Interview – A Meeting In Racoon City With Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield Actor Stephanie Panisello – It’s been more than four years since we got to see Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy in Capcom’s excellent remake of Resident Evil 2.
Which has led to the creation of an animated tv show, and now an upcoming film in Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness and Resident Evil: Death Island, both of which feature Claire Redfield, played in both voice and motion capture by Stephanie Panisello.
I got to catch up with Stephanie while she was in Toronto, which has the world’s biggest racoon population at around 200,000 of the masked creatures, making it the real-life Racoon City, just with less zombies, thankfully. We talked all things Resident Evil including the upcoming Death Island film, her career, and how she went from studying to be a lawyer to kicking zombie butt.
This interview was conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began.
Interview – A Meeting In Racoon City With Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield Actor Stephanie Panisello
The lobby of Toronto’s Delta Hotel is inviting enough, but waiting to meet Claire Redfield in person takes the mind more to how much backtracking would probably be necessary to restore power to the building and complete other small and complex tasks around the hotel to survive a zombie outbreak.
As Stephanie Panisello enters the lobby, I doubt she’s thinking the same thing, though it’s difficult to imagine that after all her time essentially going through a motion capture based tutorial on how to survive a zombie virus outbreak, she wouldn’t be prepared for that.
Panisello even walks with Claire’s energy – someone who’s been through some stuff, and came out the other side of it more confident in themselves than ever. It’s why I can’t help but ask first about what Panisello feels has changed about Claire from Resident Evil 2, to Infinite Darkness and to the film, Death Island.
“There’s definitely some character personal growth, but her essence doesn’t really go away. She’s still got a good heart, she’s still a badass – those things you can’t really change. But as far as how she’s kind of developed and grown, I would say that she’s now more certain of her choices.
I think in the beginning of Resident Evil 2 she’s literally just surviving. She’s trying to see what works, what doesn’t work, it’s a little more chaotic. Then in Infinite Darkness, she’s super curious, ‘I gotta figure this out,’ she’s very driven in that way.
And then now with Death Island, I feel like she knows. She’s still inquisitive and she’s still all those things, but she knows what she’s doing. I can’t give away too much, but you know, she has a plan and she goes at it.”
It’s only then that I make Panisello aware of the little known fact to those outside Toronto, but well known to anyone who’s spent any amount of time here is that Toronto is the real-life Racoon City, a point which I saw later on that same day send her on a mission to try and find racoon art in the city and actual racoons, though she seemed unsuccessful with the latter.
Long before Panisello was dressed in a tight black suit fitted with a bunch of white balls in classic motion-capture attire, she went to university thinking she’d be a lawyer. Long before that, she was a middle-schooler who never missed a chance to go read stories to children, reading to them aloud in ways that made reading all the more fun for her and the kids.
Shortly before that, she had a first grade teacher, Miss Hartglass tell her that she waited anxiously for the day she saw Panisello on Broadway. And likely all around the same time as Miss Hartglass’ vote of confidence and her dedication to reading hour, she was forcing her three younger brothers to be in plays they’d all put on for her family.
Even through the times at school when she was being bullied, Panisello was too optimistic to be dragged down. When you’re as sure of yourself and what you wanted to be doing as Panisello was, even in grade school, it’s not surprising you’re not everyone’s favourite. Now, no one can believe her when she says was bullied as a kid.
Today, she looks back on her time reading and her innate desire to be a storyteller in one fashion or another and those times as both “beautiful and crucial.”
“And now, I’ve had the opportunity to go on Circle Round for NPR and do a story for children. I do all the audio books for Encanto for Disney, and I’ve been doing National Geographic’s for Disney, and I loved that so much as a kid.
I know the power that it has for everyone as they grow up, right? It might seem like you’re just kind of telling a story to children, but you’re kind of planting seeds, right? And those seeds are going to flourish based on their reactions or interpretations of them are. If it’s a good feeling, it’s going to be wonderful and it’ll grow.
You’re really playing on imaginations. You’re playing on dreams, desires, and when those seeds get planted, that’s when you start seeing really beautiful things happen. So for me, I think it’s honestly very much a gift to be able to do that because I know what it’s done for me.”
As far as Broadway is concerned, after a run-in with a popular Hollywood medium telling her to “go back to her roots,” she’s undecided if that means she needs to go back to New York City, where she grew up until she was nine, and discover a new Broadway-chapter of her career.
“I honestly think it might be like, ‘Hey, go do some acting,’ I don’t know if it’s necessarily Broadway or not, but maybe it is Broadway, and kind of tap into that again, because I did stay away from it for a long time.
But I would do it just for me, just for my soul, you know?”
Resident Evil’s “Avengers” Moment
While Panisello credits the original Rayman and the time she’d spend playing it with her whole family as what really sparked her keen interest in video games, the thought that she could provide the voice for a game character was never one to cross her mind.
But the same goes for what’s become her career, because while it was clear that she’s always loved acting, being a performer still wasn’t her first choice. If not for a lucky Starbucks interaction and her Mom telling her to do the thing children usually do in defiance of their parents, that being to just move to Los Angeles and try to be an actor, we might not have the same Claire Redfield we do today.
