Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites the Redfields

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites the Redfields

Resident Evil: Death Island is the latest animated edition of the Resident Evil franchise. The story takes the gang to Alcatraz Island after clues from a zombie outbreak all point there. The story in Resident Evil: Death Island brings some major franchise regulars to the screen, including series favourites like Leon S. Kennedy, Rebecca Chambers, Jill Valentine, and reunites siblings Chris Redfield and Claire Redfield, played by Stephanie Panisello.

Voice actors often lend their voices to a variety of properties, and Panisello is no different. Having voiced characters in major franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Gears, Genshin Impact, Final Fantasy and more, she is no stranger to massive universes. Prior to the SAG strike, CGMagazine got to sit down with Stephanie to talk about the new film, Resident Evil: Death Island, and all things acting.

Please note: The following interview with Stephanie Panisello promoting Resident Evil: Death Island was completed prior to the SAG strike.

How did you get involved in voice acting? What made you want to do that?

Stephanie Panisello: It’s kind of a long and elaborate origin story. Since I was a child, I loved acting, but I never thought of it as a career. I always just assumed some people were just famous, and that’s just how it happened. But I did act since I was a little kid, so I was always writing plays, starring in plays, starting my own morning announcements, and doing all of that. And then I went on vacation to Los Angeles and never left.

I was staying at one of my best friend’s houses, and I had to figure out a place to stay, and I got very lucky. I started looking for jobs, but it was all like background work, just to understand what it was like to be on set. And then one day, I missed a bus, and I couldn’t get there, and I was suspended. But the funny part is that the same thing happened to Brad Pitt, and his career took off.

So, I feel like that was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me because then I started working at a Starbucks. This story goes all over the place. I was doing stand-up comedy at the time. And I had a customer in there who would see me on my breaks. He was like, “So what are you doing out here?” And I was like, “Oh, well, my mom wants me to be an actress.” He was like, “That’s weird, your mom wants you to be an actress,” and funny enough, he’s like, “Well, I work at a sound studio.”

It was Technicolor at the time. And he’s like, “What would you think about voice-over? “And I was like, “That sounds wonderful, but it’s so niche. I don’t even know how to get into it.” He’s like, “Well, read this book.” And so I read this book, right? And then he was like, “Oh, she’s very into it.” And he’s like, “Well, do you ever want to sit in on the session?” I was like, “Of course!” And eventually, a position opened up through the production side of games, and I got the job. And it just kind of led from there.

One day an actress didn’t show up, and the director just kind of looked at me and was like, “If only we had an actress here,” and I had no idea. And I was like, “My God, he’s talking about me!” And then that day, that’s when I voiced my first project, which is funny because, in hindsight. I probably shouldn’t have double majored in school and started going to law school because it was always in the cards.

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Resident Evil: Death Island

I’m sorry, did you say you were doing stand-up comedy? Do you still do stand-up?

Stephanie Panisello: I don’t do stand-up anymore. It was worth it to understand how to write your own material, perform your own material and fail. That was actually the thing that I really wanted was to learn how to fail and pick myself back up so that nothing would get through.

That’s really inspirational and a little sad.

Stephanie Panisello: No, actually, when I started getting good is when I decided, Nope, I’m done.  I was like, “Oh, I’m getting good at this. It’s time to go.”

What can you tell us about Resident Evil: Death Island and your character that you’re allowed to say?

Stephanie Panisello: That I can actually say…it’s tough because I know that it [Resident Evil: Death Island] has come out in certain parts of the world now, and what I can say is that Claire Redfield, specifically, you’re going to get all the, I guess we’ll call them “Clairisms”.

You’ll get to see all her different facets. You will get to see her being a total badass, but you will also get to see her full, kind self. We’ll put it that way. I can’t say too much. It’s rough. And I will also say that it’s a blast to be able to see all of the main characters together, and it’s been well-received already.

What is it like to play a character that’s just completely iconic when it comes to Resident Evil but that other people have also played?

Stephanie Panisello: When I first got the role for that was a little bit tricky because it was like, what do I do with this? How do I make this different? I was struggling with it at first because I already knew what she’s like. And then I was like, what characters do I also love? I’m a big Tomb Raider fan, I love Laura, and then I love Ellie in The Last of Us. Those are characters I really love, and I feel they are really strong female characters.

But I had a conversation with our director and with the producer—Mr. H, at CAPCOM—and I asked, “Is there anything you’d like me to do differently” after the first day. Mr. H just looked at me and was like, “No! You are her! Whatever you do, your choices, do that!” My director was like, “Let’s just run with it,” He goes, “You’re not recreating anyone. You’re just, you just being.

