Merle Dandridge, an actor who’s had a long career in television and theater, will be reprising her role of Marlene in HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation, according to Variety and Deadline. Dandridge’s casting is particularly notable because actors in video games are rarely presented with the opportunity to play their characters in live action outside of the motion capture stage.
Marlene is integral to how lead characters Joel and Ellie join together and head off on their zombie road trip in the first place. It’s unknown how much of the game’s story will carry over to the television adaptation, but Dandridge’s situation is unique. Both Troy Baker’s Joel and Ashley Johnson’s Ellie were recast for executive producer and writer Craig Mazin’s take on the critically acclaimed video game. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were announced to be filling both roles, respectively, in February.
Just look at the recent history of adapting video games for film and TV and you can see the trend. Any time a game is brought to the big screen, a Hollywood actor seems to be slotted into the lead role. It happened with casting Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia, Tom Holland in Uncharted, and Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider. But for the reverse, the only recent example I could find was Jen Taylor joining the cast of ViacomCBS’ Halo series. Taylor’s played Cortana since 2001 in the games, but Natascha McElhone was originally cast as the character in the show. Due to the pandemic interrupting production, McElhone had to step down, and Taylor was brought back in to play the character she helped create.
Besides her talent, Dandridge’s success in securing the part could be credited to the increasingly common use of motion capture in games. If there’s an actor who’s physically played a video game character in cut scenes and voiced them in every other scenario, they might as well be considered for a live-action take on the material — they’ve clearly done the work. For now Dandridge and Taylor are outliers, but with more video game adaptions on the way, it could be the start of a positive trend for actors who might normally be overlooked.