Milla Jovovich on Alice and the ‘Resident Evil’ Revolution

Since I can remember, the name Milla Jovovich has been imprinted on my mind. Her enchanting beauty and natural screen presence gives her an elusive star quality. It’s her secret weapon, something that has won her many lead roles over her prolific film career from The Fifth Element to Resident Evil. Her enigmatic core and striking beauty has made her the teen crush of many, myself included.

So when the opportunity to do a Resident Evil: The Last Chapter set visit at Durbanville Quarry near Cape Town presented itself during the course of shooting the film in South Africa, I was there like a zombie horde. Watching Milla in The Fifth Element, I never imagined I’d have the chance of meeting and interviewing the star herself, renowned director Paul W.S. Anderson and a host of established and up-and-coming actors.

The sixth and final installment of the Resident Evil film series finds Alice and her friends betrayed by Albert Wesker as he summons the forces of Umbrella to launch a decisive blow against the apocalypse survivors. Being the most successful video game franchise, arguably the best, it seemed fitting that we get to grips with the shockwaves the film and character have sent across the globe since 2002.

After being told “I looked like a Resident Evil type” by our media liaison, I knew the stars were aligning for an epic set visit by night. The location was secretive and after meeting at a hotel and being bussed into a set that looked more like a circus, based on the number of tents and cars, we arrived just in time for breakfast. “Breakfast” because when you’re shooting until 6am, you only start the day around 6pm… think of it as brainwashing. Armed with my digital recorder, pen, paper and press lanyard, we were plunged deep into a well-oiled film culture.

Joking about the sausages at the “breakfast” canteen with Fraser James, a delightful supporting actor, and watching zombies get churned out of the make up department, it wasn’t long before our South African press contingent were transported to where the action was happening near a burnt out yellow school bus at the top of the quarry. After watching a few takes of the core cast in silence, possibly awe, we were escorted to our press quarters, a makeshift tent. We knew it was “makeshift” because it was a tent, it housed a table covered by an ’80s style kitchen table cloth and felt somewhat cramped like an interrogation room replete with video camera and lighting. The cast arrived in our den literally by-the-numbers (they’re each assigned numbers in the daily shot schedule) when they had a moment. The atmosphere was upbeat and while we saw Milla Jovovich performing, she was scheduled as our final interview, if time permitted.

Ali Larter was Grace Kelly demure and Timotei beautiful. Ruby Rose was ready to trail blaze into the future as if she was driving the Delorean in reverse. Iain Glen was Iain Glen. Eoin Macken and Fraser James were on the cusp of a bromance and brought the tent down with hilarity, while the handsome and winning William Levy oozed with personable charm and star quality. Aubrey Shelton and Milton Schorr represented the South African stalwarts, with Shelton regaling his war stories from the frontline and Schorr keeping himself surprisingly grounded for such a lofty and gentle giant.

Thankfully, despite her hectic shooting schedule, we were granted a 30 minute window to interview the headline act. It was after 1am and we were led to her luxury trailer, where she welcomed us like a gracious rock star, still in wardrobe and fairly relaxed with a beer bottle in the background. The trailer was big enough to fit all of us into the spacious lounge area, where we encircled her ready to fire off a few choice questions. Sitting opposite her, the whole experience seemed quite surreal… finally getting a chance to meet the enigmatic woman behind the lights.

Having been told how funny she is by almost all of the other cast members, we weren’t disappointed as she poked fun at herself, delivering thoughtful answers and making us feel right at home. Having held back at interviews for most of the night, I was eagerly anticipating a gap to ask a question… maybe even two. Listening to Milla answer while wondering if I was ever going to blurt out my question in the thirty minute allotment was torture, but it had to be done. What followed was this free-flowing dialogue as my big question ramped up the interview and for about 15 minutes it felt like I was the only other person in the room. Meeting Milla Jovovich was a highlight of my film career and ended a night of perfect timing and good spirits that seemed almost too good to be true. 

You’re like a revolutionary. If you look at the male-dominated film and video game industry over the last decade, how would you say you’ve shaped and influenced them?

Gosh, I wish I thought like you. I’d probably be a much more confident, like an “eff you” kind of person… like “I influence people!”. To be honest, when we made the first Resident Evil it was so much about the passion for the game and I think that word keeps coming up in conversation. To me, having a passion for something is like the Holy Grail and finding a passion for something is the antidote for everything… being a happy, healthy, inspired person.

I do feel that when things are done with that kind of enthusiasm and passion, people respond. I’ve always said that no matter what you do, when you do it with honesty, you will always find an audience. It’s when you’re not sure about something that other people sort of go “uh, I don’t know”. I played the game with my little brother and that’s how I found a way to connect with him on his level and spend time with him in a way he liked. It’s like let’s go to the zoo, let’s do this, let’s do that… but I knew that what he really wanted to do was just stay home and play Resident Evil. You’ve got to figure out ways to get him out the house, but then the evening would come and you know… let’s play. Then suddenly it’s four hours later and we’ve been playing and I’m like “Oh my God, I’m addicted to this game”.

“…when the critics love something, at least for us, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

 I came into the film before it turned into a franchise as a fan of the game. Michelle Rodriguez and Paul were big fans of the game… so you have this core team that love the source material and I think that’s so important because it’s not just another Hollywood video game adaptation that’s going nowhere because the people are just doing it to earn a buck or just because whatever… it’s a big action movie.

