NYCC Exclusive: Resident Evil Mastermind Paul WS Anderson on the Final Chapter

– by Edward Douglas

The New York Comic-Con has been over for a couple days now, but one of the panels that really drew a huge boisterous crowd was Screen Gems’ panel for Underworld: Blood Wars and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, both opening in January.

As the title says, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is meant to end the series of six movies that began with Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil in 2002. From the very beginning, Milla Jovovich has played the films’ enigmatic kick-butt heroine Alice, and The Final Chapter is meant to put a close to her story.

Jovovich and Anderson came to the Theater at Madison Square Garden, along with Ali Larter, William Levy and Eoin Macken, to present the amazing new trailer for the movie, which you can watch below:

Right before the panel and trailer debut, LRM had a chance to sit down and chat with Anderson.

LRM: It’s been five years since “Retribution,” and for the second and third movies, you let other directors have a go at it, but then you came back. Why was there such a long gap since the previous movie?

Paul WS Anderson: Because somebody knocked my wife up. I don’t know who that was. We were ready to go and shoot the movie. We would have been having this conversation a year earlier or more. I prepped the movie, chosen all the locations, the crew was hired. I was literally about to get on the plane and fly to Capetown (South Africa), and we were going to start shooting ten weeks later, and we discovered that Milla was pregnant. We had a discussion about that, the two of us, and then I called the studio and told them.

Everyone was very happy for us. (taking on a snide tone) “I am sooo happy for you.” It’s really kind of like, ‘We’re really happy, go f*ck yourselves!” Especially because I was blamed since it was my responsibility. So we had to put the movie on hold for a year, which was awesome, because we ended up with another child, which is magnificent, but also I think it was good for the movie, because I got an extra year to basically polish the screenplay, think about scenes — how I was going to block them, how I was going to shoot them — so the movie had an extra year’s worth of prep put into it. In the way movies get made nowadays, there’s always a rush, there’s always a deadline. People set release dates and they’re rushing to reach the release date. This movie probably had more thought go into it than any other movie in the Resident Evil franchise, other than the first one. The first movie, no one was waiting for. There was no release date. No one really wanted it. It was an R-rated movie when no one wanted R-rated films.

LRM: And it was before zombies took off…

No one had made a zombie movie in 15-20 years with Romero and Lucio Fulci. No one wanted zombie movies, no one wanted R-rated movies, no one really wanted a Resident Evil movie. I’d come off a movie that hadn’t really done well, so no one wanted a movie from me… no one wanted it!  The advantage of that is because there’s no deadline, I could take as long as I wanted to write the screenplay. I could prep the movie for as long as I wanted, because you’re not spending any money. I think it was one of the reasons why, for me, up until making this movie, the first movie was the strongest in the franchise, because it probably had more thought go into it than any of the others. This time around, because of the pregnancy, I got that opportunity again and I think when you see the film, you’ll notice it. I think this is by far the best movie in the franchise, and I think that extra year of preparation really, really helped the film.

LRM: I just saw the first movie again, maybe a month or two ago, because there’s this downtown movie theater called Metrograph, and they were doing a series on video games movies. I’d never seen it in a theater before, just on DVD, and it was really good.

Anderson: It really holds up. When we were shooting in Africa, they did a similar retrospective thing, and I went and introduced the movie. It was during a shooting day, so I was exhausted at the end of the day, and I went and said, “Look, I’ll go and introduce it but then I’m going, because I have to go home and go to sleep.” I made the mistake of watching the first five minutes and of course, by the time you get to the woman in the elevator, you’re in, and I had to watch the whole movie at that point.

LRM: Your relationship with Screen Gems has been amazing, because they’ve given you what seems like carte blanche to make these movies the way you want to make them.

Well, it was an interesting relationship, because the first movie Sony distributed in North America, and they became involved halfway through principal photography, so the movie was financed out of foreign (money) — it was a British, French, German co-production and with a lot of Japanese investment in it, because it was a Japanese video game. We got picked up for distribution by Screen Gems, and then of course they did so well with the movie. The first time they saw the movie was at the first audience test in Burbank, where if the movie had scored below a certain number, they could have put the movie straight to DVD. It was a very intense screening, because the fate of the movie kind of rested in this one audience’s hands in Burbank. Audience tests, they’re very intense at the best of times. For filmmakers, they’re a hard experience but this was really terrible, but I knew we were doing well when the elevator drops and chops a woman’s head off and this guy in front of me stood up and went, “I love this movie!!!!” at which point the whole audience cheered, and I thought, “God, this is great, we’re doing to get a theatrical release.” And I thought, “I’m so stupid, why didn’t I hire someone to do that?” Smart filmmaker… I would have paid that guy twenty bucks. But the audience really liked it, and I think because Screen Gems, they have fully formed movies, I think we’ve been given a lot of leeway by them. Clint Culpepper who runs Screen Gems, as well, has been incredibly supportive over the years, so it’s been a good working relationship.

LRM: Let’s talk about the move to South Africa, because I think you shot a lot of the other movies in Canada, so why was South Africa the place to shoot this one?

