Merle Dandridge, an actress with a long career in television and theater, will reprise her role as Marlene on HBO’s The last of us adaptation, according to Variety and Deadline. Dandridge’s cast is particularly noteworthy as video game actors rarely have the opportunity to play their live-action characters outside of the motion capture scene.
Marlene is an integral part of how the main characters Joel and Ellie come together and set off on their zombie road trip in the first place. It’s unclear what part of the game’s story will carry over to the TV adaptation, but Dandridge’s situation is unique. Both Troy Baker’s Joel and Ashley Johnson’s Ellie have been recast for executive producer and screenwriter Craig Mazin on the critically acclaimed video game. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were announced to fill the two roles, respectively, in February.
Just look at the recent history of adapting video games for film and television and you can see the trend. Whenever a game is presented on the big screen, a Hollywood actor appears to be placed in the lead role. It happened with the casting of Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia, Tom Holland in I unexplored, and Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider. But conversely, the only recent example I could find was Jen Taylor joining the cast of ViacomCBS ‘ Halo series. Taylor has played Cortana since 2001 in games, but Natascha McElhone was originally cast as the character on the show. Due to the production disruption pandemic, McElhone had to resign and Taylor was brought back to play the character she helped create.
Besides his talent, Dandridge’s success in securing the role could be attributed to the increasingly common use of motion capture in games. If there is an actor who has physically played a video game character in cut scenes and voiced it in all other storylines, he might as well be considered for a live-action shoot on hardware – he clearly did the job. For now, Dandridge and Taylor are outliers, but with more video game adaptations underway, this could be the start of a positive trend for actors who might normally be overlooked.