Last month, I was in Toronto and it was snowing. While this normally wouldn't shock most people, there was absolutely no snow on the ground outside. All of the snow was fake inside SPFX Studios, where director Paul W.S. Anderson was shooting Resident Evil: Afterlife, which hits theaters nationwide September 14. It was rather odd to walk from a snowless Toronto inside this massive snow-covered soundstage, but this is the magic of Hollywood...in Canada.
We journey to the Toronto set of this upcoming sequel to speak with Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson
For the uninitiated, Resident Evil: Retribution is essentially set up as the Fast Five of this franchise, meaning we see a lot of familiar faces return from past movies, such as Michelle Rodriguez as Rain Ocampo (Resident Evil), Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), Oded Fehr as Carlos Olivera (Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction), and Boris Kodjoe as Luther West (Resident Evil: Afterlife). The hardcore gamer fans out there even get their first look at Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) as live-action characters. All of these characters come together to help Alice (Milla Jovovich) take down the nefarious Umbrella Corporation once and for all, in an adventure that spans the globe from New York, Moscow, Washington D.C., and Tokyo. However, as we learned early on in the day, not all of these characters are quite who they seem to be.
The first scene we watched featured Ada Wong being lead out of a Russian submarine in handcuffs onto the ice by... Rain Ocampo, who is also seen injecting something into her neck: the Las Plagas virus. The call sheet we were given lists a "Bad Rain," so already, were were intrigued, but still confused. Oded Fehr cleared things up... kind of... by explaining that both he and Michelle Rodriguez play two different characters within the same body.
"I kind of come back twice on this one. I think you had a hundred Milla's on the last one. So obviously, you can have more Carloses and more Rains. The interesting thing is, I come back as two different guys on this one. There's a dynamic to the relationship with Milla's character, and then there's the other side. He's working for the Umbrella again. It's great. I get to play two different characters. It's fun. Two opposing sides."
After watching a few more takes, we were lead out into Milla Jovovich's trailer to speak with the actress who has become the embodiment of ass-kicking ever since the first Resident Evil hit theaters nearly 10 years ago. Here's what Alice had to say below.
Milla Jovovich - Alice
How much more are you borrowing from the video games? I think a lot of fans are really curious with the Las Plagas zombies and stuff like that.
Milla Jovovich: I can't give that away. We're two weeks out and we have the big Alice and Jill fight looming any day now. We're already preparing for that. I don't think we'll get to it today, but definitely we're going to start tomorrow. It will take a few weeks to film it so, it's a big deal.
With the Russian subway sequence, you seem particularly excited.
Milla Jovovich: Well, we had a splinter unit go to Moscow and they pretty much cleared Red Square for a day, which is quite a big deal. Then they cleared the Russian subway for about five hours, for as much as they could, to get plate shots of everything. So, we have all the background and then we built pretty much the Moscow street. I don't know if you guys got a tour yet of the sets, but up front, there's a street in Moscow where we did the Rolls Royce chase sequence. It's exciting for me because obviously, I'm Russian. To be able to show my people what we've created in Toronto and how we're really trying to bring the Russian people into the Resident Evil universe, I think it's going to be really fun for everybody.
What drives you to make these films after 10 years, besides the fact there's still an audience for every one of the films?
Milla Jovovich: Well a) we love the franchise. It's definitely brought our family together. And we love the story. We're constantly going on, 'Okay, what's going to happen next?' so it's very organic in that sense. And it's fan driven. Every movie is done better than the last and people want to see another one. We have the ideas for it, so it's not like anybody is bored and going 'Okay, let's just write something. Whatever. Just put it out there.' Paul constantly has these great ideas for it. I've been having zombie dreams for the last 10 years now.
Do you have input into where the story has been going?