Anderson: The locations were amazing. You’ve only seen the teaser trailer or when you see the trailer that we’re releasing today, there are shots in it where you go, “My God, the CG is good” but there’s no CG. We had these amazing locations like this freeway, it’s a mile and a half long, four lanes, abandoned. We just put in burnt-out cars, smoke, zombies for real, so we got some amazing, gritty, real things in camera. The last movie was deliberately very stylized. It had a very science fiction look to it. It was very bright, very glossy, and I feel like in Retribution, I delivered the ultimate of that. That kind of movie, I did it — slow motion, everything’s Proscenium arch, everything is balanced in the frame — a very deliberate look, and I didn’t want to do that again. I wanted to keep things fresh, so as a reaction against that, this one there’s no slow motion in the movie, everything’s handheld, everything’s very dirty, everything’s very gritty, very few sets, nearly all locations. And to find these post-Apocalyptic locations, that’s why we went to Africa. We had amazing locations. There’s an amazing building, like a 50-story tower block that has a central core to it that’s completely open. Amazing, amazing locations.

LRM: I understand that in this movie, you go back to Raccoon City and some of the original locations?

Anderson: Well, we don’t go back to the original locations because we shot it in Berlin and the few sets that we did build, we built to recreate locations from the very first film, because this is very much structured as a return to Raccoon City, a return to the Hive. Raccoon City was easier because we dropped a bomb on it at the end of the second movie, so now, what’s left of it is pretty destroyed, so we didn’t have to match very much. 

LRM: I was assuming South Africa was used for that reason.

Anderson: Yeah, we have fantastic post-Apocalyptic locations down there, and there’s some great imagery in the trailer that comes out today where you just see the center of Raccoon City, like it’s just a big crater like someone’s taken a giant ice cream scoop, like the opening of Akira where you see the atomic blast crater in the center of Tokyo. We got that blasted cityscape there, but also we got some massive underground… there was this fantastic tunnel that went through a mountainside that was two miles long that we used for part of the Hive. So you’re discovering new parts of the Hive, but we’re also going back to some of the old past from the first movie, so we had to build those as sets.

LRM:  Where’s Alice’s head at this point?

Well, this is a journey back to Raccoon City, back to the Hive, back to where everything began, but for the Alice, it’s very much a journey of discovery, because when you met her in the first movie, you met a protagonist who had memory loss, so she’s never really know who she is. She’s never really known what the truth about her is, what her really story is. By going back to the Hive, by going back to the beginning, she discovers the truth about herself and the truth about the Umbrella Corporation and the truth about the Red Queen. A lot of answers to questions that people might have had for the last 15 years.

LRM: Who is Cobalt? I guess she’s a new character but she’s named “Cobalt.” Will we see her in the trailer at least?

Anderson: Yeah, you’ll see her in the trailer. She’s played by Rola, who is a Japanese actress. We’ve always had a pretty strong link to Japan, because Biohazard is originally a Japanese video game, so I’ve always liked part of the movies have been set in Tokyo, and she’s a Japanese character.

LRM: The movies have really taken on their own life from the games, so have you ever talked to them about bringing some of movie elements to the game?

Well, I have a very good relationship with Capcom. We talk very openly about screenplays. They give me thoughts on the narrative. I make sure that I’m not doing anything that they disapprove of, like killing Claire Redfield or killing Albert Wexler… that’s not to say I don’t in this one but in the past, I’ve been allowed to do certain things.  We’ve always had a good relationship, and I feel like it’s been a symbiotic relationship. I’ve taken from them — you know, the first movie was heavily influenced by the games obviously — although Milla’s character was new, she’s based on archetypes of the game. You could see parts of Claire Redfield and Jo Valentine in the Milla character, but then again, the location was entirely taken from the games. It was the location of the first video game, but the prequel telling you why that mansion was overrun by zombies, what happened? Then, as the movies we along, I took more from the games — characters, creatures — but then also the games began to take from the film franchise. The Red Queen made an appearance in the games, the laser corridor made an appearance in the games. I remember when we did Extinction, some fans ripped us a new a-hole, because it’s like,  “Awww, this is rubbish. This is not Resident Evil! Resident Evil isn’t in the desert, Resident Evil is in the dark city!” and then the game Resident Evil 4 came along, and it was all in Africa in the broad daylight in the desert. I have to feel that the game has taken from us, as much as we’ve taken from the game, and kind of living together and supporting one another.

But to answer your question, specifically do the movie as a video game, those things are very hard to get right, because as you probably know, you can press the button on a movie and have a movie 14 months later. Greenlight a movie, you go and make the movie. A video game doesn’t work like that. It’s like a three-year process and two years into it, quite often, they throw the whole thing away and begin again. It’s a more organic process, the way you’re not quite sure what the end result is going to be. On a movie, the end result is you get the screenplay… or you better or otherwise the studio will kill you.

LRM: Do you know where you go from here, presuming this movie will wrap up the entire “Resident Evil” series?

Anderson: I know exactly where I go. At 5 o’clock tomorrow morning, I get on a plane and go to Toronto to finish Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. I’m still working on it. It’s like the movie will never die. It’s a big movie, it’s a complicated movie. It’s got a lot in it. I think it’s by far the best movie in the franchise, but it’s got a lot going on and it’s been a lot of work. It’s been several years of work, so I’m still trying to bring it to a conclusion.

LRM: I think you answered this last time, but you’re here with “Resident Evil” and they’re also showing the new “Underworld” — is there ever a chance of bringing Milla’s Alice together with Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, to bring those worlds together?

Anderson: That will never happen. Although it’s Screen Gems, it’s like Lakeshore and Constantin. I just think that would be a hard thing to achieve, and I don’t necessarily think whether I’d want to see that. Would I like to see Milla and Kate in the same movie? Absolutely. 

LRM: Maybe you can make a movie with them playing different characters?

Anderson: Well, yeah, that to me would be more interesting.  

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter will open nationwide on January 27, 2017.

Featured, Film, Interviews, LRM Exclusives, News Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Milla Jovovich, Scoops