If you have watched The Last of Us, you may never look at mushrooms the same way.
The hit HBO show, set in the grim aftermath of a fungi-induced pandemic that wiped out much of civilization, has had viewers on the edge of their seats since it premiered last month. And that is due in no small measure to the horrifying and grotesque “infected” who terrorize the characters in the series, which was adapted from a popular video game.
Those mushroom-ravaged zombies were the handiwork of Terry Notary, a veteran Hollywood “movement coach” who has worked on blockbusters such as “Avatar” and “Planet of the Apes.”
Notary gave an interview with Inverse published this week about the work he did on The Last of Us, and where he drew the inspiration for the “infected” in the show.
Hint: it’s mushrooms.
“I tried mushrooms before I did this, to see what it felt like,” Notary told Inverse. “I felt like ‘Whoa, this isn’t making me feel stupid. This is making me feel really intelligent. Holy sh*t. This is otherworldly.’”
The infected in The Last of Us are ghastly beings. In the show’s universe, a parasitic fungal infection has spread throughout the world, infecting much of humanity. Those who have been infected essentially become one with the Cordyceps fungi that has destroyed the world.
They are identifiable for the fungi sprouting all over their skin, spend the rest of their existence looking to spread the infection by biting others.
Notary said in the interview published this week that his experience with psilocybin helped steer him away from familiar zombie tropes as he developed the infected.
“It was a big influence on the approach. These aren’t mindless creatures. These are expanded, like really aware creatures. I tried the science and learned from it and applied it,” Notary told Inverse.
Notary continued: “I was pretty quick to understand how the world works, but I wanted to make the infected feel like they were of one mind, and so that they were all connected. Cordyceps have this intelligence that was connecting them all together, they weren’t all just a bunch of random zombies running around as individuals in America. They had a higher intelligence, they had this way of being powerful in their force of being connected together as one unit, like a school of fish or a big flock of birds, they just kind of move and flock together. That was their sort of intelligence of being able to communicate with one another without words.”
Notary said he also drew inspiration by working with his daughter.
“My wife and I have a dance studio here, and our daughters are really amazing dancers. So I usually have my daughter perform some of these creatures for me, and I can direct her and kind of see where it was going. We can play together and move in and find different rhythms and stuff,” he said.
“I was workshopping with her and I was finding what really works is the sense of discord. It felt like there was a beauty in it being broken, a fractal-like feeling and fragmented rhythms that felt really scary, but beautiful. At the same time, it was organic, it was almost like watching a plant grow but in fast motion. You could almost see the pieces and the moments of growth and then withering.”
“That was an influence too, nature growing in fast motion and in reverse. Playing things in reverse felt interesting to me as well. It gave it this off-tempo intelligence, rather than like going into two-dimensional stuff. It was really important to get the actors to drop out and be intelligent, to go past themselves and forget,” Notary added.