Spoiler alert! This story contains details from Sunday’s episode of “The Last of Us.”
Nick Offerman fits the role of Bill as snugly as the gas mask the survivalist dons in HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
Bill, a character from the PlayStation3 video game, is safe from the Cordyceps spores that turn infected victims into ruthless zombies. But his comfortable existence within his personal fenced fortress is challenged by trespassing traveler Frank (“White Lotus” star Murray Bartlett).
Sunday’s episode of the hit series, just renewed for a second season, explores Bill and Frank’s lasting love story that is only alluded to in the game.
It’s a profound detour that takes center stage amid the gripping narrative of Joel (Pedro Pascal) protecting brain infection-immune Ellie (Bella Ramsey).
“It’s almost a beautiful, standalone film,” Offerman, 52, tells USA TODAY of the decade-spanning survivalist love story. “It’s like, ‘Let’s just take a second and focus on what actually makes life worth living.’ The episode answers questions: ‘Why should we give a (expletive)? Why even try to save ourselves?’ ”
Offerman spoke to USA TODAY about soulfully singing Linda Ronstadt in the episode titled “Long, Long Time” and smiling through zombie kills.
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Question: It’s a special story here, what were your thoughts reading show creator Craig Mazin’s script?
Answer: The moment this crazy unicorn landed in my inbox, both (Offerman’s actress wife Megan Mullally) and I knew: I have to drop everything and go to Calgary to make this. It’s the greatest script I’ve ever been handed.
Bill enjoys solo gourmet meals with fine wine from the deserted wine shop. And he relishes watching zombies get smoked in his traps. Is he happy?
Sure, he’s happy, like Scrooge was happy. Scrooge counts his gold coins, Bill watches his traps work. It’s misanthropic. He’s smiling, but it’s driven by pain because he’s lonely. Frank reveals the hole in his heart.
We go from Bill pointing a gun at Frank to a relationship years later as the two argue over beautifying their deserted fenced-in town. Exactly where does the love start?
We have a meal, share some time at the piano and some time in the bedroom and then it slams out the door with us screaming at each other in the street. That’s when I think, “Oh man, these guys are in love.” We learn in our adult lives, love is not a Disney-fied fairytale full of birds singing. It’s about taking care of one another, selflessness, and committing to be together through the screaming matches.
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How was it singing Linda Ronstadt’s hit “Long, Long Time” (written by Gary White) at the piano?
I have not been hired to sing in a Broadway musical. But I happen to be married to someone who’s done many Broadway musicals. She was my coach and teacher. For the rehearsal hours put into it, I was using, for better or worse, the skills Mother Nature gave me. For obvious reasons, we weren’t going for the Michael Bublé side of my toolbox.
Your many life skills are on display in Bill’s next-level survival life. Was there one you really wanted to show?
I grew up in a family where I learned to work in the kitchen and to fabricate all kinds of things around our farm (outside Joliet, Illinois). Whenever I get to do that, I immediately think of my mom and dad, and their parents. Even in a post-apocalyptic world, the people that taught Bill to weld and cook a meal are standing over us. That’s how I attach my reality to roles. It’s like, “This is a beautiful piece of writing. Now, I’m going to put up this fence the way my dad would be proud of.”
Do you see why the internet dubbed Bill the post-apocalyptic Ron Swanson (from “Parks and Recreation”)?
It’s very good fortune that many people are aware of me because of “Parks and Recreation.” There’s a kaleidoscope lens that flips over when I’m cast in a project, like how does this relate to Ron Swanson? To me, that’s a pretty disposable thought. But, yes, they both can use a shovel.
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Murray Bartlett came off award wins for “White Lotus” to make this. How was it teaming up?
I came in thinking, “Holy cow, I get to work with one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen.” Turned out he’s also a sweetheart and generous. From the get-go, we shook hands, looked each other in the eye and said, “Let’s trust each other and do our best here.” It was a blast and scary. And all the signals are telling me we didn’t screw it up too badly.
Bill and Frank survive a raider attack and somehow live to old age. What bottle of fine wine does Bill choose for their last meal?
A Châteauneuf-du-Ppape was mentioned, but it ended up being this great Napa Valley wine that I knew well. But it was shot a long time ago, and I can’t be sure which.
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