The Last Of Us' 10-Year-Old Sam Actor Is Also A Deaf Hockey Star Who Wants To Go Pro
"I hope he sticks with acting, but if he ends up playing in the NHL, I'll be OK with that, too," Craig Mazin says.
The Last Of Us Episode 5 featured 10-year-old actor Keivonn Woodard playing the role of Sam, and it turns out he's not just a fine actor, but he's also a hockey player with big goals in mind.
The Color of Hockey's William Douglas profiled Woodard for ESPN, and in it, Woodard--who, like his Last of Us character, is deaf in real life--said he wants to become the NHL's first deaf Black player. The story also covers Woodard's experience playing Sam on The Last of Us.
Woodard didn't have a lot of acting experience before joining The Last of Us--in fact, showrunner Craig Mazin put out an open casting call on Twitter just to find someone to play Sam, and that's how Woodard got the role. Mazin said in the interview that Woodard is "just one of those people you meet where you go, 'OK, there is such a thing as just natural talent,' and he has it."
"Keivonn got to experience pretty much everything a production can throw at you as an actor, and it was just water off a duck's back," Mazin said. "He was always on time, always happy, it didn't matter if it was first thing in the morning or three weeks of shooting at night. He always knew his lines ... he understood the scene, and he took direction gorgeously."
In The Last of Us video game, Sam is not deaf. In the TV show he is, and that's because Mazin wanted to "show a different way of communicating" and do more for representation of people with disabilities.
Woodard wants to become a professional ice hockey player, but he's not walking away from acting just yet. He signed a lead role in the sci-fi short Fractal. Beyond that, Mazin said he hopes Woodard continues to act, but at the same time, "if he ends up playing in the NHL, I'll be OK with that, too."
Woodard plays for the Bowie Hockey Club Under-10 team in Maryland, and his teammates call him "Hollywood" for his flashy goal celebrations. His coach said he is a top goal-scorer.
To be a good hockey player, communication is key, and Woodard struggled early on, until his team hired an American Sign Language interpreter for practices and games. A grant that helped pay for the interpreter also paid for a special lighting system at Woodard's local rink to help Woodard understand when there was whistle. Before this, players or refs had to tap Woodard on the shoulder to alert him to a stoppage in play.
Woodard also spoke about his father. He played basketball himself and warmed up to hockey as his son played more and more, but unfortunately passed away from cancer in 2021. "Every time I made a goal, he was there and that's how I got to where I am now," Woodard said.
SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US FOLLOW BELOW
In The Last of Us episode five, Sam became infected and started attacking Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Sam was shot dead by his own brother, Henry (Lamar Johnson), who later turned the gun on himself. It was a tragic ending to another incredible episode. For more, check out GameSpot's breakdown video above, which includes an interview with Johnson about the episode.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sunday nights on HBO.
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