It’s that kind of honesty going on, it’s not like anyone got paid to make the first movie, we were just all doing an independent European action horror flick. It was fun for us and exciting to be a part of the Resident Evil world, and zombies, and the undead and stuff. The movie was number one, it didn’t do that amazingly in the cinema but it got really great reviews from the people who watched it. They did all the tests and we were reading the sheets the next day and the kids loved it. You know the critics hated it, but when the critics love something… at least for us, it’s a recipe for disaster. The people loved it and they ended up buying it on DVD and watching it over and over.

A couple of years later they approached us to make a second one, which was shocking to me because I thought once we did it, that was it… move on. Then it was number 2, okay why not. People seemed to love it and I’d never done something like that before. I never thought that we’d be making a number 6. Even when we made number 3, when we were done I thought that was it. We never did a three picture deal or anything like that and even when Paul wrote number 3, it was very out of the blue.

“I really feel like I have all these apocalyptic existential thoughts going on in my head.”

He just got inspired, wrote a new script and took it to the studio and they were like “let’s do it”. It was never something that had to be forced out of him. You have this creative flow about the franchise that was very natural and organic in that sense. I think maybe that’s a huge part of what you’re talking about. It’s not so much something that I think about… we want to have fun and a good time making these movies and as long as we’re having a good time making these movies and as long as we’re excited about it, it translates well to people.

I think you’ve opened the door though, because you’ve got an allure but you’ve also got a physicality that translates really well to screen… you’re one of the few actresses that can pull off this kind of role. I can’t think of five other actresses that could do what you’ve done with Resident Evil. I’m talking about how you’ve opened the door for that strong sort of female lead character in an action movie. There are so many hybrid copies that have come after Resident Evil started the revolution…

When I did The Fifth Element it was really a study in belief and it opened up a door for me that I never knew existed for me as an actress. To really completely believe in what you’re doing and sell this idea of something that’s totally alien, strange and from another world. I think I fell in love with that aspect of acting. So for me, when I play Alice, I really feel it. I really feel like I have all these apocalyptic existential thoughts going on in my head. It’s a really great place for me to channel them all. The things I think about on my own keep me up at night sometimes, it’s awful. And poor Paul… “what do you think’s going to happen?” “I don’t know. Gotta be ready for whatever it is… we’ve got to be ready.” Plus it’s a lot of fun and you’ve got to sell it and buy it all at the same time.

“…let’s go get a Starbucks and kill some zombies.”

If I’m not buying it for myself, then I know we’ve got to do it again. It’s about finding that comfort zone where you believe yourself and what’s going on. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Like in number 2, I was really confused about who Alice really was. In number 1 she was this innocent person and then number 2 came along and I was like “I’m just going to be myself and I’m going to play this really natural” and I played it like me. Like who I am right now in this room with that voice… that nasal “hey everybody” and I’m like “come on guys, let’s go, watch out” and real. When I saw, I don’t even think I watched dailies back then, I was very like oh you know, natural. When I went to do ADR and I saw part of the movie and heard that, I was so mortified because it was so not what it needed to be.

Alice was still percolating at that point and there was a bridge that needed to happen from number 1 to the next chapter. She now had all this knowledge and she was different to who she was in the beginning and I completely missed it as an actor. So I was watching it thinking “oh my god, this is a f**king disaster” like what am I going to do? She sounds like an LA chick, like “let’s go get a Starbucks and kill some zombies”. I realised that I had to change her voice. So I called Paul and said “this is a disaster, I sound awful… I have to redo the whole movie, like everything”. So I dubbed my entire performance and I went from “hey guys” to “HEY” and the voice is here.

“I’m just going to be like Dirty Harriet.”

I did everything in that voice, which was coming from my gut, which is not my normal voice. I was acting natural, it wasn’t like I was overdoing stuff, I was just being myself. So visually it was fine, but when you opened your ears it was a disaster. So we changed everything and it just clicked in my head. So I was like “Wow, there she is!”, the voice and attitude matches and that ADR session was the birth in my head of Alice. In number 3, I just ran with that… it was like the female Clint Eastwood. I’m just going to be like Dirty Harriet, but I also thought it’d be nice for girls to have their own Clint Eastwood, like guys have that, girls have Alice to relate to on that level, like a… tough lady.

“There’s an innocence that’s always been there about Alice.”

It’s funny because I have a lot of female fans that come from these very oppressive, conservative countries and are from families that don’t respect them or a very old-fashioned. “You inspired me to stand up for myself, I come from this family that are upset that they didn’t have a son and I hated myself growing up and then I saw your movies and then I knew I could do anything.” It’s so amazing to know that you affected some amazing, incredible young person that way and helped them find their feet and learn to run. It’s so important to have that in their life, to have these role models, idealistic figures that you can relate to in your imagination to comfort you and make you feel like that in your personal own world, you’re like that.

I think what’s special about Alice is that she’s tough, but she’s
still got that femininity to her. She doesn’t lose that in the process…

It’s funny that you should say that because I was saying “tough lady”, but she’s not just a tough lady. There’s an innocence that’s always been there about her. She’s super tough but then there’s another part of her that’s really inexperienced. She doesn’t really have a boyfriend, she doesn’t really know how to be normal with people. She’s not the kind of person who’s going to do a barbecue and invite people you know, cook dinner in the kitchen or have a normal conversation. She’s never really experienced love, there’s a lot of really interesting elements to her that I think about all the time and they’re kind of sad you know.