Avan Jogia On Playing A Fan Favorite Character In Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City – Exclusive Interview
“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is the seventh entry in the long-running film franchise based on one of the biggest video game series of all time. It’s also a complete restart of the property as well — following six action-oriented movies starring Milla Jovovich and (mostly) directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, writer and director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”) now takes “Resident Evil” back to its horror roots.
Based on the first two games, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is set in the title town, a dying community that’s home to the mysterious Umbrella Corporation and its strange, malevolent experiments. Just as Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns home after years away to reunite with her estranged brother Chris (Robbie Amell), all hell breaks loose as horrific zombies and mutations overrun the town and its besieged police force.
In addition to the Redfields, early game characters such as Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), and lead Umbrella scientist William Birkin (Neal McDonough) take center stage in this film. Also among them is the popular Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia), the rookie police officer who stumbles hungover into his first day on the job and is forced to confront a nightmare scenario.
Prior to playing Kennedy, 29-year-old Avan Jogia first broke out in 2010 on the Nickelodeon series “Victorious,” where he starred alongside other up-and-coming young stars like Ariana Grande and Victoria Justice. His work since then includes the title role in the miniseries “Tut,” roles in the Syfy series “Ghost Wars” and the Starz show “Now Apocalypse,” and appearances in major studio films such as “Shaft” and “Zombieland: Double Tap.”
Jogia is an author and musician with a book of poetry and an album, both titled “Mixed Feelings” to his credit, and his feature directorial debut, an indie thriller called “Door Mouse,” is due out in 2022. He tells Looper he doesn’t like to characterize himself as one kind of artist: “I wake up in the morning and decide what kind of art I want to make, and then I go from there.”
Avan Jogia was a Resident Evil player before joining the movie
Were you a gamer and/or a Resident Evil player before you came on board for this?
Yeah. I mean, I’m huge gamer. I played “Resident Evil 4” on the Gamecube when it first came out. I played the earlier games too, but “4” was really my game. The earlier games, it was that classic video game situation where you’re over your cousin’s house or a friend’s house at like, you know, 2:00 in the morning, drinking sodas and eating chips, and playing “Resident Evil” and terrifying yourself. So my relationship with the game is very much that of a fan and similar to what a lot of fans experience when playing the games.
Johannes Roberts (“Welcome to Raccoon City” director) said that probably out of all of you, Robbie Amell was probably the biggest gamer in the cast.
I don’t know. I mean, I think he plays a lot more first person shooters. I play like, “Crusader Kings” — large, long form, master strategy games, grand strategy games. I like the top down games more. I think Robbie plays way more shooter games than I do. I think it’s funny. It was fun, me and a lot of the cast really play video games, which is cool. You know, it’s not always the case. Sometimes you’re having to convince people about what this is even about. So I think a lot of people play games, which is cool.
His thoughts on playing a beloved character from the game
When you heard about this film, did you go back and look at Leon on the game, or did you just stick to the script?
I was actually hilariously playing — they did a port on the Switch, so I was playing [the series] already. It was quarantine and I wanted a video game to play, so I happened to already be running through the game again. I mean, it’s not bad research for a part. You sit around and play video games all day. It was fantastic. I’m like a second generation gamer. My mom is really big into video games. So actually, you know, I was playing the remaster with my mom and just having a ball.
Do you feel any kind of pressure playing a character so well known to “Resident Evil” fans?
Yeah. I think everyone has an emotional connection to Leon. And so, as far as my job is concerned, I just have to go with my own emotional connection to Leon and what’s on the page, what’s already been laid out for me. That’s the stuff that I have to lead with in order to do my job as an actor.
But I think that any kind of passion, whether it’s positive or negative about it, all it really translates to me is that people are passionate about this character and these characters, and this franchise, and this game. And that’s just cool. It’s just cool to be a part of something that people are passionate about. I don’t translate it as good or bad, really. I really just see it as people are impassioned about it. It matters to them, which is great.
How do you see Leon in the movie? He’s the audience in a way. He’s the guy who comes into the situation and doesn’t really have a grasp of what’s happening.
I think you nailed it. I think Johannes from day one really took that one element from “RE 2,” of it being his first day and, and really ran with that: What would it be like to be completely over-stimulated and out of your depth on your first day as a police officer in what is supposed to be a cow town? And just the worst thing happens, so how does that a person navigate that? He’s a little hungover, a little unprepared, a little not trained, and is sort of trying to work his way through that. Then it becomes sort of more of a badass sort of Leon, that maybe people are more familiar with.
The thing about games from the earlier era of video gaming is that there wasn’t much character development in early video games. Characters just sort of showed up as they were … So I think when Johannes went to write the character, I think that he was concentrating on taking this character from one place to something else. Both Leon and Albert Wesker have journeys now.
How Jogia thinks fans will react to the new movie
There are probably people who go to see this movie who may only know “Resident Evil” from the previous films. How do you think these people will respond to what may, to them, look like a completely new take on the franchise?
It depends on how you start this origin story. Do you start this origin story as, okay, we have these horror video games, and then these action films were made. They found a whole new audience that love those films, and obviously you don’t make six of them without people really loving the franchise and what it has to offer. Now it’s being retranslated back into the original IP, which is a horror game. It’s the original, it’s one of the mother games. It created a whole genre of video game, the horror video game.