Milla Jovovich: Well, Paul and I definitely have a back and forth dialogue because we live together and Resident Evil is such a huge part of our lives. We're always talking about where it can go and what can happen, who's coming back and who's not. What is Alice going to be in this movie? Definitely, I have a lot of input into the stunt sequences. It's really funny because I'll read the script, Paul's original script for it, and I could never write a script. I could never direct a film. I'd kill myself if I was Paul. I don't know how he does it. But I do have good isolated ideas which kind of go like, 'Well, there's kind of a lull here and it would be great if something happened that was super cool. Fill in the blanks! Maybe make me jump off of something and something explodes.'
In terms of cool stuff and action and intensity, do you feel this ups the stakes in that department from previous installments in the franchise?
Milla Jovovich: Well, it better. The whole point is that we want to make every film better than the last one. So, we definitely have more creatures and monsters and action. And the action sequences for the actors are really difficult. It's one of the most trying physical undertakings that I've ever done in an action movie. I think the Jill and Alice fight has over 200 moves in it, which is more than Nick Powell did for The Bourne Identity. It's pretty crazy.
How has the 3D been upped in this one?
Milla Jovovich: I think definitely there is Jim Cameron and there's Paul. They are the masters of 3D. Paul has been working with the same team for the last Resident Evil, for Musketeers and now for this one. They've built a whole new camera system that's quite incredible. All the cameras are much smaller and more user-friendly, easier to operate, easier to use steadicam with. Everything in general, Paul understands the dynamics of 3D and what you can do and what you can't do. When you see a bad 3D movie, you get a headache and leave the theater going 'Ahhh my eyes hurt, my head hurts!' Especially when you do a panning shot and everything goes blurry. It's so important technically to know how to shoot something so that people don't leave with their eyes crossed and feeling sick to their stomach.
Does this film open right as the last film ended with you guys on the boat?
Milla Jovovich: I can't tell you that.
What's it been like reuniting with Michelle (Rodriguez), as an actress, and then for you as a fan of the series, having the character back as well?
Milla Jovovich: We've been racking our brains on how to bring Michelle back for years because she's just such an amazing actress and just such a cool girl and such a well-loved character in the first movie. When Paul got the idea of how to start bringing people back, it was really amazing. The script is just so different from any other Resident Evil movie. It's going to take people by surprise. Every sequence and how everything comes together is just quite mind-boggling! It's really cool. And it always keeps you on your feet. It always keeps you wondering what's going to happen next. What's happening? Who are these people? Then there's something also that, you know, I was watching an assembly of it, and I'm sure you read about it on Twitter, but I started crying watching it, because having the history of Alice and me and Rain and Jill and all these people who have been going through this hell for the last 10 years, and again Umbrella is torturing them. It was almost heartrending to watch them again having to go through all of this. And the way the script is written, the way Paul has written the script, there is so much more character involvement and so much more subtext. The storylines are so intertwined and in such a strange and beautiful way that there's something very nostalgic and sad about it too, which is different. Listen, it's going to be a really fun movie. We're not expecting anybody to start weeping in the audience, but just on a personal level, going through it for 10 years of my life and watching these people coming together again, it was quite emotional.
How has your character evolved at this point? How are you tackling Alice in a new way?
Milla Jovovich: You know, Alice started off as the audience, as this innocent bystander watching what's going on and then finally understanding what role she had to play in all of it and who she was. And then throughout the series, she kinda started separating from people. You know, first she realized Umbrella was controlling her, so she couldn't be close to people. Now that she's human again, and not only human again, but now she's almost... I mean, this is her life. It's like when you spend 10 years of your life at war, what else do you have, in a sense? This is what she knows. This is what she loves in a weird, sick way. It's what she does best. It's how she excels. I don't know if she would be able to become a teacher or have some sort of career outside of what she does. This is what she does best. And I think in this one, she has a little bit more of a sense of humor about it and is a little more relaxed with it. It's not as shocking as it normally is. In a sense, now she's got her friends, her team, she's part of a team. She's a human being again, so she's connected with the people around her. And she has fun with them. In some strange, twisted way, she gets a kick out of it.
