The series premiere of The Last of Us, HBO's adaptation of the Naughty Dog video game, has received almost universal acclaim from critics and fans alike for the way it transposes the action from first-person play to the medium of television. However, the very first scene of the episode did not feature any of our main characters, and in fact wasn't taken from the game at all, but written specifically for the show.
"When You're Lost in the Darkness" opens on a TV broadcast from 1968, in which a scientist named Dr. Neuman outlines his concerns surrounding the dangers of a pandemic caused by the cordyceps fungus.
"Viruses can make us ill, but fungi can alter our very minds," he says. "There's a fungus that infects insects, gets inside an ant, for example, travels through its circulatory system to the ant's brain and then floods it with hallucinogens, thus bending the ant's mind to its will. Fungus starts to direct the ant's behavior, telling it where to go, what to do, like a puppeteer with a marionette. And it gets worse. The fungus needs food to live, so it begins to devour its host from within, replacing the ant’s flesh with its own. But it doesn't let its victims die, no. It keeps its victim alive by preventing decomposition."
It is an effective, economical way of cluing the audience in on just how grave the stakes will be throughout the show in terms of infection, and it's delivered with bone-chilling clarity by Dr. Neuman, whose memorable speech in this scene marks his one and only appearance in the show. And when it came to finding the right actor to set the tone for the entire series, the showrunners turned to a performer with more than 30 years of experience.
Dr. Neuman is played by film and TV mainstay John Hannah.
John Hannah is probably best known to US audiences as Jonathan Carnahan, the scoundrel younger brother of Rachel Weisz' Evie in the 1999 adventure movie The Mummy. He reprised that role in sequels The Mummy Returns and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
He also starred opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the romantic comedy Sliding Doors, and honed his speech-giving talents with the deeply moving elegy scene in Richard Curtis' Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Hannah has also worked consistently in television in the UK, playing the titular detective John Rebus in the series Rebus, based on the long-running series of crime novels by Ian Rankin. In the United States, he has made appearances in Alias, Damages, Agents of SHIELD, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and had a regular role in Starz' swords-and-sandals epic Spartacus.
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