‘Resident Evil: Death Island’ Interview: Matthew Mercer, Stephanie Panisello, & Nicole Tompkins on Leon’s Fashion Sense, Group Vacations, and Jill’s Struggles


The newest installment of Resident Evil‘s CG film series, Death Island, drops tomorrow! The film sees the return of many fan-favorite characters including Leon S. Kennedy, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Rebecca Chambers, and Chris Redfield as they head out to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to investigate separate missions that end up bringing them all together.

We had the privilege of sitting down with Matthew Mercer (Leon), Stephanie Panisello (Claire), and Nicole Tompkins (Jill) ahead of the release to talk about their characters and the art of creating CG films and video games.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Nerds and Beyond: We know Leon is a fashion icon in the Resident Evil world, what was it like to finally be out-fashioned by that printed shirt that Chris wears on the boat?

Matt Mercer: That’s a very valid question. You know, sometimes you have to accept it’s time to pass the torch. When you’ve been working on arms like that as long as he has, it’s only fair to know when credit is due and pass it on. So he’s earned it. He’s earned it. Maybe I’ll take it back.

Nicole Tompkins: Hawaiian dad shirt under a leather jacket.

Matt Mercer: There we go! Layer ’em!

Nerds and Beyond: Do it! There we go. So, these characters are brought to life by a lot of different people throughout the years, especially Leon right now, who is kind of being duly played by both you and Nick in the [Resident Evil 4] remake. All these movies are within the canon of the games and everything, so is it hard to kind of keep within the continuity, but make them your own still?

Matt Mercer: I don’t think it’s hard more than it’s just an extra layer of preparation and work as a performer. You have to go and remind yourself as you step into a project like this, where it sits in the timeline, where your character’s journey has been, and kind of tune in to where that moment in their life would be. So it’s definitely an extra layer, but I don’t think it’s it’s hard as much as it’s just a fun additional challenge and little knob to play with.

Stephanie Panisello: I agree. I feel like it allows you for nuances then.

Nerds and Beyond: The films allow a lot more room for quieter moments than you can put in a game. So, what was it like to kind of explore all of Jill’s trauma and her kind of attempt at re-assimilating with everyone?

Nicole Tompkins: I think it’s really special that we get just a few moments where you can just see the struggle that she’s having. And it just adds so much realism and weight to everything that she’s been through, especially after Wesker and just all of her issues and the way that she’s contending with this. I think it’s also a really lovely testament of what it means to come back to friendship and to really strong bonds, especially during challenging times.

She’s struggling to be part of a team again, earning the companionship level. She is very much ‘I’ll do it alone. I’ll do it by myself’ and I think almost like, ‘I owe that. That’s all I’m deserving of,’ because of how responsible she feels for the tragedies she incurred on her partners and on her people that she really cares about.

Obviously, as an actor, anytime you get to sort of delve into a depth and emotional process of what characters going through and given space to do that, outside of all the crazy action and everything else that she’s constantly thrown into, it was really special.

Stephanie Panisello: It was great. I loved those little moments with her so much, and I thought she deserved them. I think everyone does, but this one really focused on her which was incredible.

Nerds and Beyond: So, when I watched this, I felt like I was watching a Resident Evil DLC. It’s very video game, versus a lot of things that are live-action that just don’t feel as right. So, do you think between live-action and CG, it’s just easier to make it feel that way with the animation versus trying to shove all these crazy creatures and things into live-action?

Stephanie Panisello: I guess it does give you a lot of freedom to be able to play more and to go to places that sometimes with live-action they do end up having to incorporate some CGI and possibly motion capture and stuff into. But it doesn’t always read in the same way because of that, so I think when you do have CGI films, you have this freedom to kind of play as much as you would like to play to really go there. And also, you can kind of do more extreme things, too, even with stunts and action and all of that, because you’re not having to play it down in any way, things can be harnessed in and all that. And, you don’t have to think so deeply about where the location is, can we actually do this in this area, can we not do this in this area? How will it mess with the lighting and all that stuff? So there’s a lot of freedom that you have when you’re able to do a strictly CGI film, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t incredible stunt performers still doing all the things, there isn’t a ton of work that’s involved in it, because there is, it just gives us more freedom to play.

Nicole Tompkins: And the fact that it’s canon and that we’re getting models from different games from the actual models themselves. I think it’s also just gonna help with that cohesion of you being like, ‘Oh, it feels like a game.’ It’s because we played a whole game with that character, or you played it, and now you’re watching them. So, it does feel like a very natural extension.

Matt Mercer: Yeah, I think on top of that, the quality of CG technology for filmmaking just increases exponentially with each property, along with the quality of the video games that we’re playing. That line between the video game and feature has always been so wide, and it just gets thinner and thinner and thinner as the years go on. This is a perfect example of something that looks so good throughout the film that you kind of catch yourself going ‘Is this CG? Right? Okay, got it. Got it.’

Nerds and Beyond: Kind of sticking with the same thing, you guys have all done games and films, is one easier than another to do?

Matt Mercer: Games are definitely more time-consuming!

Stephanie Panisello: Yeah, they’re longer.

Matt Mercer: A lot of options to do, the scripts are much more robust, which means you get to explore a lot of nuances. But the filmmaking process is a lot more direct, which means the challenge lies in conveying a lot with much less time. So there are unique challenges in their own right, but they both are kind of equally rewarding in their own ways.

Nicole Tompkins: Yeah, I was gonna say I think I think as far as where we come from and our role, the creative process, in a lot of ways, only changes based on the extension and the breadth. And the fact that often in games in development, things will change all the time for us, because they’re constantly evolving for the good of the game. Whereas the film, you’ll usually have a script and it’s like, this is what we’re making. Of course, it will change here and there, but the overall thing is probably going to be what it is. So we come at it with the same intention and depth and ‘Where’s the character? How are they feeling? What is happening for them, where are we in the storyline?’ All that’s important. So a lot of similarities. I think from the actors’ perspective.

Nerds and Beyond: Well, we know everyone deserves a vacation. Your characters, maybe you guys probably, too. So, let’s say in a T-virus-free world, where is everyone going to catch a break?

Stephanie Panisello: Is it like, Avengers assemble vacation or is it separate vacation times?

Nerds and Beyond: And I would say separate but if y’all are going together, I won’t blame you!

Nicole Tompkins: Coney Island…

Stephanie Panisello: Coney Island?!

Matt Mercer: Actually, though, there are islands off the coast of Japan that have, like, all the deer or all the bunnies … Resident Evil: Bunny Island. That’s my go-to. Leon sitting there with his friends just surrounded by bunnies.

Nicole: And honestly, Japanese franchise. Let’s go to Japan, y’all.

Matt: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

Nerds and Beyond: I’d like to pitch it. I’ll start the Kickstarter.

Resident Evil: Death Island is available on Blu-Ray, 4k Steelbook, Digital, and DVD today!

*This interview was conducted before the current SAG-AFTRA strike.*

Kaity started with Harry Potter in second grade and it’s been a losing battle ever since, or maybe a winning one ... She lives in New England with a small herd of cats, two dogs, three chinchillas, and one daughter. You can definitely find her either watching anime, reading manga, or playing the same five video games over and over again. Contact: kaity@nerdsandbeyond.com

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