The Last of Us Part II’s Shannon Woodward talks about being allowed to keep some of her jokes and how humor can deal with trauma within the game.
It feels strange to not start off the beginning of my The Last of Us Part II article with how long before we get our hands on the game and its release date as it’s finally here. In what felt like forever, The Last of Us Part II hit home last Friday, 19 June to much anticipation. Many of us right now have either completed the game or are slowly making their way through it, absorbing every detail, moments, and becoming accustomed to Dina, Ellie’s love interest. Shannon Woodward who voices Dina weighs in on the significance of humor within such a dark game and being a huge fan of The Last of Us before getting her role in Part 2.
You may have already seen Shannon in the highly acclaimed futuristic Western-themed TV show Westworld where she plays programmer Elsie Hughes in season one and you may also have noticed in the show’s credits that The Last of Us Part II‘s co-writer Halley Gross wrote some episodes, too. In an interview with Variety, Woodward talked about being a huge fan of The Last of Us and having already played the game three times before knowing anything about the sequel. Reminiscing about the first time she played The Last of Us, Woodward says that she was in her house with her younger brother, and whilst trying to get to sleep, she could hear him crying loudly.
“You’ve gotta stop, it’s so loud.” And he was sobbing, he was like “I’m so sorry! Shannon, this game is so crazy” Woodward continues “This girl — you spend all this time trying to protect her, and I just killed everyone!” I was like, “What are you talking about?” That was the first time I’d heard about the game, and he was like “You’ve gotta play it,” and I played it. It had a really profound effect on me.”
Woodward goes on to say that The Last of Us was the first time she’d “ever played a game that felt like it elevated the nature of storytelling that I’d ever experienced, in the sense that, when you watch a show or movie or read a novel, you’re an observer.” and also the first time a game made her feel like she was “making active choices as a player, so I felt complicit in those decisions. In the same way that a magician makes you pick a card, and you really feel like you chose that card, but that’s why they’re really good at their jobs. And that just really felt profound to me.”
It’s not unusual for people who have worked together previously to then run into each other at industry get-togethers so seeing Halley Gross again was almost like the stars aligned for Woodward. During one of these such parties, Woodward asked Gross what she was currently up to with Gross replying that she was working with Naughty Dog. Being a self-proclaimed gamer and a fan of The Last of Us, Woodward asked Gross excitedly if she was working on The Last of Us 2.
“She just went really pale and was like, “I can’t talk about it!” And I was like, “Oh my god, I am such a big fan. You don’t have to say anything, but just tell [writer/director] Neil Druckmann that I’d die to have a line in the game.” Woodward continues “And we went back and forth for a couple months and her being like, “Oh, he really likes ‘Westworld,’” and I was like, “I really like everything he’s ever done,” until a few months later, when she was like, “There is a role, but you have to audition.” And I was like, “Oh my god, you’re going to let me audition?” So then I auditioned, and then they hired me, and that’s how I like to say I stalked my way into being part of the game.”
Throughout the interview, Woodward talks about how amazing Ashley’s (Ellie) performance was and how much realism she brought to the character, so much so that it made Woodward believe that Ashley lived in this world in a real way. For the longest time, players have known that The Last of Us Part II would be a dark and grim place but in the interview, Woodward touches on the importance of still maintaining a sense of humor even in the character’s darkest moments. “In a lot of post-apocalyptic stories, I feel like people really lose their sense of humor.” Woodward says “People are really focused on, like, “It’s a hard life,” and yeah, but that’s been their entire life. People are still people, even when things are incredibly difficult.”
“I’ve talked with Neil a lot about what I said earlier about general humor and what makes people feel whole is how they deal with trauma, and I think a lot of the ways people deal with trauma is through levity.” Woodward states “And obviously within reason, but I think when it’s there, it’s not only a sense of release, but it makes people feel really human.”
Woodward was also allowed to keep some of her own jokes within the game after Neil Druckmann finally gave in to Woodward and allowed her to let loose in the studio. “So there were definitely places like that where I would think of a joke and I’d say, “come on, just let me say it!” And then they would. And there were some times in the booth, in the dialogue, they would’ve written jokes and they’d be like, “all right, Shannon you can have 15 seconds to go ahead and roll on your own jokes,” and some of them made it in.
Naturally, a game with hard-hitting topics and out of the box thinking that many developers shy away from, The Last of Us Part II has and will continue to divide players. You only need to look at how it got review bombed before most of them had the chance to play it or even finish it, but Woodward believes that The Last of Us Part II will have “a myriad of responses to it” and that she thinks that that is purely “a testament to what I think is really special when people have a visceral reaction, and I think there’s a lot of visceral reaction, and I think that’s exciting.” continuing “And I hope people enjoy it. I played the game for the first time a couple of months ago and I’m still thinking about it, and I love the game. But it’s a lot to think about. It’s a lot to digest.”
The Last of Us Part II is available exclusively for PS4 right now, and you can order the game on Amazon.
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