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At 29, Canadian actor Avan Jogia has already written a book, released an album and directed a feature film based on his own original screenplay, Door Mouse. Jogia, who just returned to the big screen as rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy in Johannes Roberts’ Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, is now opening up about his ambitious nature and why he’s so determined to please his teenage self above all else.
“It’s more that I’m trying to make sure that the person who had all these dreams and aspirations is proud, happy and satisfied,” Jogia tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And that takes not just doing the thing but making sure that the things you’re doing align with your core values. It’s funny because you spend your whole teenagehood wanting to be an adult, and once you become an adult, you spend your entire adulthood trying to prove to the teenager… that you became an adult in the way that you promised you would. And part of that, for me, was being an intensely creative individual. I like to be scared, and directing a movie was the hardest and scariest thing I’ve done to date.”
Playing Kennedy in Resident Evil also aligned with this outlook since Resident Evil 4 was one of his favorite video games as a teenager.
“When I first put on the full tactical gear and looked at myself in the mirror, I thought, ‘Okay, this is a childhood video game character that I now get to embody,’ which is a pretty exciting thing,” Jogia explains. “That speaks to what we just talked about and trying to be the adult that your teenage self wanted to be. So playing a character that I played as a child is pretty high towards the top.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Jogia also discusses Kennedy’s arc, his rocket launcher moment and why he doesn’t mind Zoom-based casting processes.
So you last worked with Sony on Zombieland: Double Tap, and like most studios, when they like an actor, they tend to find more opportunities for them. So were there any direct links between Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City and Zombieland, or was it just a coincidence in this case?
Just the zombies, I think. (Laughs.) The undead was the major link. No, it’s just a coincidence in this regard. I’m a big fan of the Resident Evil franchise, so this was a cool opportunity.
Was this the first casting process of yours that took place entirely over Zoom? Is that less than ideal?
The industry has been changing for years anyway, so I started to do a lot more auditions on tape regardless. Then the pandemic hit, and now it’s all tapes. But I don’t mind it. I recently left Los Angeles; I used to live there, but I don’t live there anymore. So Zoom allows me to live on the road, and I can take auditions wherever I’m at, basically, which is obviously an advantage from a lifestyle perspective.
Did you and Kaya Scodelario eventually read together over Zoom?
No, we didn’t read together. I think it all came together individually, piecemeal-y. We were one of the first bigger things up and running at the time, so we were trudging through uncharted territory. So we didn’t really need to read together.
Once you got cast as Leon S. Kennedy, did you buy the games and go to town as a form of prep?
As far as research for a role goes, this is not bad. I got to play video games all day, so that’s not so bad. I grew up playing Resident Evil 4. I played Leon Kennedy for hundreds of hours before I ever played Leon Kennedy in a movie.
I like that he’s not another alpha male cop. Even he wondered how he ended up in this position as a rookie cop in Raccoon City. So this starting point allowed him to have the most distinct character arc in the film. Was his evolution the most attractive aspect of the role to you?
Yeah, for sure. In a blockbuster with IP and so much to establish as far as a first movie is concerned, I do feel lucky to have one of the more carved-out arcs in the film. He goes from a rookie on his first day, who’s totally out of his depth and completely flung into the deep water, to someone who swims and looks a lot more like the video game character towards the end of the film. He gains his confidence and adapts to the crazy new world that’s been established. As an actor, I’m always trying to find parts that obviously have that arc and feel like there’s something to do as far as a progression is concerned. With blockbusters and movies of this size, you usually just take the opportunity and don’t do much thinking about that sort of stuff, but I got lucky on this one.
Have you looked ahead at where Leon might be headed, or have you resisted that temptation?
I’m a 15-year vet, so I know full well the procedures that are in place before anything happens. I think we’re just happy to have a film out for the fans that represents the horror aspect of the games a little better — or just at all. So it’s nice to get this film out to the people who like Resident Evil, and that’s about as far as I’ve thought even though I love the Leon character. Luckily, Resident Evil has so much lore to pull from. They’re not short on story going forward, if they want to make this or make that. They’ve got a rich tapestry of stuff to pull from.
Does Leon actually have narcolepsy? What’s going on with this guy?
(Laughs.) I think he just had a rough night. He’s a little hungover, and he’s getting his forty winks in on the job. He’s doing a lot of sleeping, especially when the truck explodes. That’s when one starts to wonder about him, but he’s got headphones on and he’s quite hungover. It was funny, actually, because I hadn’t listened to a CD-man…? Walkman? CD Walkman?
That’s right! Discman! I hadn’t listened to one of those in a while, but the audio quality is amazing. It’s amazing what happens when you’re not streaming songs off the Internet. It’s like, “Oh, right! I forgot that fidelity is the thing!” So I like the nostalgia of the film and the ’90s era that it’s placed in. It’s fun to be in that world.
I’m envious that Leon can sleep through pretty much anything including an exploding big rig. Are you a heavy sleeper as well?
I think I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, but I’m a little light on sleep these days. I started this whole press tour at 5 o’clock in the morning, my time. So I’m a heavy sleeper when I get it; I just don’t get it very often. (Laughs.)
When the semi-truck flips over and the burning trucker walks into the police station, did a stunt performer actually do that fire stunt?
I think there was a fire walk outside. But for the walk inside, I think a stuntman did that fire walk and it was embellished with some CGI. That’s what I like about the film in general. It’s the right amalgamation of practical effects and CGI to embellish. To me, that’s always the right way to do it. You start with something practical so the actors can react to it, and then you spruce it up. So I extinguished a burning fake body.
