I am meeting the actress Milla Jovovich at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong hotel and suggest I situate myself at the far end of the room, even though there are only the two of us at this interview. I am recovering from laryngitis, I explain.
Jovovich shrugs. “I have two kids,” the actress says, sitting directly across. “Laryngitis, whatever ailment… I’ve seen them all.”
Not forgetting the dreaded T-virus that has been decimating Earth's population, turning them into raving bloodthirsty undead in the Resident Evil sci-fi horrors based on Capcom’s popular survival games.
The five installments written-directed-produced by British filmmaker Paul WS Anderson have grossed over US$1 billion (S$1.4 bil) worldwide since the 2002 Resident Evil to be the most successful video game movie series ever, and Jovovich, who married her director in 2009, is the face of the franchise, starring as Alice: an original character created for the films, Alice was an Umbrella Corporation security operative, now the staunchest enemy of the bioengineering giant responsible for the epidemic.
Her action-packed battle to save humanity culminates this week in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. The sixth, concluding 3D zombie slayfest, which picks up immediately after the 2012 Resident Evil: Retribution, will return Alice to Raccoon City. It will reunite trusty allies including Ali Larter’s Claire as the Umbrella gathers its forces for a final strike against the remaining survivors.
Alice should watch out too for the Red Queen, the diabolic supercomputer hologram played by Anderson’s and Jovovich’s eight-year-old daughter Ever Gabo.
Filming in South Africa was delayed from August 2014 to 2015 because of Jovovich's pregnancy with the couple’s second child. Resident Evil sets are no place for the vulnerable. A stunt double was left in a medically induced coma when her motorcycle crashed into a camera crane and her paralysed arm had to be amputated. Another crewmember was crushed to death by a Humvee.
Jovovich is much different from both her screen persona and the wild child of her reputation although still a statuesque stunner, towering over me at 1.73 metres. She is serious and soft-spoken, wearing a striped boatneck tee, flared jeans and fringed short black hair. Perhaps motherhood has mellowed the 41-year-old. But I know better than to mess with a woman who trained in karate, kickboxing and combat to perform all her stunts, who memorably kicked a zombie dog's head in slo-mo.
8 DAYS: Six films. Fifteen years. Did you ever think the Resident Evil series would last this long?
MILLA JOVOVICH: No! I never even thought there’d be a sequel, period. When I did the first one it was because Resident Evil was one of our favourite games I used to play with my little brother. I thought it’d be a cool adaptation. We made it with a lot of good will and had a great time, but never thought it would end up being a franchise.
There was no pressure from the studio? The US$35 million production did gross US$102.4 million.
The studio always wanted one but it wasn’t until Paul got inspired that he would commence doing a sequel. We would take time, and then Paul would get re-inspired to write another.
That is inconceivable in today’s Hollywood of multi-picture-deal blockbusters.
Even when there was talk of a three-picture deal we always said no because we wanted the freedom not to be forced to do something we weren’t ready for.
The success is all the more remarkable given the dismal track record of video game movies, from Super Mario Bros. to, most recently, Assassin’s Creed.
I mean, listen, this was always a passion project. A lot of this kind of comic book video game sci-fi movies become just big business for studios whereras Resident Evil was always in the hands of fans. We started off making a small Euro horror flick. We built it up slowly with a lot of heart for the original property, and I think the essence of that needed to stay. This way, you might love it, you might hate it, but it was always done with a lot of respect and we always have a great time doing it and I think that translates to the audience that it’s not another generic product, which, when it comes to action films, is rare. They just see dollar signs and forget what it means to be a fan.
Resident Evil has been a box-office phenomenon, as well as a personal journey. Over the course of the series you and Paul married and birthed two daughters.
It’s a great point that it has been a very personal journey. And I think that has helped carry the passion through because part of us wanting these movies to be great comes from our love for each other. Paul wouldn’t want me to be in something he didn’t put his heart and soul into it, and I wouldn’t want to make a movie with Paul I didn’t put all of my heart and soul into.
And now your daughter Ever is in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. It’s become a complete family affair.
Ever has been on set since she was a baby but I didn’t think it a made a big impression because she would have been used to it. Then when she was five, she said. “Mama, I want to be an actor.” And I was like, oh my god, here we go. She learned to read so she could memorise a script. She went to acting class and loved it, even though it was on a Saturday. And again after a year she said, “Mama, I want to audition.” At that point Paul was writing the movie and he said he would love for Ever to be in it. And I said, I don’t know, she’s too young… He said she’s really talented, and it would be a very special experience for her to do this last one with us. I definitely wasn’t prepared for that obsession, that single-mindedness. So it’s my job at this point to make sure she works hard to be deserving. It can’t just be nepotism.
How did you yourself get into acting?
You know, it’s funny because I never wanted to be an actress. My mum was an actress in the Soviet Union. We were immigrants, and she taught me what she knew. Carrying on the craft of the parent, as they say.
You have since carved a reputation as a strong action heroine with Alice possibly your defining role, although I’m also thinking the alien clone Leeloo in The Fifth Element and the martyr Joan of Arc in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and even, well, the sociopath in a B-movie like The Perfect Getaway.
It’s funny you would mention that. I didn’t understand at the moment, but there was something in me from a very early age that rebelled very hard against being typecast as the girlfriend or the girl-next-door. I was deathly afraid of being just another pretty face. My mum scared me so bad about “Your looks will fade! You need to think about your mind.” That’s what pushed me into the parts I chose.
That’s ironic given your start as a model.
I mean, I did Return to the Blue Lagoon, and that was such a horrible experience. That was part of the reason I went into music: I didn’t think I was a very good actress. And I wasn’t. It took me doing The Fifth Element and something clicking in my head like, “How do you embody a character?” that I went, oh, maybe acting is my thing. But I always wanted to do something that wasn’t about being on camera as well. I always fought against that stereotype. It’s interesting how my career took shape from there because it hasn’t been the typical path. I wanted to do things my way, to be an artist on my own terms. I was just nine when I started acting, but already I was not to be dictated to. As soon as people say, “Oh, you’re a model; you can’t act,” I was like, “I’ll show you.” Or if you are a model-actress you can’t sing, I’m like, “I can.” It was a continuation of that. There was a very strong instinct inside me of wanting to prove people wrong. I don’t know if it’s good or bad (laughs).
What will you miss most about Resident Evil?
What I love about making sci-fi is in getting transported to an alternate universe so different from your normal life. Whether The Fifth Element or Resident Evil, magical fantasy, even post-apocalyptic horror, is like escaping into a storybook. I’ve always loved reading The Lord of the Rings, Dune… It’s hard to think that I’ve finished the book. But Resident Evil was a long book.
There can always be a spin-off.
You never know. Maybe Ever in seven years’ time….
Resident Evil: The Next Generation.