Interview – Talking Resident Evil: Retribution With Milla Jovovich


Thank God for Milla Jovovich’s faux fireplace – a metal and glass box embedded in the wall that emits a nflickering glow like a fireplace and jettisons hot air.  Toronto, Canada in mid-December is a frigid place.  But, courtesy of the actress, she has visiting press members huddled around her trailer’s fireplace in a semi-circle while she sits casually on the floor in the middle, digital recorders strewn before her.  The iPhone with the bedazzled case featuring the signature red and white Umbrella Corporation logo?  Yeah, that’s hers.

Jovovich is prepping for a big showdown sequence today on the set of Resident Evil: Retribution.  A stand-off situation that will ultimately transpire into a guns a-blazin’, fists a-flyin’ brawl between her character, Alice, and Sienna Guillory’s Jill Valentine.  And her excitement hasn’t wavered.  Not after nearly 10 years of living with the Resident Evil franchise, moreover, Alice – a woman who woke up in a ominous mansion, rediscovered some of her past, learned she was infected with the T-virus, had made friends, seen friends die and fought off endless waves of zombies and assorted creatures, big and small.

Resident Evil is a huge part of Jovovich’s life.  The first film – released in 2002 – was where she first worked with her husband, series writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson (he helmed the first, fourth and now fifth installments), and now they have a daughter, who was born shortly after the release of Resident Evil: Extinction.  For her, the franchise is synonomous with “family.”  She gets to work with her husband, returning co-stars and, sometimes, the same crew members.

The interview we have with the actress covers all of the bases, from the fifth film (well, as much as she’s willing to say) to the familiar faces that have been called back, her new co-stars, the possibilities of Resident Evil 6, where she’s at in her career and her recollections of working on the original Resident Evil.

How much more are you borrowing from the video games this time? I think a lot of fans are really curious with the Las Plagas zombies and stuff like that.

Milla Jovovich:  Can’t give that away. We’re two weeks out [from the finish] 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 on Twitter about that…

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 of 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 a 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?

Jovovich:  Well, we love the franchise. It’s definitely brought our family together. And we love the story. We’re constantly going, “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?

Jovovich: 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?

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?

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 theatre going “Ahhh my eyes hurt, my head hurts!” Especially when you do a panning shot and everything goes blurry. You know “Oh my God! What just happened?” 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.

What’s it been like reuniting with Michelle Rodriguez and bringing back her character Rain?

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 involved 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?

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 kind of started separating from people. 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.

Can you talk about the weapons training and the guns you use? You’ve always got a signature gun.

Jovovich:  Yeah, we’ve got the Kriss Vectors this time, which I actually did a video of that I Tweeted, which are really wonderful guns. They’ve actually never been shot on screen before. They used a version of them on Total Recall, but they kind of did them up in some crazy sci-fi way. But these are the original bad-ass Kriss Vector guns. They are amazing in the way they fit and the way we have them incorporated into the costume.

What’s the one memory of filming that stands out in your mind about this whole experience so far up until this point. Is there a highlight so far?

Jovovich:  Definitely, the first big stunt sequence is spectacular for me. It’s really out of this world.  Yeah, it’s spectacular. We’ve never seen anything like it on screen before. I can give you a hint. There’s definitely a Kubrickian homage to it. It’s one of the most unique stunt sequences and action sequences and zombie sequences that I’ve ever seen to this point. That was definitely a big highlight. Obviously, working with all the actors again is amazing. I have to say, working with this really phenomenal little girl in this movie named Aryana Engineer, and you know her from Orphan. She was the deaf girl. She plays a deaf child in this movie, but she speaks. She has an ocular implant, so she does hear and she speaks incredibly well. I think if she continues with this speech coach, she could grow up to be a phenomenal actress that you wouldn’t even know she was deaf. In this movie, when we saw her audition, there was such a beautiful charm about her. The way she talked, you could hear there was something off about it, like she doesn’t talk like she should for someone her age. It was just heartrending. As a mother, I was just going “My God! Her parents must have worked so hard to have gotten her to this point.” As a mother, my heart just went out to her. She’s so unbelievable. It’s been fun doing the scenes with her because she started off kind of laughing and she couldn’t get into it. We worked together and now it’s like, “Boom!” Every time we get on set, it’s like, “Alright. You just have to breathe. Let’s go!” and she’s there. In this movie, she’s going to out act quite a few young actors in Hollywood, especially when you think of somebody with, whatever you want to call it, a disability. It is absolutely not in any way a disability for her. She’s a phenomenal actress.

You have two weeks left on this one. Are there any ideas percolating for the sixth?

Jovovich:  This is the first time Paul had an idea for number six, where there’s a story that we talked about, a year ago now, that was five and six. 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?

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 per cent 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?

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 [in 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.”

You’ve certainly made other films besides Resident Evil films in the past 10 years, but I wonder is it difficult, or unusual, now to make films outside of Paul’s universe? Or do you like getting away for a time and doing a film like Stone. Has the Resident Evil franchise made it easier or more difficult to move outside of this universe and do other types of roles?

Jovovich:  Listen, I could make indie movies for the rest of my life. That’s not a problem, for sure. Am I going to play the lead in a big Hollywood romantic comedy? Absolutely not. Can I play the lead in an indie nobody is going to see? Yeah, for sure. I can get movies financed based on Resident Evil and the success that its had, but nobody really sees them. The last few years, I did so many small movies. It’s hard because if you’re going to be in the indie world, you have to make 12 of them for one of them to potentially come out. And then if it does potentially come out, to actually be a hit, it’s so hard. You can spend your life doing indie movies and never getting anywhere. So yeah, I’m kinda taking a little bit of a break from doing films next year. I just want to be with my daughter and concentrate on her, which is going to be really exciting. Do stuff for myself. Take some art classes. I love to draw, so I really want to go and study art. I’ve never done things for me. I’ve always done things for my career, or for my family, so I’m very excited to be able to have next year to work on music, to be with my child, to take her to school, to take her to classes, take some classes for myself… Just be sort of a housewife, like a privileged housewife, that gets to take art classes.

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?

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.

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.

I would imagine you get to take home, hypothetically, some of the props from set.

Jovovich:  I don’t get to take home anything. I always ask to take home certain things and then they’re like, ‘Yeah, for sure.” Then the next thing you know it, they’re like, “Oh, well I don’t know where it is.” Then we do the next film and then they’re like, “Oh yeah, that dude bought it, so we have to buy it or rent it back from him.’ And I’m like, “But I wanted those weapons,” but they actually sold it to some guy. Anyway, I don’t know what happens to this stuff, but I definitely don’t get a chance to keep it. I have to say, the first day on set when you have the weapons and the costume, you’re like, “Yeah, this is so exciting and it looks so cool! Action hero!” By the end of the day, I’m like, “I never want to see this costume again!” I definitely didn’t do myself any favors when I design these costumes for myself, but they look great. But definitely, I will be very happy to never see the Alice costume, this particular one. Just like the one and the one before and the one before that. And if we do another one, I’ll be super excited when I make it. Then by the first week, it’s like “Argghh…Why did we do this and why do we do that? And all these details! Arrr!!” You know. It looks awesome. 

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?

Jovovich:  Absolutely not! The first film, I was high on my laurels. I had just come off of 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. I’m sure you’ve met Jeremy. 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. 

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