So it would make sense that the new film adaptation would return back to that origin. I think that if you like the original “Resident Evil” films, I think it resembles them enough while also just giving horror fans and fans of “Resident Evil” the horror aspects they want … this is definitely more faithful to the horror aspects of those original games.
Avan Jogia is more than just an actor
You’ve published poetry, you recorded an album, and you also just directed a movie. But do you consider yourself primarily an actor?
I try to avoid the titling thing in general, in my life — what I am or what I do. We like to categorize in life as humans. I try to not do that to myself. But yeah, I act, I direct, I’m a writer, sometimes poetry, sometimes screenplays. I write music and perform music, and I try to keep it pretty diverse.
I wake up in the morning and decide what kind of art I want to make, and then I go from there rather than deciding what I am and what I’m supposed to do every day. I just go, what am I making today? Because that’s what I have to do. I have to make stuff. So what is that? Sometimes I wake up and I’m making a movie, and I’m acting in it, so I’m an actor. So I just like to be a part of creation, you know?
How did your first time directing a feature go? Did you take things that you learned from watching other directors and apply it?
I’ve got 15 years of film school that I’ve been at. The great thing about being an actor is you see every job, you see every position on the film set and you get a really good sense of what it looks like when someone’s doing their job really, really well, and maybe the opposite of that.
So I took that sort of information into directing my first film. It was an amazing experience and obviously something that, you know, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel at the end of it. But I felt like, being able to direct is an aspect of my creative life that I feel good doing. I feel at home. So therefore I’m trying to pursue doing more of it.
I definitely felt at home directing, which was cool. I could have been like, “Oh, I hate this.” But I really enjoyed it. I think it went off pretty well. I mean, it was six years in the making — writing the script, and trying to get it made. It’s cool. I like indie film. It’s rough around the edges. We’re definitely all trying to make something of worth that is different than what’s being put into the market. That’s the thing about indie film — we’re making films that people don’t see as commercial. It’s really us trying to make something that’s different than what’s out there, and that’s a cool thing to be a part of.
Castmates old and new, and who he'd like to play in the MCU
Your first breakout role was on the show “Victorious.” What do you remember about doing that show with Ariana Grande and the rest of the cast? You were all kind of coming up at the same time.
It’s like college. Those are my college friends. That’s the time that I was doing that — my late teens, early 20s. It’s lovely to have friends who you grew up with, who kind of understand what it’s like and understand what we all experienced together. So in that way, it’s like college, you know, it’s like college friends. It’s nice to have that friend group.
You still stay in touch with everybody or talk to each other occasionally?
Yes, the way that you stay in touch with your college friends. I’ll see you when I see you, but I’ve got love for you. But I’ll see you when I see you.
Your co-star in this film, Hannah John-Kamen, also played Ghost in the MCU movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” If you were approached to join the MCU, is there a character you would love to play if you had that chance?
Oh, man. I don’t know. I mean, anyone who’s throwing cards. I like all the characters that are a little bit more fun. The muscle-bound, tights guy is not nearly as fun as Gambit or something. I mean, he’s actually pretty muscle-bound. But if he’s throwing a deck of cards … I like characters with a little bit more personality and there’s great characters in the MCU world that I’d love to pursue. I like Gambit. I like that character a lot.
Avan on his favorite actors and movies — and the future of Resident Evil
Name one actor or director you’ve never worked with that you’d love to work with.
Sam Rockwell or Gary Oldman. Those are my heroes. That’s the kind of actor that I wanted to be when I got into the game. They’re heroes of mine. I think they’re very talented and it’d be great to be able to say that I worked with them and be able to play some tennis with someone that good. Really, for me, acting has always been about just trying to get on the court with really good players so that I can get my game better.
What is your favorite movie of all time?
Oh, hard one. I love “Panic in Needle Park.” I love “Muppet Treasure Island.” I love “Rosemary’s Baby.” I love “A Clockwork Orange.” I love Wong Kar-wai’s “Fallen Angels.” Basically all Wong Kar-wai’s films. I don’t do favorite movies. I just do a barrage of movies I really love.
Diao Yinan directed a film called “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” I like that film. It’s a really cool film that came out in 2014 as a neo-noir sort of deal. I just think that movie’s so good. We’re spoiled for good movies now. There’s so much to watch that’s really, really good. I’m going back a lot of the time to find films that I missed. I have friends who are quite good with recommendations and I just listen to them, basically.
Is there one role you wish you could play, past, present or future?
I don’t know. I mean, I feel like there’s so much … I’ve been lucky. I’ve done some stuff I really wanted to do. I got to play Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Played Leon Kennedy. I get lucky. Touch wood, but I’ve been really fortunate to play characters that I feel like feel a part of my DNA, or my story in a way. They feel not too dissimilar to my story. So I don’t know. I don’t know what the exact role would be, but up to this point, I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky.
If this film does well, are you up for more?
Yeah. I think the creative team that we assembled, it feels good to be in good hands, like Johannes’ hands, and trusting the powers that be to create the next thing. There’s so much “Resident Evil” lore to pull from, so we’re spoiled for choice as far as what it would be about. That’s cool. At least it’s not like we’re trying to come up with something out of thin air. We got a lot of really great games to pull from.
“Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” opens in theaters on November 24.