Nick Offerman Explains Episode 3’s Surprise Romance – The Hollywood Reporter

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As many reviews for HBO’s survival drama The Last of Us have said, the show’s third episode is a real showstopper –– quite literally, as the show’s cross-country journey of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) was largely put on hold while the drama took the best possible kind of detour: A surprising and heartbreaking look at the apocalypse from an different perspective.

The episode (“Long Long Time”) introduced bunker-mentality survivalist Bill (Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman) and affable traveler Frank (The White Lotus‘ Murray Bartlett) who become lovers that successfully fend off the horrors of the outside world across a 20-year partnership. Eventually, Frank becomes disabled and the two commit suicide. Their journey – as showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann note in The Hollywood Reporter‘s separate interview about this episode – is arguably the happiest ending that two people could realistically experience after the world has fallen apart.

Below Offerman and Bartlett discussed their roles, their character’s decisions, and the episode gut-punch ending.

Nick, let’s start with you: What was your reaction when you first heard about this part or were sent a script?

Nick Offerman: One of my fellow baseball dads was this guy who did The Hangover [Mazin]. Then he became the Chernobyl guy and we were like, “Holy shit.” So I knew Craig, I knew his work, I admired him powerfully. And my wife Megan [Mullally] and I had just seen White Lotus season one, so Murray was the champion of our household. Craig said, “Here’s the script and, and you get to do this with Murray Bartlett.” I just said [to myself[, “Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t let me be canceled before I get this episode.”

Murray, I can only imagine how much your phone must have been been blowing up with offers since White Lotus. What made this part right?

Murray Bartlett: This actually came in just before White Lotus came out. I’m not a gamer, so I wasn’t familiar with the game, but I am a huge fan of Chernobyl, which was one of the best pieces of television I had ever seen. Craig wrote this extraordinary script that I absolutely loved. It seemed so unique and surprising. There are these incredibly tender and authentic human scenes in the midst of this monstrous world. I tried to do my best in the audition and responded to it and then I was able to team up with this guy.

Nick, Craig told me that your hilarious “not today, you new world order jack-booted thugs” line wasn’t dialogue in the script but rather part of his description of your character’s mindset. But you insisted on saying that anyway – wisely, I might add.

Nick Offerman: You don’t put a gun on the stage if you don’t intend to see it fired. I love that side of Bill. I could just luxuriate for days and days in the intricacies of him creating his bunker beneath a bunker – all the nooks and crannies and stores of weapons and ammunition and supplies and so forth. It’s all driven by a fiery passion towards the jack-booted thugs upstairs. They even let me pick what books and videos Bill had in his entertainment area. I said, “That’s a great line, we should probably keep that in the show.”

Murray, in your first 10 minutes screen time we’re constantly wondering if Frank is a secretly threat or a psycho. How much of that was intentional in your performance to try and create some uncertainty? Or is it only the situation which makes the viewers so uncertain about him?

Murray Bartlett: I think it’s a little of both. I didn’t sort of set out to be possibly an ax-wielding maniac. But I think the reality of this world is that everybody is struggling for survival. So there definitely is in Frank this feeling of: I’m not going to last much longer, this guy seems to have a good setup, so I need to get my way in here. There’s also this kind glimmering in Frank of a possible connection with Bill. I think one of the ways Frank survives is by charming people and endearing himself, so he’s definitely leaning into that.

It seems like the more that time passes in Hollywood, both actors and audiences have gotten, oddly enough, less comfortable with portraying sex and intimacy on screen. I think for audiences they’ll be most surprised by Nick given how well they know you from characters like Ron Swanson. How comfortable were you shooting those scenes and did you have any requests in terms of how they should go?

