‘Last of Us’ Ep. 5: Actors Sam and Henry talk about filming scenes
For Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard, playing Henry and Sam meant capitalizing on their fast friendship and one of the show’s most impressive sets.
(Editor’s note: Included in the following review spoilers for “The Last of Us” episode 5, “Endure and Survive”.)
“The Last of Us” isn’t particularly easy to watch. It’s not that easy to make a show. Oddly enough, one of the things that made the HBO show so successful is how the two ideas came together to create something that feels like a hit. The physical and emotional strain that Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and the rest of the cast go through has a definite weight that makes the series as a whole impossible to ignore.
One of the best examples so far of how this show thrived in near-impossible circumstances is the case of brothers Sam and Henry, brought to the screen by actors Keivonn Woodard and Lamar Johnson. They arrive with the faint hope that with their help and determination, he will not only be able to get them out of post-revolutionary Kansas City, but also Joel and Ellie. But as anyone familiar with the “Last of Us” story knows, their journey ends tragically, all too soon.
When Johnson had a chance to watch the episode this time, his response was one of pride rather than fear or sadness.
“Am I going back to him? Yes, this is a great episode. You get everything. You get the emotion, but you also get the action and the character building,” Johnson told IndieWire. “Those big scenes that I was really nervous about at the end, I’m happy that everything came together.”
Another reason to watch it again is how well Sam and Henry bond. The two actors who brought them to life in this series said that becoming on-screen siblings was a quick bonding experience.
“The first day, the first day we met, we were running around the production offices playing tag. We connect a lot through video games and stuff like that. So it really wasn’t hard. Such an enthusiastic child, energetic and very talented. It was very easy to build that relationship with him,” Johnson said.
“The two of us, I feel, got along really well. We joined. we would talk. I feel like we’ve always had that connection,” Woodard said through an interpreter.
As difficult as the episode was, Woodard had plenty of opportunities to play. As Henry and Joel have deep conversations about what families owe to each other and the importance of protecting another person, Sam and Ellie take their precious chances to be silly and be kids. Woodard and Ramsey were essentially designed for the same thing.
“We worked all day and all night, I joked and talked with people. I really enjoyed my experience and I think there was a good balance there,” Woodard said.
“If it wasn’t for Ellie playing soccer with him, it probably would have been Henry,” Johnson said. He still wants Sam to have some kind of innocence. I think Henry has a lot of weight on his shoulders, letting Sam do everything he can to be a kid in such a difficult world. Any chance he could, I’m pretty sure Henry would be able to give that to Sam.”
Before the fatal final scene, a memorable part of episode 5 takes place in a (mostly) deserted neighborhood. When the rebel scout team accidentally penetrates the city’s sealed underground defenses, they unleash a horde of infected swarming Kathleen, sending the three younger members running for their lives and being bitten by Sam. This single location became the site of a grueling evening shoot. But for Johnson, it was a fully realized world they could walk into.
“It was literally a huge parking lot with the whole cul-de-sac built on top of it. I think there were 14 houses. It was just crazy,” Johnson said. “They put up trees and grass and it looked like a neighborhood. I was most impressed when I first walked into the cul-de-sac and saw how much work was being done. Even the cars are old, moldy and the windows are cracked. They didn’t spare the details either.”
It’s that immersion that kept Johnson in front of the pyrotechnics, even when he wasn’t directly involved, despite the demands of filming.
“I actually have a video on my phone of the explosion. It was amazing how practical everything was. They actually blew up the car. It’s a huge, ‘OK, cool. This is it what we do’ moment. There were nights of two or three weeks. So hard hours. But it was a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
The morning after Sam and Henry escape from the neighborhood, the unthinkable happens. Sam, now infected, tries to attack Ellie. Henry shoots him to protect the rest of the group. Realizing what he has done, he turns the gun on himself. The series is another in a long list of heartaches that fans of the original game knew were coming at some point. The deaths of Henry and Sam in “The Last of Us” have a poignant retrospect for their short time on the show, a sign that (along with Frank and Bill) the characters are quickly making an indelible impression.
Still, Woodard tried his best to stay on the show a little longer.
“I remember reading the script and seeing that Sam died and I didn’t want my character to die. And I talked to the director to let him know, “I don’t want them to die.” But in the end, I had to accept it,” Woodard said.
Johnson said she was aware of Henry’s fate during the audition process, but she never wanted to let that ending diminish or get in the way of anything that came before her.
“It’s about not getting ahead of yourself. You understand the arc to inform your decisions in that moment, but it’s just about being present in whatever scene you’re in,” Johnson said. “I knew Henry and Sam were going to have this scene, but I tried not to think about it before I did it. I just wanted to be present for Keivonn and our scenes and really build the relationship before I get to the point where it all falls apart.”
“The Last of Us” airs Sunday nights at 9:00 PM on HBO and can be viewed on HBO Max.
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