What they wanted was whatever I would bring to Claire Redfield. I obviously wanted to keep the essence of Claire from the originals, but I was told to change it. They wanted a revamp; they wanted it fresh. I’m thankful that they trusted me with all the cussing that I decided to add.

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Resident Evil: Death Island

So all the cussing, that was all you?

Stephanie Panisello: That was definitely me. They were concerned by one of the last lines when I was like, “Goodbye fucker!” And they were like, “Okay, great, great, great. Let’s try one that’s a little cleaner. We’re just we’re concerned about the fans. We don’t know if our original fans would like that.”

And I don’t know how I had the ability to say this, but I was like, “Well, then I guess we’ll get new fans.” And I couldn’t believe I said that. I said, “Listen, she shows up on a motorcycle. It’s the end of the world. She was trained by her brother. She’s obviously in combat. She’s not allowed to cuss?”

They looked at me and said, “You know what, yeah! We trust you.” And it was so beautiful because it was one of those games where there was a lot of trust and a lot of give and take. I think you can see that in the game, everyone really poured their hearts into it, and we all listened to each other.

So have you ever received any sort of backlash for bringing yourself to the character, or has it been purely positive?

Stephanie Panisello: There have been a couple of people here and there. They’re like, “Oh, she says too many bad words!” You know what I mean? But honestly, it’s been very well received. Even people that are really attached to the originals will say I’ve done a great job. That’s been really nice because I know that I wanted to honour her [Claire Redfield].

What was the VO [Voice-Over] process like for Resident Evil: Death Island, and was it different than other projects you have worked on

Stephanie Panisello: For the film specifically, I would say it’s similar. The process is similar to that of Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness that we did for Netflix in the sense that it’s full performance capture and voice. The only difference is that, unfortunately, for this project, we didn’t get to do the mocap because it was during COVID times, so it had to be done in Japan. So that was a little different for me to voice on mocap that was done previously.  

I will say that they were big on making sure that Claire’s mannerisms were still there. And when I would get in there after the fact, I would also make sure to add those nuances of the way she would maybe say something. I think that makes a difference in her character because there’s a level of spunkiness and smartassery that’s there.

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness

Do you prefer voice-over and mocap over live acting?

Stephanie Panisello: I wouldn’t say that I prefer it. I would say that there are freedoms that come with motion capture and voice-over. In that sense, if you saw me here, you’d be like, “Okay, this is her look. This is the type of character she can play,” and that would be it. But in motion capture and voice-over, I could legitimately be anything that I want to be.

So as long as I can perform and show up in that way, then it’s going to be real. With mobility, as long as you can move a certain way and understand your body really well, and then as far as voice goes, if you have the range, you could legit be anything. I’ve played little boys. I’ve been creatures. It’s endless.

And clearly, all the motion capture suits are super comfortable, right?

Stephanie Panisello: They’re actually not that uncomfortable. It’s just awkward when you go to the bathroom.

That’s fair. I didn’t consider that.

Stephanie Panisello: Because you’re Velcroed in. There’s a lot of Velcro and a lot of zippers, and then you gotta make sure that mics are off.

You’ve been part of some massive franchises like Resident Evil, Genshin Impact and Final Fantasy. How does it feel to be part of so many things that people love?

Stephanie Panisello: It’s pretty surreal because, honestly, I’m a nerd at heart, too. It’s not that I’m just in this field and I don’t like it, because I do, and I do appreciate it and respect it. And I think that that’s why it becomes an honour when you know people enjoy and appreciate a character that I’ve played.

So, for me, I don’t take that stuff lightly, and I always try to add some sort of human element to anything that I play. I definitely make sure I connect with something and then feelings I love. I mean, maybe I’m a sucker for understanding where these characters are coming from, but the feelings that they feel and stuff like that or adding humour to things to make things lighter, you know?

I know Cloud Retainer in Genshin Impact, which is…something else. People loved and hated her in the very beginning. Then they learned to really love her because she’s so absurd and ridiculous. They’re just really wonderful characters. So I love it. I’m definitely blessed too.

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Cloud Retainer, Genshin Impact

How does it feel to go on that arc with the character, “Oh my God, they hate her,” then  “Oh my God, they love her.”

Stephanie Panisello: I love it. Well, because I think they hated her in the beginning because she knew everything and she was so direct with everything because she’s all-knowing, right? So, she’s like, “One is most impressed,” when she says things like that, you’re like, “Whoa, what?” But they started to see those like moments of her maternal side, of those human sides. And that’s why I enjoyed that because it’s actually beautiful when you get to do that.

