Resident Evil had lofty aspirations from the very start.
Even working within the confines of the original PlayStation's now-primitive technology, cinematic immersion was a priority. So what if the acting was a bit pants back in 1996? It defined the franchise's intent, and 25 years later, Capcom has only become more ambitious as technology has caught up with its vision.
The series has gone from cult '90s sensation to global chart-buster, becoming Capcom's best-selling franchise with over 107 million units sold. That’s partly thanks to the work of the actors that have brought the series’ unforgettable characters to life. It's been a strange journey, marked by hulking masses of black goo, nine-foot women, police-hunting trolls, and chainsaw-wielding maniacs.
Inverse spoke with five of the biggest STARS of the Resident Evil franchise — Roger Craig Smith (Chris Redfield), Nicole Tompkins (Jill Valentine), DC Douglas (Albert Wesker), Jeff Schine (Carlos Oliveira), and Katie O'Hagan (Mia Winters). With strange origin stories, illogical alter-egos, unlikely personality traits, and bizarre workplace challenges, the cast of the venerable survival horror series proves the behind-the-scenes stories are every bit as outlandish as those played out in living rooms worldwide.
Despite portraying a band of larger-than-life heroes and villains, most of the folk behind Resident Evil's characters came from modest beginnings.
"I packed one bag and bought myself a ticket to LA," begins Schine, who plays mercenary soldier Carlos Oliveira in the 2020 remake of Resident Evil 3. "I booked a commercial for Dunkin Donuts. I don't even know if it aired."
Schine’s not the only one whose career didn't start with a bang. Katie O'Hagan, who plays Mia Winters, the wife of Resident Evil 7 and Village hero Ethan Winters, started doing stunt work in a Wild West amusement park in Illinois. She later graduated into stage shows, parades, and meet-and-greets as the Evil Queen at Disneyland. DC Douglas, who plays STARS commander turned nefarious Umbrella Corporation double-agent Albert Wesker, was once the voice of an AT&T ride at Epcot Center. He later became a phone moderator in the '90s.
"You used to pay $1.99 a minute to call up and do quizzes," Douglas recalls. "I think they eventually just became sex lines."
His Resident Evil 5 counterpart Roger Craig Smith, who plays recurring series protagonist Chris Redfield, was an aspiring comedian. Smith was advised to try voice work after a lackluster set at the Aspen Comedy Festival.
"I wasn't good at stand-up comedy," he admits. "But thank goodness — I wouldn't have had a voiceover career if not for people telling me to stop doing stand-up."
Smith and Douglas are now veterans of the franchise, appearing in Resident Evil games since the late '00s. They've also nailed some eye-popping roles further afield. Smith has played Sonic The Hedgehog, Batman, and Captain America over the past decade. Douglas has carved out a niche performing in over-the-top genre movies like Titanic 2, Sharknado 2, and a forthcoming feature from B-movie giants The Asylum titled Aquarium of the Dead.
"It's going to be silly as hell," Douglas laughs, rather less menacingly than his in-game double.
Not so tough after all
Gaming voiceover and mo-cap is a fairly small world, and most of the Resident Evil cast assembled have bumped into each other over the years. Their first impressions remain vivid.
Schine’s free time is split between diaper changing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But is he a real-life tough guy? Not quite.
"He’s kind of a goof," O’Hagan laughs.
Nicole Tompkins, who plays Resident Evil 3 protagonist Jill Valentine, is a goofball herself — she’s developed a reputation among her castmates for singing constantly. She found a kindred spirit performing alongside Neil Newbon, who played Jill’s undead stalker, Nemesis.
"He's a dandy dapper dude," she cheerfully declares of the man behind the lumbering monstrosity. "We would film musical duets during our lunch."
Though he played an archvillain unhinged enough to willingly inject himself with a mutating virus in Resident Evil 5, Douglas isn’t quite so intimidating in real life, either.
"I was really groggy [over the weekend]," he says over Zoom. "We had high winds on Sunday — I get hives when the weather changes dramatically."
How did this cast of colorful allsorts end up as series-defining characters in the Resident Evil franchise? Largely by accident, as it turns out.
The story seems unanimous across the board: most didn't even realize they were auditioning for a Resident Evil game.
"It wasn't until a year into shooting at a table read that it accidentally slipped," says O'Hagan of working on Resident Evil 7. "I thought I was just doing this cute, scary little Japanese video game."
Even when the actors did know what they'd got themselves into, not everyone truly grasped the scope.
"I'm not well versed in video games, even now," says Douglas.
He's not the only one. Tompkins didn't get stuck in with the franchise as a gamer until the pandemic struck in 2020. Now, she live-streams Resident Evil playthroughs on YouTube, sometimes inviting her co-stars.
It doesn't necessarily mean they're actually good at the games, though. "There's definitely been a lot of death," Tompkins admits. "I killed Jill a lot."
At least she's performed better than O'Hagan. "I've not gotten far," she says of her attempts to play Resident Evil 7. "I couldn't even get into the house."
From intense auditions that left them sore to the bone, to days spent recording menial actions like jumping over walls, voice and mo-cap work can take it out of a person. Flying to Japan for the production of the Resident Evil 3 remake was especially intense.
"They gave us like half a day to get settled," Tompkins says. "The first two or three days, around lunchtime, everyone looks like they have the flu."
Recording audio for deaths (or "efforts") are another aspect of the performance that Tompkins found draining.
"It's extremely strenuous, just doing a bunch of death sounds," she explains. "Dying by fire, [and] all the different variations of how long burning alive takes? There's a lot of loud pain involved."
Douglas laments the hours spent having metal pellets glued to his face for motion capture work, and not being able to deliver a more subtle performance of the arch-villain, Wesker:
"He's like Ted Bundy — a really charming serial killer — but with the inner workings of Donald Trump,” Douglas explains. “I wanted to give a more cinematic performance in Resident Evil 5. But every line, when I had a way to underplay them to make them more powerful and evil, they'd go 'no, go the other way!'"
"I'm trying to do Dustin Hoffman," he laughs. "But they want me to be Vincent Price!"
Welcome to the family
The whole cast says they’ve loved being involved with the franchise. "The passion of the fan base is unmistakable," declares Smith. “There's nothing better than seeing a Chris Redfield cosplay, or people bringing a papier-mache boulder for me to sign." (The boulder’s a nod to a particularly over-the-top moment in Resident Evil 5, when Chris takes out his frustration by punching stone.)
"You become this very tight-knit family," says Schine, unknowingly evoking one of the most iconic lines of Resident Evil 7. O'Hagan echoes the sentiment, calling the series "the greatest acting job I've ever had."
While bringing Jill Valentine’s series-spanning adventures to life might seem like a daunting prospect, Tompkins says the experience has been “a whirlwind of positivity and loveliness."
At present, O'Hagan is the only actor confirmed to return for Village. (Schine is coy about rumors that he'll be taking on the role of Chris Redfield from Smith.) Still, Douglas sums up a sentiment shared across the board: Would you do it all again?
"As we say in America," replies Douglas, "Fuck yes."