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Why Marlene From The Last Of Us Looks So Familiar

"The Last of Us" is finally seeing the light of day on the small screen. A collaboration between HBO and PlayStation Productions, "The Last of Us" is an adaptation of the beloved video game of the same name. Released in 2013, the PlayStation 3 exclusive was lauded at the time of its release, nabbing over 40 awards (via IMDb). The success of the Naughty Dog developed game spawned a franchise, with the direct sequel "Part II" receiving equally high praise. With "Part II" having sold over 10 million units, "The Last of Us" is one of PlayStation's most profitable franchises. That's likely in part due to the game's cinematic nature, which makes it appealing to all sorts of video game fans.

The HBO series directly adapts the first game, telling the tale of smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) as he treks across a post-apocalyptic, zombie-riddled America with Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a young girl who remains a high priority for the Fireflies, a resistance movement. The small-screen adaptation is spearheaded by "Chernobyl" helmer Craig Mazin. Joining the Emmy winner is Neil Druckmann, one of the brainchildren behind the video game series. Prior to the show's debut, Druckmann discussed how the series "will be the best, most authentic game adaptation," setting expectations high.

One way that the series remains authentic is having the actor who plays Marlene in the video game reprise the role for the show. The mysterious Marlene, played by Merle Dandridge, stands as a driving force in Joel and Ellie's trek through America, with her demands largely looming over the duo. Chances are audiences have already seen Dandridge pop up in a project or two, making "The Last of Us" just her latest appearance in a series of hits.

The Last of Us actor played the sheriff's wife in Sons of Anarchy

After a brief appearance in the police thriller "24," Merle Dandridge nabbed the role of Rita Roosevelt in FX's "Sons of Anarchy." The crime epic followed the exploits of a California biker gang and starred Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, the leader of the titular club. Dandridge made her debut as Roosevelt in Season 4, two years before "The Last of Us" hit PlayStation 3. The wife of Sheriff Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar), Rita is best remembered for being against the development of Charming Heights. Appearing in six "Sons of Anarchy" episodes, Drandridge's character was killed in Season 5. To avenge his wife, Eli joined forces with the titular biker gang to find Rita's murderers.

Though her appearance in the series was brief, Dandridge had nothing but positive things to say about working on the set. "The 'Sons' set is everything I think television should be. Incredibly dedicated and kind people from top to bottom," Dandridge told Alternative Magazine Online in 2013, a year after she wrapped up Rita's arc. "Wonderful storytelling and great energy on set. It was an absolute pleasure and I learned a great deal." Fans also admired her character. In a Reddit thread discussing the show's various players, user u/camila141099 suggested that Rita Roosevelt stands out as one of the few morally good characters in a sea of ambiguity.

Marlene Dandridge later joined The Night Shift

Following her role in "Sons of Anarchy," Merle Dandridge landed guest spots in the procedural "Criminal Minds," Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom," and the legal series "Suits," before appearing in "The Night Shift." The NBC medical drama focused on the hectic trials and tribulations of those who work the night shift at a Texas hospital emergency room. Dandridge appeared in the show's second season, starring as Gwen Gaskin. An EMT by profession, Gaskin's arc largely involved her dating nurse Kenny (JR Lemon). As with most of Kenny's relationships, this one ended poorly as well, with Gaskin leaving the hospital in Season 3.

While speaking with Collider, Dandridge opened up about how the show's creatives played to her strengths as an actor, making Gaskin more like herself. "They started to see what my strengths were and started to, I think, write toward that and see how Gwen actually fits in into my spirit, in my being," Dandridge said. "I think it's turned into a really nice marriage because the things that are coming out of that I just love." Though Dandridge's time on "The Night Shift" was brief, it opened the doors to one of her most memorable performances to date.

The Last of Us star brushed shoulders with Oprah in Greenleaf

2016 saw Merle Dandridge headline her very own series in "Greenleaf." She said as much in a 2016 interview with Variety, just days before the series premiered. "It's been a very different experience for me, sitting right in the heart of the main storyline as a lead," she said. "... It's been the acting dream I've always aspired to."

Following the world of megachurches and the families who operate them, "Greenleaf" premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network in the summer of 2016. The debut season received considerable praise from critics, who gave it a Fresh 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The series would go on to receive four Black Reel nominations (via IMDb). Wrapping up in 2020 with five seasons, "Greenleaf" was lauded for its complex narrative and cast, which included performances from Keith David, Lynn Whitfield, Lamman Rucker, Dandridge, and Winfrey. Variety singled out Dandridge's performance as Grace Greenleaf, the eldest child of the family who returns after a 20-year-long absence. "Dandridge is naturalistic in her portrayal of a practical, cautious woman re-examining her family history and her own choices and mistakes," critic Maureen Ryan wrote in a positive review for the OWN series.

After "The Last of Us" star wrapped up her time as a member of the Greenleaf family, she went on to join one of HBO Max's most popular series.

The Marlene actor starred in The Flight Attendant

2020 saw the release of "The Flight Attendant," Kaley Cuoco's first major project since wrapping up "The Big Bang Theory." The HBO Max series focuses on Cassie (Cuoco), a flight attendant who wakes up in a Bangkok hotel room alongside a dead passenger. When she returns stateside, she finds herself under an investigation led by Kim Hammond (Merle Dandridge). "The Flight Attendant" proved to be an interesting blend of comedy and drama and was well-received by critics. With a first season that boasts a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, "The Flight Attendant" stands out as one of HBO Max's most popular and acclaimed shows.

Dandridge was particularly praised for her role as the FBI's Hammond, who doubts Cuoco's Cassie throughout the eight-episode season. Described as "making the most out of a very trope-y part as a prickly FBI agent" by IGN, Dandridge would go on to receive a Screen Actors Guild nomination alongside the rest of "The Flight Attendant" cast (via IMDb). Despite the praise she received for the role, it turns out that the role of Hammond was originally written for a man. In an interview with Kelly Clarkson (via Facebook), Dandridge discussed how she initially auditioned for Rosie Perez's role. While discussing the series with the creatives, it was decided that the character of Hammond would be rewritten for Dandridge as she was the best possible fit for the role.

Merle Dandridge plays a Fire Chief in Station 19

While Merle Dandridge didn't return for the second season of "The Flight Attendant," she did find a suitable home in "Station 19." Currently, the "Last of Us" star appears in the firefighter-focused "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff as Fire Chief Natasha Ross. Dandridge first joined the ABC series in Season 5 as a guest, before being bumped up to a series regular with Season 6. Dandridge became a regular player alongside Josh Randall and Pat Healy. While Ross continues to be a new leading player as of 2022, fans are interested to see the new Fire Chief grow, especially as she comes to terms with her history with Robert Sullivan (Boris Kodjoe). "She's one of the best additions to the show in a while imo and she's got a lot of potential," Reddit user u/ingie05 wrote. "Merle is such a good actress and I think once the character has time to develop Ross will be very compelling."

Some fans, however, expected more from Ross. "I wanted to like her but what could've been a strong woman in charge who worked to fix the problems in SFD was turned into nothing more than a love interest for Sullivan and a reason to promote him back to Lieutenant when he didn't deserve it yet," said user u/jsm99510. "The Last of Us" actor's time on "Station 19" continues to unravel itself.