You have two weeks left on this one. Are there any ideas percolating for the sixth?
Milla Jovovich: This is the first time Paul had an idea for number 6, where there's a story that we talked about, a year ago now, that was 5 and 6. We were just talking about it. I said 'And then what happens?' Then naturally, it was 'Well, this and that and this is why and this is actually going on.' He does have sort of a rough basis for a sixth movie.
So, you feel this one is going to be a companion piece to the sixth one? Is it kind of a cliffhanger?
Milla Jovovich: We never make these movies thinking another one is going to come around the corner. I think that's part of what makes them so great, is that you don't have that comfort of going 'Oh yeah, we're just shooting them back-to-back. Whatever.' We put 100 percent of our passion into each one and I think the audience reacts to that. Definitely, there's some ideas, potentially, for a sixth movie.
Do you ever hope to have a grand finale to Alice's story or do you hope to eventually come back to do another one because you love the character so much?
Milla Jovovich: Well, listen. I mean, there's only so much longer I can play Alice as she is today. At some point, I'm going to have to be the mentor to the younger generation. I love to make these movies. I have to say, it's hard to imagine this world ending for us. We work with the same people, we shot here (Toronto) actually for three films and it always feels like coming home. It definitely makes me sad when we start getting to the end. This one has been extra hard because we were doing promotion for Three Musketeers and traveling to Tokyo and England. I had to do some work in Italy, so all my weekends kind of got ruined. So now, I'm a little bit like, 'Ahhh!' towards the end. And there's the depression of 'Oh, it's coming to an end and I don't want it to end.' But at the same time, I do want a week off.
Can you talk about Kevin Durand's character and how he fits in the fold of this movie? Is he the new friend or the new foe?
Milla Jovovich: I can't give that away. But I can tell you that Kevin is one of the most phenomenal actors. We had such an amazing time working with him because he just takes the simplest line and gives it so much character. And immediately, it changes your whole performance because suddenly you're reacting differently. He gave you something that you completely didn't expect, so we had a lot of great back and forth in that sense. I mean, I didn't have that many scenes with Kevin, but the scenes we did have, man, it was a blast.
He's a bit imposing.
Milla Jovovich: Well, we definitely have the three tallest male actors in Hollywood in this movie. They are all very imposing, but Kevin is a force to be reckoned with. He's a phenomenal actor. He's really good.
This is your fifth film. I'm curious if you could reflect back on your first day on set for your first Resident Evil movie. Were you terrified? How was that for you then?
Milla Jovovich: Absolutely not! The first film, I was high on my laurels. I had just come off of The Fifth Element, Million Dollar Hotel and Joan of Arc. I was like, 'You're lucky to have me!' Me and Michelle, she had just come off of Girlfight. Paul cast me in the movie. I did it because me and my little brother played Resident Evil 3 all the time. I was like, 'Yeah, they're casting for it. I'll go in and 'read' for the part. They won't hire me, of course.' It was sort of very tongue-and-cheek when I did it. And then I was doing this indie movie called You Stupid Man, and I was here in Toronto actually filming it. We were doing the first one in Germany and I remember reading a new draft of the script on the plane ride from Toronto to Germany. Half way through the flight, I'm red in the face because Paul has completely written me out of the movie and put all the good fight sequences for Michelle. She had just gotten off of Girlfight and I had a year lull from Joan of Arc, at that point or something. I'm thinking 'I'm out of here!' I hit the set, poor Jeremy Bolt. He's one of our producers. He meets me with flowers and I'm like, 'You better tell Paul to meet me in my room in an hour or I'm out of here first flight tomorrow!' Then Paul came to my room. I was like, 'You better sit down! We are going through this page by page and you are putting me back in the movie!' He's like, 'What? What? You're in the movie! You're in the movie!' