscreen is already enough, and I tried to say as much to Craig, and he understood. A lot of times I think Hollywood acts as if it doesn’t make sense if we’re onscreen if we don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t think that necessarily should be the case. Being a Latino is not a monolith. There are a lot of different ways one can be themselves and be both Latino and Mexican American, but also Texan and American. There was a brief discussion about it, but we settled on just the fact that two Latino leads are onscreen, that is enough to justify us being there.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Last of Us’s Gabriel Luna on Finding Tommy