Nick Offerman: Those are always the most awkward things to do. It’s portraying something with as much sincerity as possible when you’re in the least intimate setting surrounded by people scrutinizing you. That’s where the generosity of your scene partner like Murray, who’s very experienced, and our director Peter Hoar, who’s also very experienced, really come into play. And I don’t have a lot of vanity. For obvious reasons, I’m not cast as a calendar model. I worry a lot more just about the storytelling. So whether I’m playing a confident swaggering, god-like lover or a vulnerable, scared virgin, I just do my best to portray that truthfully, and I don’t consider it that different from anything else. I know that conventionally and societally when clothes come off it’s a possible shock or obscenity, or a cause for concern for people. But I come from the theater where we’re a bunch of long-haired peaceniks, so I don’t think about it too much.

Once Frank gets sick, the story takes an extremely heartfelt turn. What was the most challenging part of that for each of you?

Murray Bartlett: You want to be authentically believable in whatever you’re doing, so I was hyper aware and obsessive about trying to get those details right. So I’m trying achieve that but to also not let it get in the way. And because the scenes that we’re playing are so beautiful, I love those scenes. So I’m finding that balance where hopefully the physical stuff that that was necessary became a little bit second nature so it can just be in the scene was the thing for me.

Nick Offerman: I found it really frustrating to be someone who’s so confident and can so successfully manipulate the world around him for his comfort and safety and survival and then see this happening to my partner and I can’t do anything about it. I’m helpless in the face of his demise. That was just powerfully frustrating. It was tapping into the human condition of watching your loved ones grow old, watching them grow feeble. It was also just challenging to push Murray around, especially when he would often have a second cheeseburger [laughs]. Let’s just say I got my steps in.

Bill is such a survivalist and such a pragmatist that making the decision to end his life is sort of the ultimate sacrifice for his character – not just as an act of love, but that it goes against everything we knew about his nature until they met. How did you feel about Bill’s decision? Is it the only choice that character could have made?

Nick Offerman: I’m trying to nutshell this, because it’s a great question with a rather epic answer. What it comes down to is, I think, the events in Bill’s life led him to become an isolated survivalist, and, against all odds, he ends up with Frank and they create this life together. Only then, as he lets us know, he’s discovered the reason for all of it. He says, “I was never scared until you came along.” He realizes that what makes life worth living are the other people we care about. So the prospect of facing the loss of Frank, of going back to being alone, in a world where the prospects are very few and far between, it’s not like he could say, “Well, maybe I’ll meet another perfect man.” That transaction seems very simple to me. Bill just thought about it and was like, “Well, my reason for living is is going away, so I might as well go with him.”

My favorite shot of the episode is – no offense – one without either of you actually in it. It’s the final shot out their bedroom window with the billowing curtains as the truck with Joel and Ellie drives away while the audience knows your characters are dead just outside the camera frame. So Bill and Frank are entirely in the viewers’ mind, just not in our sight – which was such as smart and emotionally evocative moment. But I did wonder if any point it was discussed doing that ending another way?

Nick Offerman: The pieces as I recall simply refer to preserving their dignity. Like Bill thinks of everything — including not making anybody have to see them. One of my favorite things in the whole story is that he sets them up with the components to make a battery for the truck. So no matter when Joel finds it, the battery can’t be dead because it hasn’t been made yet. And I agree, I get really emotional seeing the truck drive away. It says to me that these two scrappy humans found each other, found love and cultivated their garden in all these different ways. They they did just enough so that they provided some hope for humanity without evening knowing it. He couldn’t have known about Ellie, but together they achieved a victory that’s going to allow us to get to episode four.

Murray Bartlett: Can I say one thing about that last shot? I agree with you. I think it speaks to what we responded to in the script. It’s incredibly romantic, but it never veers into a sugary over-the-top romance. That final moment allows you to remember all the things you’ve seen of this relationship, rather than confining it to a final image of these people. It’s a testament to the beautiful writing and crafting of this show that it gives space for this which makes it even more powerful. It leaves you with your own rumination of the story that’s been told – which is often better than anything you can ever show.

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