By ROCCO T. THOMPSON
Playing a beloved character is a difficult task under the best of circumstance, but it becomes downright unenviable when one is bringing well known video game characters to the screen. Luckily, lead actors Kaya Scodelario (Crawl), Robbie Amell (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) Tom Hopper (Game of Thrones) and Avan Jogia (Zombieland: Double Tap) were placed in the capable hands of Johannes Roberts, whose RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY manages to stay true to the original material while allowing each actor to bring new facets to their iconic roles. Joined by Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Jill Valentine, the foursome embody siblings Claire Redfield (Scodelario) and Chris Redfield (Amell), future baddie Albert Wesker (Hopper) and new recruit and fan-favorite Leon S. Kennedy (Jogia) with enough reverence and freshness to appease series die-hards and newcomers alike. Rue Morgue sat down with Scodelario, Amell, Hopper, and Jogia to discuss their experience with the video game series, prepping for their roles, and how they hope fans respond to this new take on Capcom’s immortal horror franchise.
None of you are strangers to genre work, but what do each of you like about working in horror movies?
RA: I’m a fan of seeing the movies; being in them is really fun but it’s not nearly as scary as it is to watch them. The only down side is that now that I’ve seen behind the curtain, it sucks a little fun out of watching them. What helps is seeing them in theaters with the communal experience and the real great sound, because people underestimate how important sound and music is for tension-building in horror movies.
TH: Yeah. I mean, the thing is with horror as well, it’s so broad in terms of what constitutes horror. I love horror movies when they have a little bit of humor in them because it sets the audience set up for a false sense of security. “It’s okay ’cause I’m laughing and it’s fun,” and then all of a sudden it’s horrendous. Also I love that it plays with the subject matter. You get to play out these scenarios that are so specific to what’s happening in these people’s world at the time, and, as an actor, go through these things. That’s pretty great. We’re very privileged as actors to get to do that.
AJ: I love horror films. I mean, I grew up with friends who were just obsessed and would watch horror films in their basement every Sunday and Saturday, every weekend we’d just watch horror films. I think it’s such a great genre. It has so much potential to tell allegories and basically talk about things that you can’t talk about directly. I like that about it. There’s been such a great horror renaissance in the last five years which has been such a pleasure to me. Me and Tom were talking about it, sort of like horror of the early 2000s, late 2000s, the sort of torture horror, not really my vibe. But the psychological horror like Hereditary and The Witch and Midsommar, all that’s definitely more my speed and I’m so glad that that’s come back.
What about you, Kaya? Alexandre Aja’s Crawl really endeared you to lots of horror fans.
KS: [RESIDENT EVIL] is only the second time I’ve done [horror], but for me what was really cool about Crawl was learning from Alex about the filmmaking of a genre movie, right? How to build tension and atmosphere and the skill of it, which is really impressive and really difficult to do correctly. It’s a really interesting artform.
And then moving into RESIDENT EVIL, it was really cool to learn how you can have that and also this kind of action, survival element to it at the same time. It’s really fun to play pretend in that world, it’s really fun to use that energy all day long. So, yeah, it’s weird, I don’t watch horror movies, I’m terrified of them, I would be awful in a zombie apocalypse, but for some reason I seem to do okay pretending.
Every director is completely unique, of course, but how would you say Johannes’ approach to horror is different than Alexandre’s?
KS: He was very grounded in this movie and wanting to keep the horror going. I think it would have been very easy for him to switch into action sequences. We had the budget and the scope but he really wanted to keep it rooted in what the fans loved about the first two games. He’s quite funny, he’s quite British and nerdy, which was really fun to be around. Alex is kind of this cool French director, everything’s fine all the time, and Johannes has got the mouth of a sailor, which I love.
Since you mentioned the first two games, what are your individual histories with the Resident Evil franchise?
KS: I remember watching the first movie in the early 2000s and really loving how of its time it was. I mean, the soundtrack, the clothes, the brightness of it. It’s that kind of millennium, techy, weird time we were all going through. I then discovered the video games once I’d read the script, and very quickly kind of knew that this would make a really cool translation to the big screen because it’s got a journey, it’s got a narrative, it’s really well-made, [and] it’s incredibly immersive, which makes it absolutely terrifying.
