My first thought while watching Episode 3 of The Last of Us, was ‘Oh my goodness, the casting is perfect, Nick Offerman was born to play Bill.’ So, it came as a legitimate shock to me, and I’d assume many others, when we found out the actor known for his role as Ron Swanson wasn’t the co-creator Craig Mazin's first choice for one of The Last of Us’ groundbreaking queer characters. And while the actor they originally had in mind would have been amazing, the showrunner discussed why Offerman was an amazing choice, and how motivated the cast and creatives were to tell an authentic love story with Bill and Frank.
While talking about Episode 3, one of the biggest changes they made from the video game, and how they cast Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, Craig Mazin noted that the Parks and Recreation cast member was not who they originally had in mind for Bill, saying on The Last of Us Podcast:
Initially, the role of Bill was going to be played by Con O'Neill, who played Bryukhanov in Chernobyl. And he wasn't able, ultimately he couldn't do it because he was on Our Flag Means Death, which is another HBO show, which is very funny if you haven't seen it. So we couldn’t do it with Con. And that's when the idea of Nick came around.
It totally makes sense that Mazin had O’Neill in mind first, considering they had worked closely together on his last show Chernobyl. However, due to schedule conflicts because the actor was busy playing Blackbeard's righthand man Israel on Our Flag Means Death he wasn’t able to do it.
While I’m sure O’Neill would have been amazing as Bill, I think Nick Offerman was the perfect person to help bring this beautiful love story to life. However, hiring the comedic actor did come with a lot of careful consideration, because he is a straight man who would be playing a gay man. Mazin spoke about the importance of representation on the show, and how that played into casting their Bill, saying:
But for Nick, and for me, both straight men, it was important to say, ‘Look, we can do this work. We can tell these stories with these characters.’ The key is you have to do your homework, and you have to talk to people who have walked in the shoes of these characters, and most importantly, have to give them room to tell you where you gotten a right and where you've gotten it wrong, and you have to listen.
Mazin went on to explain there were many gay middle-aged men working on this production, including Murray Bartlett, who played Frank. He also explained that having all these men on set to help guide the story, was extremely helpful in helping the show tell an authentic love story.
And in this episode, we were very lucky because Murray [Bartlett] is a married middle-aged gay man, Peter Hoar, the director who did such a beautiful job as a married middle-aged gay man. Tim Good the editor is a married middle-aged man. Our production manager Cecil O'Connor is middle-aged gay man. And middle-aged, as it turns out is more important than gay in this story, because it was important to me to tell a story about what older longer committed love looks like, because that's reflective of my experience.
Clearly, the work they did with Episode 3 was done well, because it has received tons of acclaim, and many, many viewers were left balling their eyes out and completely floored by Frank and Bill’s story, which is actually different from the game.
Overall, it feels like every decision made for Episode 3, from Offerman and Murrays’ casting to changing Bill and Frank’s story culminated in a wonderful, beautiful and moving episode of television, that I think audiences will keep thinking about as the 2023 TV schedule continues.
To watch The Last of Us' third episode and Offerman and Murrays’ beautiful performances you can do so with an HBO Max subscription. You can also catch new episodes of the video game adaptation every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.