It looks like you guys shot a lot of nights…
Oh yeah! It was “vampire hours.”
So that probably helped you perform Leon’s hangover.
(Laughs.) Oh yeah! I was happy to have scenes I could sleep in, but it was all shot over nights for three months, which is always hard. It’s fine to work until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, but staying asleep until the mid-afternoon is always the harder part.
And lots of rain machines?
I actually got out okay. I know Kaya got drenched, but I actually got out okay. I’m almost ashamed to say it because I know how hard it was for the people in the rain.
You got to deliver some action movie one-liners such as, “Found it in first class,” and every young actor probably dreams about performing these moments. Did you provide the director [Johannes Roberts] with a bunch of different flavors for that line? Or was each take pretty consistent?
The opportunity to have a genuine Rambo, ’80s actioner moment — where you fire a rocket launcher and you kill the thing and then you have the line — I don’t know how often that’s going to pop up in my career. We don’t really do that anymore. So I was really excited to do it and I was happy to have the moment. I had to say the “first class” line and then I had to get rid of the rocket launcher. But after doing the thing and saying the line, I couldn’t put the rocket launcher down very carefully; that wouldn’t be very Rambo of me. So I did the shoulder chuck. I asked for a soft surface to put it on, but it fell and the viewfinder got a little mucked up. So it was one of one take. I don’t think I did that many. I may have done one dry run where I didn’t throw down the rocket launcher, but the one where I threw the rocket launcher is the one that we used. So that was it. No more rocket launcher.
Shooting during Covid is difficult for every film, but Raccoon City had to be extra challenging since it involves zombie-like antagonists.
Yeah, it’s a little different. It’s not even just zombies; it’s specifically infectious zombies. It was surreal. This was pre-vaccine, so we, the crew and cast, were forging protocols and rules as far as what’s to be done and the level of expectation from the higher-ups. When we all got in front of the camera, people would take their masks off, and then a character would be hacking and coughing, saying, “I’ve been infected!” So it was a bit surreal to do it at the time. You’re like, “You’ve been checked, right? Everyone’s clear? Because you’re coughing a lot on me in this scene.” (Laughs.) So it was the early days of all that stuff. On a big movie like this, you have insurance like all films, but if you get shut down, you have enough money to come back. A couple months after Resident Evil, I directed an indie film that I wrote on a much smaller budget, and the anxiety of shooting during that time, especially when you’re directing your baby, is so stressful. It turns you into a little bit of a hypochondriac, really. If anyone gets sick, that’s it. It’s night night movie. We would just throw all that footage away because there’s no way we could afford to come back. So it was more stressful when I was in the directing world than when I was in the acting world.
Can you tell me a bit more about your film?
Yeah, it’s a film called Door Mouse that I wrote and directed. I wrote it six or seven years ago when the world was a very different place. The film is about an erosion of morality over time and how systems of power oppress the vulnerable. That’s the messaging and the thematic elements of the film, but I like films to be films. So many films are made to be either full entertainment or full education, and I’m a “sugar with my medicine” sort of cat. So it’s a film about this character named Mouse, and she’s going through this quarter-life crisis. She’s not exactly sure what she’s doing with her life, and she works at this club called Mama’s. And these people start going missing from the club, and Mouse and her friend Ugly, who’s this beautiful, introspective dude, have to figure out why these people are going missing. It’s a punk-rock noir; it’s in that realm. There are comic book-y elements to it as well. So I just wanted to make a film where characters say the line and hold the gun out, but still have the themes be about stuff that I align myself with, emotionally and politically. It was such a cool experience, but it took six years to make because the themes didn’t resonate with what was going on in the zeitgeist at the time. But now that we’re in this world where we’re asking questions about these systems of power that oppress us and how the rich are exploiting the poor, it’s now an easier environment to get this film made.
Besides directing your first feature film, you’ve also written a book called Mixed Feelings and released an album based on that book. Where does this work ethic come from?
It’s less work ethic; it’s more that I’m trying to make sure that the person who had all these dreams and aspirations is proud, happy and satisfied. And that takes not just doing the thing but making sure that the things you’re doing align with your core values. It’s funny because you spend your whole teenagehood wanting to be an adult, and once you become an adult, you spend your entire adulthood trying to prove to the teenager — who dreamed about being an adult — that you became an adult in the way that you promised you would. And part of that, for me, was being an intensely creative individual. I like to be scared, and directing a movie was the hardest and scariest thing I’ve done to date. Writing a book was really scary, as was going on a book tour with that book, and performing music in the 15-18 American cities that we toured. This was in 2019 before the pandemic, and I think we got back in January 2020, right before the pandemic broke out. So I just try to scare myself, and my goal is to push myself into places where I’m not comfortable. The record that I released was based on the book. It was music that I wrote for the book, but I’m going to release some other music that’s not related to any piece of literature that I’ve written. Also, doing interviews like this one helps me as well. I like to make promises to you guys. (Laughs.) So I’ll say to myself, “I did say I was going to do that, so I have to go do that.”
In 50 years, when you reminisce to your family about your career, what day on Resident Evil will you tell them about first?
Wow, I like the way that’s worded. I think it would be the first day we started shooting and when I first put on the full tactical gear and looked at myself in the mirror. I thought, “Okay, this is a childhood video game character that I now get to embody,” which is a pretty exciting thing. That speaks to what we just talked about and trying to be the adult that your teenage self wanted to be. So playing a character that I played as a child is pretty high towards the top. It’s close to that.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is now playing exclusively in movie theaters.
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