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Merle Dandridge Talks Returning to Play Marlene

Jan 12, 2023


From writers/executive producers Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (who also wrote the video game of the same name), the highly anticipated HBO series The Last of Us explores what life is like after a viral outbreak has destroyed modern civilization. Taking place 20 years after it all started, Marlene (Merle Dandridge) is the leader of the resistance movement known as the Fireflies, who believe they are fighting for freedom while others view them as a dangerous threat.

During the junket, which took place after members of the media were able to see the first four episodes of the season, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Dandridge about returning to Marlene after having voiced the character for the video game, building on what she’d done previously, collaborating with the creative team to make sure they got things right, and what drives her to believe in the mission of the Fireflies.
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Collider: What was your reaction, when you learned you’d be playing Marlene again and getting to revisit the character for a new medium?

MERLE DANDRIDGE: I was on the phone with Neil [Druckmann] and I might have said something like, “Are you serious? Are you kidding?” I was deeply, deeply honored and thrilled, and then I had some nerves because it had been a few years since I had met her. I’ve evolved, as an artist and as a woman. I’ve very fortunately matured into the role, so I’m more appropriate, physically, to play her. It was a thrill.

Image via HBO

Was it totally unexpected? Did you know that call was coming?

DANDRIDGE: No. Of course, when I heard it was happening, there was a part of my spirit that was like, “Ah, that would be so cool,” but it’s such a big show. I could have pulled a handful of names, but they chose me. One of the things that speaks to is seeing me and understanding how much I love and deeply, inherently know Marlene, but also how much they care about the world and the source material, and how they have a willingness to look inside the world, mine everything out of it, and then explore new inspiration, as well, in the most truthful way that serves the center of the story.

Other than the motion capture suit, what was the biggest difference in playing Marlene for the game versus the series? Did you start from scratch with your own character process, or did you build on what you’d already done?

DANDRIDGE: There was a lot of building on what I had done because the core knowledge of who this person stays the same, but how she works and acts and interacts with all of that might adjust a little bit, especially working opposite people looking at those characters through a new lens. Bella and Pedro’s Ellie and Joel have a different twinkle than Ashley [Johnson] and Troy [Baker]. It was an absolute privilege to be able to open my eyes, open my spirit, and let Marlene experience and breathe them in, in a new way. I was able to walk out scenarios in her life and her experience that had only existed in my imagination, having built the character 10 years ago, and that was a true delight. Practically, I’d never worn a wig on camera. We had a couple of conversations about that. I remember the first time I put it on, I had so many questions, and Craig was right there with me. He was like, “This is what I like about this, and this is what I think we can adjust,” and he was FaceTiming with Neil, the entire time, so that we were all in this conversation and we were all collaborating, making sure we got it right.

Image via HBO

Marlene is one of the leaders of the Fireflies, who are widely considered terrorists, even while FEDRA is perpetrating these pretty terrible acts. What is it that drives her to believe in the Fireflies’ mission?

DANDRIDGE: Hmm, great question. I think someone who is perceived as a terrorist by one person can be the hope and inspiration to another. Presenting both of those things, side by side, is an important thing for the player in the game, and now the audience in the series, to examine and really ask questions, and personally investigate why they feel that way, in one way or the other. But as far as why Marlene chooses to march this out and to lead this resistance is that it’s steeped in her own experience and her own pain and everything that has been ripped from her, so that this doesn’t happen to other people and so those that are around her understand that the status quo of this regime that FEDRA has brought in and kept us under their thumb with, is not the only option. You can’t forget the fullness and the beauty of who you were before this, along with the hope, belief, and vision for what can be in the future, if you just believe in the Fireflies.

The Last of Us airs on Sunday nights on HBO and is available to stream at HBO Max.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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