- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Hannah John-Kamen is no stranger to franchises in her young career, and her latest role as Jill Valentine in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City joins seven other beloved properties in her filmography, including Star Wars, Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While this pattern wasn’t by design, John-Kamen recognizes that franchises are a primary source of capable female characters nowadays, and Valentine is certainly no exception. As a member of the Raccoon City Police Department’s STARS (Special Tactics And Rescue Service), John-Kamen’s character goes on a mission that re-creates the original 1996 video game’s terrifying mansion storyline with the utmost detail.
“[The Resident Evil set] was amazing, and I’ve been on some absolutely incredible sets,” John-Kamen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “This was absolutely amazing because you walk into the mansion and are like, ‘I’ve been here before!’ It’s identical to the game. Every single detail. So it’s an immersive experience because you feel like the video game character. You feel like you’re in the game. It was very, very weird but immersive.”
John-Kamen is now three-plus years removed from playing Ava Starr/Ghost in Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, an experience she cherishes to this day.
“I look back at that and it was just the best experience. I couldn’t stop smiling and I was so welcomed,” John-Kamen says. “Everyone was amazing, but Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne really were my idols growing up. I grew up with a lot of their movies, so it was definitely an honor. It was an honor to share a space, a scene and a camera with them.”
The English actor is also looking back at the secrecy surrounding her audition for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and how she wasn’t told what role she was going to play until the day she arrived at the Pinewood Studios set for her first day of filming.
“It was so secretive. So of course my scenes that I went up for were not from the movie at all,” John-Kamen recalls. “I read a very random scene that was written just for the audition, and then I got a call from my agent who said, ‘You’ve got a job in Star Wars.’ And I said, ‘Wow! Who am I playing?’ And [my agent] was like, ‘We’re gonna find out.’ So you don’t quite know what’s happening, and even on the day, I didn’t get my sides until after breakfast. That’s how secretive it has to be. So I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing because I didn’t even know.”
In a recent conversation with THR, John-Kamen talks more about her time as a First Order Officer in The Force Awakens. Then she confirms that she’s still attached to star as Red Sonja in Millennium Films’ long-gestating Red Sonja.
Once you were cast, did you do a deep dive into the Resident Evil games for context, or did you prefer to focus on the material at hand?
Well, I was already aware and had already played Resident Evil, but I do just look at the content and the material at hand, really. The script is the script, and your job as an actor is to lift the character from the page and play the truths of the scenarios that are happening in the film. But I’ve played the games, and I think they’re fun and terrifying. And that’s what this movie was as well; it was terrifying and fun. (Laughs.)
What was your way into Jill Valentine? What did you first latch on to with her?
I latched on to the situation. Who is she? She works in the police unit, in the ’90s, and in a very male-driven office. She’s a survivalist. She’s fun. She’s tough. She’s loyal. She’s got beautiful friendships in this. And she’s very good and loves her gun. So it was just looking at her characteristics in the script and picking up on who she is.
The STARS team seems very tight-knit, and you can see that in small ways, like when Jill eats Wesker’s (Tom Hopper) sandwich. And you can certainly recognize that in big ways when she reacts to someone’s betrayal. Was that loyalty or expectation of loyalty the most integral characteristic to you?
Yes, definitely. All Jill has is loyalty with this team. They ride or die. That’s who they are. They’re such a small team, in a small town, and they are her family. And when the situation happens and everything starts to go crazy, that’s when you need that loyalty. That’s when you need the glue and that strength, but once that trust is gone, it’s the most heartbreaking thing that could ever happen to Jill. But she’s practical and a good person. So every decision she makes is for the good of the future and with good intention.
From night shoots and rain machines to the incredibly detailed sets, was this one of the most immersive sets you’ve ever been on?
It was amazing, and I’ve been on some absolutely incredible sets. This was absolutely amazing because you walk into the mansion and are like, “I’ve been here before!” It’s identical to the game. Every single detail. So it’s an immersive experience because you feel like the video game character. You feel like you’re in the game. It was very, very weird but immersive.
For a movie like this, genuinely shooting at night seems like the only way to go. Can you feel the difference on the screen and in your performance, versus manufacturing darkness onstage?
We did some studio night shoots, but there’s a camaraderie with night shoots. We’re all in it together. (Laughs.) Filming outside at night is so important. It sounds superstitious, but it’s the witching hour. It’s that time where it’s eerie outside, and we’re the only ones in the woods. We are the only people who are up at this time, and there’s an excitement. It’s also a badass feeling while doing those scenes and knowing that we’re the only ones there. It’s quite brutal, but it’s pretty cool.