You can just create that character and be like you guys sit and wait. You’ll get there.

Stephanie Panisello: You’ll catch up. You’ll get there. There’s a growth there.

You mentioned you’re kind of a nerd yourself. Are there any projects you’re really a fan of that you might not have worked on? What do you nerd for?

Stephanie Panisello: I love The Last of Us, so I was very excited about HBO. I will say, though, I loved it when the show would stick to the game. That’s when I was the happiest. When I watched it, I had already been anticipating for years for that show to come out. So I kind of knew the game back and front.

There are other games that I love that I guess we’ll say are more like classics; Rayman was one of my first games, or Crash Bandicoot or any of those. I was lucky enough to do some stuff with Tomb Raider, lucky enough to do some stuff with Star Wars. It’s kind of interesting because, at this point, I almost would love to maybe do a new franchise.

Any goal like I “If I make it to this, that’s it I’ve done it all”?

Stephanie Panisello: Nah. In this career, there is no goal. That’s the thing that you actually have to feel comfortable with because it is a journey. There are ups. There are downs and ups and downs. You never just make it. It’s never like, “This is it!”

It’s all about the journey, right? The beauty of this career, I feel, is the longevity of it. I had the chance to work with this older gentleman who is, I think, turned 90, Jack Angel (World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, Final Fantasy XV). It’s just so beautiful that it is the journey through it.

Do you have any wish list game properties you want to be a part of that you still haven’t reached?

Stephanie Panisello: I did stuff with Marvel, so I guess I can’t say Marvel now.

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Resident Evil: Death Island

Any specific part of Marvel?

Stephanie Panisello: I’m a big fan of Wonder Woman, so I think Wonder Woman would be pretty sweet if I could do anything related to that. I also like Batgirl. That girl would be cool. So we’re talking on DC side. And then I love X-Men. I don’t know. I really love Wolverine. But I don’t think I’m allowed to voice Wolverine. Maybe not. But my range, I could work on this. I could work on my range.

Anything people should know before walking into Resident Evil: Death Island?

Stephanie Panisello: I think they should just come open-minded and then just see where it goes. Because I think it honestly feels like The Avengers of Resident Evil. There’s just something very nostalgic and fun about everyone together. I think that’s what adds an element that I don’t think you’ve ever really seen. I don’t think we’ve had all the Resident Evil gals together. That’s a first.

You’re going to see some variety and some fun. We’re going to get to see the Redfield’s together again. The brother/sister duo has not been together in a long time, and in this reboot, we haven’t seen it.

In the process, were you able to work together on Resident Evil: Death Island, or were you isolated?

Stephanie Panisello: Unfortunately, we had to record separately, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that in the recordings. At this point like I already actually knew Kevin [Dorman] (Fallout 4, Avatar: The Way of Water) because I’d worked with him on another project, another thing I can’t talk about.

It’s funny because we were both like, “Wait a minute, you are my brother!” “You are my sister!” And then Nicole [Tompkins] (Resident Evil 3, Tactics Ogre: Reborn), I already have known. We’ve never actually worked together. This will be the first project. But she voices Jill Valentine. And so, she and I would, after our sessions be like, “How’d it go? What’d you think?” and I’m like, “Did you see that scene?”

Resident Evil: Death Island Reunites The Redfields
Resident Evil: Death Island

Would you say that the recording Resident Evil: Death Island separately didn’t really hurt the bonding process?

Stephanie Panisello: No. The funny thing is that sometimes with these projects and a lot of the Resident Evil projects, I’ve been able to bond with a lot of them outside of the games. So, like Maggie Robertson (Resident Evil Village, God of War: Ragnarök), I’ve become good friends with her and Nicole. I was never in either one of those games with them. So, it just kind of connects good people together. We all seem to find each other, and the bonding doesn’t end.

Is there a Resident Evil group chat?

Stephanie Panisello: Sometimes there is because we did a convention over in Birmingham. There was a good chunk of us together. So yes, there was definitely a group chat there. We all hung out there.

Do you have a favourite Resident Evil property? Whether it’s games or live action. You can’t say Resident Evil: Death Island! That’s cheating.

Stephanie Panisello: Yeah, honestly, Resident Evil 2 was the one that I had been introduced to, so I would have to say that it holds a special place in my heart because of it. It’s good. It was a great game. I think it kind of puts horror on the map, honestly. It made a big deal.

Resident Evil: Death Island has already been released overseas and is available on Blu-Ray and Digital on July 25, 2023.

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