Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson reflect on zombies and the Final Chapter

Jovovich talks about the sixth, and possibly last, Resident Evil film and looks back over her 14 years starring in the zombie survival franchise

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 1:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 5:33pm

When Resident Evil: The Final Chapter opens this week in cinemas worldwide, Milla Jovovich will have played the gravity-defying, zombie-slaughtering heroine Alice in six films. It remains a mystery how differently this lucrative action-horror franchise – based on the Capcom video games also known as Biohazard – would have turned out had she not been so opinionated during pre-production of the first film, a German-British co-production, released in early 2002.

“I think over the years, Paul has learned what I liked. The first couple of movies were more difficult because we didn’t know each other. [There] were a lot of arguments,” the actress says, referring to Paul W. S. Anderson, 51, who directed four of the Resident Evil episodes, and scripted and produced all six of them.

“Especially on the first one. I was about to leave – completely – because he changed the script and marginalised me,” Jovovich continues. “I got to Germany, read the new script, and I said [to him], ‘No way! I’m on the first flight home if you don’t come right now; we’re going to sit down and change everything.’ So that was, I think, when he fell in love with me.”

Jovovich, 41, bursts into laughter, a gratified expression on her face during the interview, conducted on a recent morning in Hong Kong.

For all the critical mauling it has received since day one, the Resident Evil franchise – with this month’s release of a sixth and presumed final chapter – has become the best-selling film series based on video games.

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And although bleak, with, gore, violence and an apocalyptic setting, the Resident Evil films have become a family project for its director and star: Anderson and Jovovich welcomed their first child, Ever Gabo Anderson, in 2007, married in 2009, and then had a second daughter in 2015. Keeping it in the family, the new film stars nine-year-old Ever as the younger Alice and the Red Queen – the antagonistic artificial intelligence system that started the zombie apocalypse to wipe out humanity.

Parental pride sweeps aside the habitual filmmakers’ vow of secrecy as Anderson recalls with a smile (and probable spoiler) that, “Actually, by the end of the movie, I had only two actors in the film: Milla and Ever. So it was great.”

The Resident Evil saga has felt protracted at times, as Alice continues her never-ending fight against the Umbrella Corporation, which released the deadly virus in the 2002 film, but few long-time fans would blame Anderson after listening to him talk passionately about the six films – more than nine hours of fantasy action.

Unlike Jovovich, who says she had played the video game with her younger brother and thought it’d be fun to star in the first film, Anderson seemingly took the Resident Evil project far more seriously. In 2000, he recalls, he shut himself in his Los Angeles apartment for two weeks to play the first three Resident Evil games back to back.

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“I love the game because it’s a very intense experience,” Anderson says. “It’s very scary. You’re creeping down a corridor and that dog jumps through the window and you’re like, ‘Ahhhhh!’ It was terrifying. We actually stole that and put that moment in the first film.”

Anderson believes the Resident Evil games were influenced by some of the films he grew up liking, from ’60s and ’70s horror flicks by George Romero and “Godfather of Gore” Lucio Fulci, to John Carpenter’s early films. “The second game was very heavily influenced by [Carpenter’s] Assault on Precinct 13,” Anderson points out.

“These were great films. I also thought about when I was a teenager and I watched all these zombie films. People liked zombies [then]. And I was sitting there in 2000, thinking, ‘Well, no one has made a zombie film in, like, 15 or 20 years. It’s about time that zombies came back.’ So that was the attraction for me, to really bring back the undead.”

The longevity of the resulting franchise has taken even its leading lady by surprise. “When we made the first Resident Evil, I just thought, ‘It’s one film. We made it. Goodbye.’ I definitely didn’t expect there to be a sequel,” Jovovich says.

Anderson, however, always had a second trilogy in mind. “When I came back to the director’s chair for [the fourth film] Resident Evil: Afterlife , we’d made a trilogy and I kinda envisaged making another trilogy, in 3D. And that’s what we’ve done.

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“After the success of the last two, I felt like this was the time to tell the story that I’ve had in my mind since we started making the films 15 years ago. Milla’s character, Alice, wakes up in the first film with memory loss, and her memory never really comes back. So in this film we address that; we address the truth about who she is and what her story really is.”

Although Hollywood’s approach is never to say never to a money-making property, both Anderson and Jovovich appear certain that they’re bidding farewell to Resident Evil.

“It was kind of sad to finish,” says the director. “I’m really proud of the film. I think it’s the best one in the franchise – certainly the best since the first. But it’s definitely a bittersweet experience, because it’s been a big part of my life for so long.”

Jovovich concurs: “I probably don’t want to think about it too much because I’m going to miss it. You have this normal life, and then you have this fantasy world that you go into where you are strong, kill monsters, save the world and do these incredible stunts. It’s difficult to think that we’re never going to make another one. It’s sad, but we made an amazing film and I think people are going to love it.”

That may or may not include the critics – who have rated all five previous Resident Evil films below 35 per cent on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Anderson insists he is unfazed by criticism. “I’ve always seen myself as a populist filmmaker,” he says, adding that the experience with his 1994 debut, Shopping, has taught him not to put too much stock in critical opinion.

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“The British press hated it, and they said Jude Law was too good-looking to be an actor – that was a quote. I mean, what is this? How can that be a criticism about an actor? I remember [in] one review, it was, ‘Paul Anderson is nothing more than the English Luc Besson.’ And they meant that as an insult. I thought Luc was a great filmmaker.”

Coincidentally, Jovovich was married to Besson between 1997 and ’99, and shot to fame in part because of breakout roles in the French director’s sci-fi drama The Fifth Element (1997) and biopic The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999).

“Anyway, that was the initial press,” says Anderson. “Five or six years later, after Shallow Grave, after Trainspotting, the film started getting reappraised. British critics were saying, ‘You could see that this was the first film to have a good-looking young cast, have a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack …’ – so all the things they hated about it, suddenly they started liking.”

Looking ahead, Anderson is adamant he will continue making films based on video games. After coming off an action-heavy series that will possibly remain her best known films, Jovovich is more philosophical about her ambitions.

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“I’ve had an amazing career,” she says. “I think I’ve had quite a few parts of a lifetime: Leeloo [in The Fifth Element], Joan of Arc, Alice. I’m very lucky to have had such strong characters to play. And, listen, if I have more in the future, that will be amazing. But at the same time, I think it’s great and I’ll let my daughter continue after me.

“That’s my main job right now – to make sure I send a really good person out into the world. And that will be the pinnacle of my career.”

Unless that’s meant as a teaser for an unannounced Resident Evil prequel, starring Ever, we’re likely witnessing the end of a franchise more inextinguishable than the undead.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter opens on January 26

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