Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gabriel Luna on bringing his Texas roots to his role in new HBO series ‘The Last of Us’

a man holding a riffle
Shane Harvey
/
HBO
Gabriel Luna as Tommy in HBO's "The Last of Us."

Gabriel Luna is no stranger to Hollywood’s action scene.

He’s been a superhero, a terminator and a CIA agent – and now, the born-and-raised Austin actor is taking on a post-apocalyptic role based on the award-winning video game “The Last of Us,” which critics are hailing as a rare successful live-action adaptation of a video game.

The new HBO series premieres this Sunday, Jan. 15, and starts out, like the game, in Austin. It stars Pedro Pascal as Joel, Luna as Joel’s young brother Tommy, and Bella Ramsey of “Game of Thrones” fame as Ellie.

For Luna, it was almost “pre-ordained” getting the role of Tommy, as both he and the character are born-and-raised Texas boys. In fact, it was those Austin ties that Luna says was the “icing on the cake” in making the casting decision for showrunner Craig Mazin and game creator Neil Druckmann.

gabriel-luna-is-tommy.jpg
Courtesy of HBO

“I was familiar with the game,” Luna said. “It was one of the first stories in any medium that I recall being based in Austin. And I remember, in my first experience, how amazing that was and that we were being recognized in that way. And of course, today there are quite a few more stories being told in Austin – I think a lot of stuff happens there now. But back then it wasn’t the case.”

Like the plot of the game, the TV series will follow Joel as he is tasked with escorting teenager Ellie across a post-apocalyptic U.S. rife with infected, zombie-like humans. Since its release in 2013, the game franchise has been hailed by gamers and critics alike – making the task of adaptation something that Luna saw as intimidating.

“I can say that the game itself was one of the most beautiful stories that I’ve been able to absorb across video games, across film, across television,” Luna said. “It just truly was, at its core, a beautiful story and one that was really hard to digest as you’re going through it, experiencing it as a player. It’s the intensity. It’s raw with emotion. It’s a truly, truly compelling story.”

Luna credited not just Mazin’s and Druckmann’s devotion to the story as a reason for the success of this new adaptation, but also the playful atmosphere fostered on set, evidenced in his co-star Ramsey playing guitar between takes. Luna says he felt a connection to that, as he also brings a guitar to work – one gifted to him by Texas director Robert Rodriguez.

“So, you know, we have we had a whole team of people who were all gamers, let’s say – whether it’s video games or not,” Luna said.

When it comes to working as a Latino in Hollywood, Luna says he reflects on the privileges he’s had to take on roles as part of legacy franchises – from the Terminator to Marvel – and the space it opens for others to see themselves represented on the big screen.

“A lot of these are cinematic worlds that were built decades ago and that we’re still very much in love with and that I was able to experience as an audience member and as a fan and then be airdropped right into the middle of it,” Luna said. “And it’s always wonderful to hear people tell me that they they’re proud that there is someone who represents them on screen. That is extremely important to me.

And in addition to that, I think it’s important that both those young people that look like me and then the goal has always been for the young people that don’t to also be able to see something in me and in the characters that I portray. I think that’s the ultimate goal in general, is that we receive the story and we hitch our wagon to the soul of these people and not just anything that’s face-value and skin-deep.”

It’s a sentiment he carries with him into his portrayal of Tommy – a character Luna says he sensed a “shared spirit” for after meeting with Jeffrey Pierce, who provided the performance-capture and voice acting for the role in the game. Aside from being from Austin, which Luna says he still visits yearly, Tommy represents a sense of “good ol’ boy” normalcy.

“He and his brother are normal in every sense of the word,” Luna said, “and it’s only when life tests them and the world becomes what it becomes, and it becomes as dangerous as it becomes, that they have to rise to the moment and become something greater.”

It’s a role Luna says he is excited for audiences to see when “The Last of Us” premieres on Sunday.

“I couldn’t have been more proud when I was watching it up there on the screen a couple nights ago,” Luna said. “You know, there’s always that sliver of doubt, you know? ‘Did we do it? Did we do it right?’ And I can say with my whole heart that it’s right. And I look forward to everyone seeing it.”

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on texasstandard.org and KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: kcabrera@kut.org
Related Content