RA: Yeah, I grew up playing the games. One of my earliest video game memories is playing Resident Evil and the dogs jumping through the window and scaring the hell out of me. And then I replayed them for fun when I booked the role, 1 and 2, but I mean, it’s great, it was kind of a dream come true for me.
AJ: Yeah, both games. I played Resident Evil 4, hundreds of hours of that…
The best one!
AJ: Best one! And Tom’s played 1.
TH: Yeah, I was a big fan of the original as a kid. That was my introduction, the very first game. That was a defining moment for horror gaming.
RA: I played [another] one when I was a kid on Gamecube where you have a gun [and] you shoot at the screen. It wasn’t that great a game and I think I finished in two nights, but it was really fun and different and the first of its kind. The d-pad was on the back of the gun for walking, it was really weird but I really enjoyed it. I played Resident Evil 2 remastered recently and they did a really, really good job with the graphics update. Other than that, I haven’t played many recently. I was going to play Village but it came out while we were shooting and I was like, “I don’t want to play a different Chris while I’m doing this Chris.” And I just got Resident Evil 4 VR, so I’m going to give that a shot.
As you all likely know, video game fans are often pretty, shall we say, protective of their favorite characters. Did you feel any pressure in taking on such an iconic roles?
RA: Maybe I should have but I felt like I was in a pretty good place because I am a fan. I love to see video game movies, adaptations, and some are better than others but I enjoy seeing all of them and seeing them brought to life. At the end of the day, this business is subjective and some people are going to like it, some people aren’t, some people are going to be kind of mad about it. But I feel really good about the version of the movie that we made. I think it is a true adaptation of Resident Evil. I think that fans of the games are going to lose their minds. And if you don’t know anything about Resident Evil, I think it’s a great origin story and introduction to the franchise.
KS: Yeah, there’s a definite responsibility when you play any character that’s already been established. On one hand, that can be really scary and intimidating because nowadays with social media, people have no problem telling you that they don’t like you. But on the other hand, I find it super-exciting because it means that there is a built-in fan base. And as a moviemaker, as an actor, my whole job is to create something that people can then go and enjoy. The fact that that fan base is built-in already, that we know that there are people that Resident Evil has been such a huge part of their lives and they’re excited to see it again and they want to go and they want to fall in love with these characters all over again, I think that’s a real honor.
AJ: I mean, I felt a responsibility, but it’s a responsibility [to] myself too, because Leon’s my guy…like top five best video game characters of all time probably for me. It’s a personal responsibility as much as it is a public responsibility.
Was there anything specific from revisiting the games that you drew upon to help build the screen version of your characters?
RA: I’ve spent so many hours playing as Chris Redfield and seeing him in these games, but the cut scenes definitely leave something to be desired. So, I took kind of the heart of what I knew about the character, and then speaking with Johannes it was clear that we were on the same page about the version of the movie that we were making. Kudos to him, he is such a die-hard fan and so passionate about the games and he was really the right person to bring it to life. I just think that he did such a great job of taking these characters that are so beloved and giving them heart and a backstory and making them real people, giving them flaws and making them relatable. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t care about these characters, it doesn’t matter how much like the game it looks, you’re going to lose the audience.
AJ: I also feel like I’ve got a lot of experience playing the part because I’ve been playing [the games] for so long. I understand the intimate relationship that fans have with these characters. I understand the passion. It’s an emotional response [to] these characters and as you play them, you feel like they’re a part of you in a way. I totally understand all that.
What do you think fans will enjoy most about the film?
KS: I hope that they watch it in cinemas and they get that kind of experience of sharing it with a room full of people. I really missed that in the last two years and I think our movie lends itself really well to that. There are shock horror scare moments, there are also kind of pepperings of comedy in there, and then there are moments of real intensity that kind of hopefully will give you a really well-rounded cinema experience.
What scares you?
RA: The shitty thing about this question is the things that scare me are way too dark, like they’re too real. I have a kid now, he’s two, so things that scare me are health problems with my child. They’re things that are way too real. I’ll just say sharks, let’s just say sharks scare me, because that’s a better answer. Otherwise, it’s just too dark.
KS: My mum being mad at me. [Laughter]
The most frightening thing of all, right?
KS: Yes, my mother. Love you, mum!
RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY opens exclusively in theaters on November 24th, 2021 from Sony Pictures.