True Detective star could've played Joel in The Last of Us

True Detective star could've played Joel in The Last of Us
Images via HBO

Written by 

Tom Chapman


7th Feb 2024 15:56

While Troy Baker put his stamp on the gruff Joel Miller in Naughty Dog's The Last of Us from 2013 and its 2020 sequel, the character made an impressive leap into live-action with Pedro Pascal. Casting Joel and Ellie for HBO's series was always going to be difficult, but most agree that Pascal and Bella Ramsey are nailing it. 

With the future of The Last of Us up in the air and Neil Druckmann finally suggesting he's ready for a mythical Part 3, it's time to look back and think about what could've been. As it turns out, Pascal nearly missed playing Joel in the award-winning adaptation. 

Pedro Pascal nearly didn't play Joel in The Last of Us

Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie in HBO's The Last of Us
Click to enlarge
Image via HBO

It's no secret that The Last of Us' transition from game to live-action was a tough one, with it originally being planned as a live-action movie. A The Last of Us movie started doing the rounds as early as 2014, with Sam Raimi tipped to produce and Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams auditioning. Obviously, that never happened. 

As HBO reworked the years of development hell into a live-action series, casting went on through the pandemic before Pascal and Ramsey were officially announced as Joel and Ellie in February 2021. According to Showrunner Craig Mazin, Pascal nearly didn't get the part.

Speaking to the Happy Sad Confused podcast, Mazin explained how Pascal's busy schedule with The Mandalorian and other commitments meant he thought he'd be unavailable. One name linked to the role long before Pascal was True Detective's Matthew McConaughey, and it seems Mazin listened to those fan castings.

"I did talk to Matthew," admitted Mazin, although he added, "I can't say that it was serious, it was more of just like, 'Hey, here's something we can talk about.'" Mazin was full of praise for Pascal, saying how it was "just love at first sight, and he was just so immediately insightful."

What happened to Matthew McConaughey in The Last of Us?

Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in True Detective Season 1
Click to enlarge
Image via HBO

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Pascal was clearly the right guy for the part, and reflecting on it now, Mazin says, "It's one of those things where I'm sure there's an alternate universe where it's a different guy. Look, Matthew McConaughey is an amazing actor, I'm sure it would've been great, but it would've been different and I like the one that we made."

There's no doubt that McConaughey's signature vocals and stoic stare would've made for an intense Joel, and having the Oscar-winning actor on board would've added another layer. Still, let's not take away from Pascal's award-winning performance.

Ironically, McConaughey wasn't the only potential on the docket, with fellow True Detective alumni Mahershala Ali also rumoured to be in the running. After numerous sites pegged Ali for Joel, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that while he was linked to a part (no mention of Joel), nothing came of it. 

The rest, as they say, is history. There were calls for Game of Thrones' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to play Joel way back when, but seeing the relationship that Pascal and Rasmey have, we've got to admit he's the perfect daddy Joel. 

Tom Chapman
About the author
Tom Chapman
Tom is Trending News Editor at GGRecon, with an NCTJ qualification in Broadcast Journalism and over seven years of experience writing about film, gaming, and television. With bylines at IGN, Digital Spy, Den of Geek, and more, Tom’s love of horror means he's well-versed in all things Resident Evil, with aspirations to be the next Chris Redfield.
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