I thought you effectively portrayed what it would be like to have an out-of-control helicopter heading straight toward you. Did you offer a variety of options in the moment, or was each take pretty consistent?
That whole scene goes into another very emotional scene, but it felt amped up. You’re just playing the truth of the scene. I don’t watch my takes back. So I don’t know how many varieties I must have done, but essentially, the truth of the scene is, “What is that? Oh my goodness, it’s that!” And then you’re just getting out of there. There is a stunt with Tom Hopper as well where we had to get out of the shot and jump on a big inflatable. So I was consistent with the movement, but there was variety in the intention and the acting.
Was the cast able to bond despite the COVID safety protocols?
It was very tricky. Filming during a pandemic and during lockdown was a very different approach. Getting into Canada and then isolating with my dog for two weeks before seeing anyone was very different. It wasn’t the most amazing start for me, but being locked away, you were just getting overexcited. I really couldn’t wait to start, and it felt a bit cruel in a way. You were nearly there, but you weren’t there yet. So it was fine because the cast is so amazing and so welcoming. On my first day on set, everyone had already met each other because they got in earlier. But everyone was so nice because we knew the situation we were in, and everyone was really accommodating. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything provided by the production as far as cast dinners; it wasn’t something we should be doing. But the cast ourselves went for a quick dinner together to get to know each other. It just helps the process so much. We were all in each other’s bubble anyway, so we were allowed to do that.
I was amazed to see that you’ve been a part of eight franchises so far. Would you chalk this up to the nature of the business now and how franchises are dictating the majority of the stories being told?
That’s a really good question. I just follow where my heart goes on scripts, character and story. I’m a very character-driven and story-driven actor. But I think these franchises offer up really strong female characters, to be honest. So it’s very hard to not follow that and inspire myself with the roles that get offered.
So how’s our friend Ava Starr [Ghost in Ant-Man and the Wasp] doing?
(Laughs.) She’s good. She’s very good. I won’t say anything more about her! (Laughs.)
Throughout the press tour for Ant-Man and the Wasp, you kept stressing how she wasn’t a villain, and you were absolutely right. She got such a raw deal as a child.
Yes, absolutely. She was misunderstood.
In 50 years, when you tell your family about your career, what day on Peyton Reed’s set will you tell them about first?
Nothing beats my first day on set and just finally being there. Being in the room with all those movie stars and the sets and my costume, I look back at that and it was just the best experience. I couldn’t stop smiling and I was so welcomed. It was such a fun, free space to exercise the character. Every day was memorable, but nothing beats your first day.
My guess was going to be the day when Michelle Pfeiffer’s character blessed Ava with quantum energy.
That was actually one of the first days, yeah. Everyone was amazing, but Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne really were my idols growing up. I grew up with a lot of their movies, so it was definitely an honor. It was an honor to share a space, a scene and a camera with them.
You spent some time at Pinewood Studios in 2014, shooting Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What did you observe during your time with the First Order?
(Laughs.) J.J Abrams was wonderful. He was there in the playground with us. It was just surreal, to be honest. It was really, really frickin’ surreal. It’s the biggest franchise, and I grew up with it because of my brother. My brother is 12 years older than me, but Star Wars is his passion. It’s his life. So being there on a ship and seeing everyone in costume having a sandwich in between takes was surreal. (Laughs.) That’s the beauty of what I do. Every day is different, every set is different, and every experience is different. And I just gorge on it. It’s just incredible. It will never stop being exciting, and like I said, every day is like your first day at school again because there’s going to be new actors and different sets. So it keeps me on my toes.
Did you have a prolonged audition process?
It was so secretive. So of course my scenes that I went up for were not from the movie at all. I read a very random scene that was written just for the audition, and then I got a call from my agent who said, “You’ve got a job in Star Wars.” And I said, “Wow! Who am I playing?” And [my agent] was like, “We’re gonna find out.” So you don’t quite know what’s happening, and even on the day, I didn’t get my sides until after breakfast. That’s how secretive it has to be. So I remember being really nervous, actually. I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing because I didn’t even know. But I didn’t go through vigorous auditions. I just read once and got told I was in it. I just had no idea what I was going to do. (Laughs.) So I turned up, and throughout the day, you just worked out what you were going to say.
Is The Force Awakens, and [casting director] Nina Gold specifically, what led you to Game of Thrones?
Yes, I’d met Nina Gold a lot, but with Game of Thrones, she already knew my agents very well. I think I was coming up on the radar, so I remember reading for Game of Thrones and I got the role. It was absolutely amazing and I was very thankful to be in a different world.
I have to wrap, but are you still attached to star in Red Sonja?
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is now playing in movie theaters.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
Behind The Screen