POSTGAZETTE – Pittsburgher Wentworth Miller joins the latest installment of video-game-to-film franchise ‘Resident Evil’ – Interview
Atop most best-of lists of video-game-to-film adaptations, you’re sure to find ‘Resident Evil’, an impressive feat when you consider that Hollywood has had so little luck turning games into box-office gold.
Witness ‘Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time’, which saw a big budget ($200 million plus), a big studio (Disney) and a big name (Jake Gyllenhaal) declared one of the flops of summer 2010.
Then there’s ‘Resident Evil’, a franchise whose fourth movie opens today. According to boxofficemojo.com’s list of top movie franchises, the first three films have grossed $142 million, with ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse’ the highest-grossing single film at $51.2 million. The HD trailer on YouTube – which makes the point of boasting that James Cameron’s Fusion 3D Camera System was employed in the filming of ‘Afterlife’ – has had more than 6 million views.
Milla Jovovich’s invincible zombie killer Alice is one reason for the movies’ popularity. Another is her husband, original director Paul W.S. Anderson. He returns for ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ (unscreened for critics), which also boasts the addition of Wentworth Miller as the game character Chris Redfield.
The breakout star of Fox TV’s ‘Prison Break’ is a 1990 graduate of Quaker Valley High School in Sewickley.
At Comic-Con International in July, Mr. Miller was the low-key panelist beside his bubbly co-stars, Ms. Jovovich and Ali Larter, pregnant and showing now but fighting trim as Claire Redfield, Chris’ sister in the games and on film.
Besides all the physical preparation that the actors go through for a grueling shoot, Mr. Miller had a lot of catching up to do on ‘Resident Evil’ lore.
“My parents put a whole lot of emphasis on homework, so there weren’t a whole lot of video games or comic books in my house, so I had to educate myself really quickly”, Mr. Miller said. “I’m making up for it now”.
Before his acting career took off, he did dabble in the creative side of the arts. He took a class in cartooning at Sweetwater Center for the Arts, and, while he was a Princeton student, he and his father co-created a 1991 comic book titled ‘Sewickleyness’ that poked fun at stereotypes about their neighborhood.
“Some people found the book to be hilarious; others weren’t so enthused”, Mr. Miller told justjared.buzznet.com.
Now a youthful 38 years old, Mr. Miller jumps from action-packed TV projects such as ‘Dinotopia’ and ‘Prison Break’ to big-screen action hero. As Chris, he becomes one of the good guys trying to make his way in the world after a rampant virus – unleashed by a corporation that had been manufacturing bioweapons – has turned a large portion of the population into “Majini” – undead and lethal creatures.
Creatures and characters from the games making an appearance here include the undead Doberman-like dogs whose heads open up a la the ‘Resident Evil 5′ game and the return of Albert Wesker, played by Jason O’Mara in ‘Resident Evil: Extinction’ (2007) and by Shawn Roberts in ‘Afterlife’.
Mr. Anderson said he thought some of the fight choreography in game No. 5 was “fantastic”, and he re-created a fight scene almost shot for shot onscreen involving Wesker, Claire and Chris.
For all the inspiration from the game, ‘Afterlife’ picks up right after the previous film, ‘Extinction’. Mr. Anderson, who has written all four screenplays but had directed only the original, was drawn back by the ability to make “a bigger, better” movie.
“I wanted to make the best ever ‘Resident Evil’”, he explained. “The 3-D is part of that, but I [was able] to get more money than ever, so I could make it a globe-trotting movie. We shot in Tokyo, we shot it in Alaska, we shot in Hollywood… in Canada. We really made an epic film, and I felt I was the filmmaker to bring that to the screen”.
Having Mr. Anderson back at the helm and as a resource was a relief for Mr. Miller, because bringing Chris Redfield to the party was a challenge for the new guy. He found himself on “this train barreling down the track… and my job was to jump on that train and keep my balance”.
He delved deep into the character to make Chris come to life for the gamers who already love him.
“There were a lot of things I tried to honor and incorporate, and the first thing was fan expectations. I went online to a lot of fan sites and blogs to see what the expectation was about this character”, he said.
“What I noticed about Chris Redfield, especially in the earlier versions of the video games, he was kind of bright and shiny in some ways, at the beginning of a very horrible journey with a lot of dark times ahead of him, and you see it in this movie. He’s got a lot of edge, a lot of darkness, and I’m grateful for what Ali and I were able to create, because it’s the dynamic with Claire that I think brings out some of the softer, protective, more vulnerable parts of Chris”.
Mr. Miller studied the video games to get an idea of Chris in a visual context and learn his backstory. He said besides what he brings to the table as an actor, there’s also the Chris Redfield as written and directed by Mr. Anderson that had to be taken into account.
“I have to fit into that context or I don’t fit at all”, he said.
His co-stars said he fit in just fine.
Footage screened at Comic-Con included an extensive, water-soaked fight scene that matches Claire and Chris against the hulking Executioner Majini. Before the film rolled, Ms. Jovovich gushed, “This scene is sick. These two guys killed it”.
She meant that figuratively, of course. You’ll have to see the film to discover if she meant it literally, too.