“Never thought that. Never in a million years thought that. Never, never, never. I honestly would play games and I never even thought there was humans behind it in the beginning. But obviously since I was a kid I loved acting, never thought of making that a career either. Like, I went to school for political science and international affairs, I was going to go be a lawyer, work for the UN, and start an NGO.
Which, now Claire does NGOs, so that’s kind of interesting to connect that back. But yeah, I just never thought that was a thing, but I’m glad that it is though, and I’m glad I was lucky enough to have that one customer that came into my particular Starbucks that was a sound engineer for video games who just opened up that world to me and was like, have you ever thought about voice acting?”
That one interaction and her Mom’s insistence led Panisello to a voice acting book co-written by the voice of Peter Parker, Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt, who played Yuri Wanatabe in Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Myself, and plenty of other Resident Evil fans are thankful for all of it, because now we’re getting to see Panisello alongside the rest of the Resident Evil character favourites in one film with Death Island.
Something Panisello has called in the past, an “Avengers moment” for the franchise.
“I just think it’s so amazing that everyone is together. That alone to me is fun, I feel like that’s something we’ve never seen. We’ve never seen all the girls together in a film either, so that’s kinda big.
Like, I don’t want to be all like ‘girl power’ because honestly it’s evenly spread for everybody. This is a legit like everyone is strong and everyone has a place and everyone matters. And I think there’s something really also about that.
And also the CGI just looks so good.”
Beyond the whole Resident Evil gang joining forces for Death Island, Panisello is also excited for fans to see a particularly special moment coming for Claire.
Without giving anything away, Panisello calls the moment “pivotal.”
“There is a clear moment that I’m looking forward to [for a] reaction to [from fans], but I do not want to give away what that is. Because I felt strongly about it and it was pivotal in like, why she does everything she does.
Like in Resident Evil 2, with Sherry, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and she says ‘Because I care.’ And then you’ll see a moment that’s so strong in the film as well.”
And for anyone wondering if there will be any more ‘Cleon’ moments in Death Island, Panisello says that we already got that fan service with Claire and Leon landing on top of each other in Infinite Darkness.
“I can’t say anything, but I feel like we gave that service in Infinite Darkness, and that was on purpose. I talked to Nick and was like, ‘wouldn’t this be wonderful?’ and he’s like, ‘I’m so down, do you want to bring it up to the director?'”
So there’s no promises for Death Island but it doesn’t look like fans who support the Cleon ship will get anymore hints of it actually happening.
Marvel, A Home Studio, And Code Veronica Hope
Resident Evil isn’t the only big franchise Panisello has graced in her career. Marvel fans will recognize her as Elizabeth “Betty” Ross, daughter to Admiral Thaddeus E. Ross from the Hulk storyline and Bruce Banner’s main love interest.
She voices Betty for the third episode of Marvel’s What If…? series, which explores multiple different universes for the Marvel characters fans have come to know and love through singular animated episodes. For Panisello, she got to play Betty in an episode where the Avengers are all being killed, before they have a chance to come together in the first place.
It’s a hugely emotional episode where so much happens, and Panisello explores the range of those emotions wonderfully in Betty. Though once she knew she got the job as Betty, it was actually executing the work that became a challenge.
Panisello didn’t have a home studio to work in, and ended up needing to use a friends before getting her own set up and ready, so she could continue to work during the pandemic.
Both parties were careful, wore masks and kept separated, and in the end it worked out beautifully.
“It was so wonderful. I got to work with Brain Andres, who’s the director for it, and it was like all these Disney Marvel people on the call. I don’t even know how we made it all happen to be honest. We were all just learning to jump through hoops.
And it’s very interesting because that episode is a huge episode, what if the end of our heroes came to be? How interesting is that? It was just so awesome and I’m so glad that Brian also let me play and go to different places with Betty because I feel like she hasn’t always had an opportunity to get as much emotional range.”
While Panisello shows off plenty of emotional range with Claire between RE2, Infinite Darkness and now Death Island, there’s still more fans would want to see from her, with Panisello once again stepping into the role.
I’m speaking of course about a potential Code Veronica remake, and while we’ve had recent reports that Capcom hasn’t closed the door on that idea, for now Panisello is in the dark, hopeful she can step into the role once again.
“I don’t know anything, honestly, I hope they do the game. I definitely think it could use the remake, it could use the love. I know there’s a lot of fans that would really love it. Again, not up to me, it’d be wonderful if Capcom does. If they asked me back, I would love to play Claire. But again, I don’t know anything.”
More Games, More Animation, More Stuff
So we can’t say for sure that Panisello will be appearing next in a Code Veronica remake, she does confirm that fans can definitely expect to keep seeing her across games and animation in the future, and for any updates from her can be found on her Instagram.
“There’ll be more games, I think there’s more animation too. So there’ll be more stuff to come.”
The big thing coming up of course that fans can catch Panisello in is Resident Evil: Death Island, which will be everywhere in the world on July 25, 2023.
Until then, I hope Panisello is able to spot an actual racoon next time she’s in Toronto.
Thank you to Grace Topalian for making this interview possible.