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm the little girl that goes Look out! Oh, no! Why am I doing this?' So, yeah, he gave me back my good action sequences. It was fun. I was 24 at the time. It was my mid-twenties, having a great time, successful, feeling good. Actually, for the second one, I was scared because it was like 'Ohhh God, why are we making another one? Do people really want to see it?' I felt very responsible for everybody and so grateful for everybody being there and just wanting to take care of all the actors and saying 'Thank you' every day. And I still do. The more we go, the more I feel like Mama Milla on set. It's just the welcoming committee and trying to make everyone feel like part of the family, feel good and comfortable, and make sure people are taken of, our crew, our actors. Taco trucks on Friday. The chip truck is coming today. That's my wrap gift to everyone. Usually, I get champagne for people and then I figured 'One bottle of champagne or three weeks worth of taco trucks?' People appreciate it, and the guys, especially the carpenters and the art department, they are working so hard building these sets. You have to keep a man well fed, and a woman well fed as well, but the way to man's heart is through his stomach. We definitely want to keep our crew well fed in this movie. It's hard. You saw the kind of sets they're building and the kind of time that we have on this movie to get everything done. I mean, the fact that we have to work as much as we're doing it. I work 15 hour days and then the crew is breaking things down two hours after I leave. Then the drivers are having to move the trucks after. It's crazy the schedules that people are keeping on these movies. I thought it would be better to feed them something than to give them alcohol. They can get alcohol at the wrap party.
Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed the first Resident Evil movie and the latest, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and has been involved as a producer the whole way through. Here's what he had to say below.
Paul W.S. Anderson - Director
You've always been an integral part of the Resident Evil franchise having written all of the episodes. But now you are directing back-to-back episodes as opposed to handing them off to another director. So what is keeping you excited?
Paul W.S. Anderson: That hasn't changed. I've always been really excited about it and it was always a painful decision not to direct the two episodes that I didn't direct. If I had been given my druthers, I would have done Apocalypse and Extinction. At the time, it was kind of conflicts with other studios, movies, and other commitments. It is not like this is...movies are not an art form where you get to kind of sit in your art gallery and paint, you know? You don't do that. You're spending a lot of somebody else's money. Like I said, given my druthers, I would have directed every single one of them. So I am just happy to have been able to do the last one and this one.
Can you talk about how your work with 3D has changed after doing both The Three Musketeers and the last film in 3D?
Paul W.S. Anderson: I think we have just become more adventurous with each movie. I mean, taking the cameras out on location a lot more. Obviously, not here because we are not going to go out onto the pack ice. It has got nothing to do with 3D. We are trying to become more adventurous with it I think. You know, more location work, more camera movement, and more aggressive camera movement. I think the camera work on this is pretty aggressive for 3D. I think people's tolerance for what they can watch in 3D is obviously becoming stronger. So we probably have more kind of muscular camera moves in this one.
The ending of the fourth film was a climatic ending. We have heard that this one starts with a flashback. What was your motivation for sort of not jumping right into the action?
Paul W.S. Anderson: This one starts basically with the pay off from the last one. So we are start on the deck of the Arcadia. So it is kind of like a direct continuation of that.
So are the flashbacks a little bit further?
Paul W.S. Anderson: I can't...[laughs]. I can't tell you about the flashbacks.
Can you talk about the decision of bringing in Barry, Ada, and Leon?
Paul W.S. Anderson: That was kind of fan driven. All of the fans were pretty vocal about how these were the characters that they really wanted to see. We really tried to cast actors who kind of brought those characters to life as close to the video game as possible. You have no idea how difficult it is to find someone with Leon Kennedy's hair. It is just not the easiest thing in the world. He has to be manly and has to have these long bangs. Geez, could they have made it more difficult for us? But I'm very happy with the actors that we have.
Are you finding it more difficult to draw some inspiration from the game besides the characters? Because you are bringing in Las Plagas zombies in this one.
Paul W.S. Anderson: Not really. There is such a wealth of stuff in the games. So for Las Plagas we are going back to Resident Evil 4 and there are elements of Resident Evil 5 in this. We have a big car chase that I am very excited about because in Resident Evil 5 there was this awesome kind of hummer, motorbike, heavy machine gun battle with rocket launchers. I am like, "This is so great." So we have kind of taken inspiration from that. I think there is so much cool stuff in the games and I think it will be a long time before we ran out.
We have heard from some of the cast that when you were writing this one you were thinking of a 5th and 6th film and that there was almost talk of you guys filming them back to back.
Paul W.S. Anderson: There was an earlier discussion about that, but then we just decided to focus on this movie. But if it is that we make another one, I do know where it would go. It would obviously be great to kind of make two full trilogies and then just bring everything to an end.
That is the thing. Your significant other was mentioning that she can only play the character for so long. In your mind is the 6th film the finale?
Paul W.S. Anderson: Definitely. Unless, of course, no one goes to see this one. Then this one would be the finale, just maybe not a very satisfying one.
How do you feel that the style of action is different? What is your directorial approach and what are some of the choices you are making to make this one stand out apart from the rest?
Paul W.S. Anderson: Like I said, the camera work for 3D is very aggressive. The action is just different for a Resident Evil movie anyway. It's not different from the games. Like I said, we have taken a lot of inspiration from action sequences in the games. But to do car chases in 3D with cars, motorbikes, because the Las Plagas undead can obviously use weaponry, that is a whole new aspect that hasn't been in the movie franchise before. So that has been pretty exciting.
I want to ask about the visual tone of the movie and not the action or the violence. What is the overall look and the color scheme? Is there a certain palette that you are going for that is unique?
Paul W.S. Anderson: It is kind of like it is an epic undead movie. It really is a globe crossing thing. We have physically shot in Washington D.C., Red Square, and Shibuya in Tokyo. We're obviously recreating snow and ice sequences, but we have actually gone out in the snow and ice as well. So it really has a globe crossing feel to it and each one of these different places we have tried to kind of invest with a different feel. So I am excited about the snow and ice obviously because as you can probably see with Ada laying in the red dress against the crisp white snow and the black umbrella - it is very, very graphic novely. So that is very stark. But then the Red Square sequence is completely different. It's all at night and very gritty. So the idea was to kind of make the movie like a kind of nightmare where you tumble from one bad dream to another but can't quite wake up. So each part of the dream feels very different , but also very unpleasant. It is almost like the visual look of three or four different films packed into one movie, deliberately so because each scenario you go from is radically different from the next, both in the way we shot it and also in the way we lit it. So it has been driving Glen, our DP, crazy. Normally you get a DP and you set one look for a movie, and every two weeks it is completely different.
With all of the different looks, globetrotting, and the non linear narrative is there a unifying theme that you are leaning on specifically to kind of bring that all together?
Paul W.S. Anderson: It's hard for me to explain what that is without giving away the plot twists and the movie, but yes. I think it really has some cool twists in it. They are kind of inspired by the video game, but I think it should be a very surprising narrative. I'm excited to put the whole thing together. And I'm super excited to be working with returning actors from the franchise as well. That has been one of the really fun things. Not just to work with them as people because they are nice people, but to also have those familiar faces in the franchise I think is really exciting.
Have you figured out the Umbrella Corporation and where ultimately everything is or in each movie are you sort of like, 'We don't have to worry about it yet?'
Paul W.S. Anderson: You know, they are just this web of evil and they are ever growing with their fantastic graphic design and their lack of attention to detail. It is like they build these incredible facilities and these death dealing machines, but they never manage to use them in the correct way. They always build too many vents and access shafts (Laughs).
That is true, but you know what I am saying. You mentioned that the 6th film you could see as the series finale. Have you always thought, 'Well, the actual final headquarters is in Barcelona,' for example?
Paul W.S. Anderson: No, I have a very definite idea of where their final layer will be, but I can't tell you. But it will look beautiful. Yet it will be easy to get into somewhere. (Laughs)
When did you first come up with the idea of having these good and bad versions of people? When did that first come about?
Paul W.S. Anderson: It was really thinking about it and we had talked about it for years about bringing Michelle back because I just loved working with her so much. She was such a cool part of the first movie and the more I thought about Michelle, the more I thought about how she really as an actor has been unable to explore other aspects of her career because she is always cast as the same character, and I am guilty of that of course. At the start of her career I casted her as the bad girl with a machine gun. But since then it has been 10 years of her playing the bad girl with a machine gun a lot of the time. I wanted to kind of give her an opportunity to play something different and she was very excited about that. So that where the idea of characters that are both good and bad came from. It was to give her an opportunity to kind of spread her wings a little bit because I do think that she is an underrated actress. No one rocks a heavy machine gun like Michelle Rodriguez. We have bits of footage and it is just incredible. She is firing this huge big ass machine gun and bullets are coming out in slow motion and she never blinks and never hesitates. The only time she gets flustered is if she doesn't reload the magazine properly or fast enough. She is like a real pro. She is ready to go to war and she does it really, really well. But some of the most fun things in this movie has been watching her trying to walk around in a pair of high heel shows because that is the real challenge for her. That has been the kind of fun stuff.
Paul W.S. Anderson: She injects herself with a Las Plagas parasite. It is kind of taken from the game. There is a moment in the game where one of the characters injects themselves and we built exactly the same injection device. We are framing the shots in exactly the same way. So there will be a kind of unpleasant little parasitic creature in that vile that you will see squirted into her veins. It is a theme in all of the games with characters injecting themselves and they develop their super powers, but they pay the price for it.
It has been over 12 years since you first got involved with the Resident Evil franchise. Can you draw a line from that point back then to today both in terms of the relationship with the franchise, working with Milla, your own career, and this whole journey that you have been on?
Paul W.S. Anderson: It has been a fabulous journey. I am very excited about what we have managed to do with the franchise. I always refer to the first Resident Evil movie as "the little movie that could" because at the time it was kind of unfashionable to do video game movies. There had been several that hadn't work. Mortal Kombat, the one I had made, was one of the few movies that had actually done well. But then the sequel to that didn't do well at all. It was also an R rated movie at the time when American studios didn't really want R rated movies. It was right after Columbine and all of the studios had said, 'We are not doing R rated movies anymore.' They were really backing off from it. So when we put the movie together it was pretty much financed all out of North America. There was no studio deal attached to it. Sony only became involved in it during principal photography. I remember that the deal we had on it was that if the movie didn't do incredibly well at its first American test, and these are incredibly stressful things for a filmmaker anywhere where you go and first put your movie in front of the public, but if we didn't score certain amounts they could have put the movie straight to DVD. It really felt like the movie that nobody wanted. I vividly remember reading a review of it. I think it was The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. I can't remember which, but it was one of the two trade papers that said, "This movie basically has no audience. It was made for no one and no one wants to go see it. IT has no audience." And then the movie did have an audience. It scored huge and really played to an audience. The movie did really well and the franchise built from that point because we all stuck behind it I think. Milla stayed in the franchise and I stayed attached to it because I had been involved in franchises where I hadn't stayed attached and I felt like the franchise went off in the wrong direction. So I am really proud that this tiny little movie that was made in Berlin, made all with foreign movie, made by a European crew, and starring a woman from Russia kind of had built into a big success. The fact that each movie has successfully done better I am very proud of.
That wraps it up with Part 1 of my Resident Evil: Afterlife set visit, where we talked to the franchise mainstays Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson. Stay tuned for Part 2 where we chat with some of the returning alumni from the franchise (Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Guillory), along with the newcomers as well (Johann Urb and Bingbing Li).
Resident Evil: Retribution was released September 14th, 2012 and stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Robin Kasyanov. The film is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.