Unlike some of the other returning characters from the previous Resident Evil films, Boris Kodjoe survived in the last film (Resident Evil: Afterlife). So when we asked him on the set of Resident Evil: Retribution last month when he find out that he’d be coming back as Luther West, he told us, “I guess two years ago when I read the script and found out that I didn’t die. That was pretty clear then.” During the rest of the interview, Kodjoe talked to us about what fans can expect in the fifth film, the action scenes, the gunplay, the fans, what filming in Toronto has been like, and so much more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what he had to say.
Before going any further, here’s the official synopsis from Retribution and the just released teaser trailer:
The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the global population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race’s last and only hope, ALICE (Milla Jovovich), awakens in the heart of Umbrella’s most clandestine operations facility and unveils more of her mysterious past as she delves further into the complex. Without a safe haven, Alice continues to hunt those responsible for the outbreak; a chase that takes her from Tokyo to New York, Washington, D.C. and Moscow, culminating in a mind-blowing revelation that will force her to rethink everything that she once thought to be true. Aided by newfound allies and familiar friends, Alice must fight to survive long enough to escape a hostile world on the brink of oblivion. The countdown has begun.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get this interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Resident Evil: Retribution opens September 14.
Boris Kodjoe: I guess two years ago when I read the script and found out that I didn’t die. That was pretty clear then.
This movie seems to be playing with a lot of duality. There are characters that aren’t who they say they are, there are characters who come back from the grave…
Yeah, clones. Now your character disappeared for a little bit of time at the end of the last one, so are you who you say you are in this one?
Kodjoe: I have no idea. I really don’t know. Paul [W.S. Anderson]’s imagination is amazing. He’s like a kid in a candy store. Every script is like a new adventure and it shows on the screen. So, as an actor, being invited on his playground, so to speak, is an honor. This is really one of the franchises, one of the movies that is most fun to shoot. Not only is the cast amazing and fun to work with, Paul’s energy sort of transcends and it translates down to everyone on set so it’s not really work. It’s playing. It’s a lot of fun.
And your character is a basketball player. And he got to have a little bit of hangtime by capturing that plane…
Kodjoe: That’s right.
That moment where he jumps up in the air.
Any moments like that [in this one]?
Kodjoe: Actually this movie is going to be much more action oriented than the last one. There’s a lot of great fight sequences that we’ve shot so far. The next 8 or 9 days we’re just going to be fighting. We got Nick Powell onboard who is probably the best stunt coordinator on the planet. He’s done everything from The Last Samurai to Gladiator to Braveheart and he’s incredible. So him and Paul together is like a lethal combination. I’m so sore I can hardly move.
What kind of fighting is [involved]?
Kodjoe: It’s sort of a mixture of Krav Maga, kickboxing, Muay Thai. It’s a lot of kicks and just fast moves. I fight like 8 different guys at one time. And Milla [Jovovich] has two different fight scenes that are just ridiculous. I mean literally. They’re like 12 minutes a piece or something.
So there’s a lot less gunplay?
Kodjoe: There’s a lot of gunplay still. The gunplay is incorporated in the fight scenes. You’re dealing with a new generation of zombies that mutated and are harder to kill now. So it’s not just a gunshot that’s necessary, but way more.
Can you talk about the guns a little bit?
Kodjoe: Oh man. It’s like, I’m not an expert but you can hold them like this (mimes holding a gun) and go (gun noise) “ka ka ka ka”. Those kind of guns. We have guns that go “pow pow” and we have guns that you put them on your shoulder and they take out a while city block. I mean everything. It’s unbelievable. Did Milla talk to you about the chase scene? In the car? It’s incredible. I don’t think that’s ever been done onscreen before.
Who’s being chased?
Kodjoe: We’re being chased. Me and Milla and Johann [Urb] and Kevin [Durand]. We’re all in the car together. We spent like 5 days in the car together.
Is it the Rolls Royce thing?
Kodjoe: Exactly. And that is just unbelievable. And they’re all coming after us. This whole army of undead. You know [they’re] motorized now and lethal with like these creatures. It’s amazing. And Paul, you know, he literally shot the movie. He animated it and finished it. So every frame of the movie has already been produced so we can actually watch what we’re doing before we’re doing it and it’s just the second time I’ve worked like this. When I was shooting Undercovers with J.J. [Abrams] he had the same animated sort of storyboarding. He’s got a couple of geeks in his office who do that. It’s incredible. You could really release that as an animated movie and it looks fantastic.
When you’re talking about the car chase sequence did you guys do it practically on a street as opposed to a car sitting on a stage on a green screen? You guys actually shot it out on the streets somewhere?
Kodjoe: It’ll look like that. We shot a couple of the exteriors here in the backlot [for] Red Square. But a lot of it was done on a green screen. On this insane catapult like -
Kodjoe: Gimble. Exactly. There’s a lot of yelling and screaming by Paul to let us know what’s coming at us. To the left, to the right and in front of you. And exploding. “Fire!” There was one take, it’s going to be in the outtakes for sure, because when he screams, “180 to the left!” you have to lean right. Literally the whole take, everyone was going different directions in the car! We were laughing hysterically. It’s so funny.
As the grosses go up and you’re bringing new audience members in for each film, what about this film do you think will be the most attractive to someone who hasn’t seen any of the prior films?
Kodjoe: They’ve done an amazing job prepping the audience. Even in cases where they haven’t seen the first 16 movies. So it’s sort of a standalone movie as well. So I think the action aspect is going to be a huge selling point. He’s just been doing stuff that he hasn’t done before. Like stuff that blew me away. It’s like, “Wow!” It’s going to be incredible. And Paul is a master of using 3D technology to elevate content rather than replace it. A lot of filmmakers who are not as used to using 3D, 3D becomes [their] sort of story point and I think that’s missing the point. If you use 3D to elevate a story and to give the movie a certain look that will make it better that’s how you’re supposed to use 3D. And Paul is a master of that. So this time around I think he’s just going to take it to the next level. It’s just going to be exponentially better. And bigger.
A lot of the characters have a good version and a bad version. A dual thing. Do you have a bad version?
Kodjoe: If I’m bi-polar? Of course. Totally. I think everyone’s character is flawed to a certain point. I think the situations that he puts us through are so unreal you’re always discovering nuances in your character. But in terms of mutants or cloning, my character hasn’t been subjected to that yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next movie I don’t grow some horns and start eating people or something. Who knows? I don’t know. We’ll see.
With the storytelling and horror element, what’s the difference between doing a movie like Resident Evil and Nurses, which you just did?
No. Nurse 3D?
Kodjoe: Yeah, that was interesting. That was very interesting. It’s a completely different movie. Nurse 3D is like a, I don’t even know what that is. It’s like a sociopathic sort of crime thriller with lots of blood and gore and Resident Evil is fantastic, out of this world, post-apocalyptic. It has to do with creatures that no one’s ever seen before. So it’s a completely different genre. Both are fun. I like to do a variation of things. I don’t like to be stuck in one specific genre, because if it’s one specific genre I’ll get to play that specific character over and over again. So I was looking forward to doing something different, which I did in Nurse. And obviously, Luther is a completely different character for me. I’m sort of usually the leading man romantic comedy type guy, in the eyes of Hollywood. So I was really happy to be able to do this.
Are you one of the unfaithful guys the Nurse comes after?
Kodjoe: I play the detective who’s after her.
It sounds wild.
Kodjoe: It is very wild. To say the least.
I would imagine you meet a lot of people who have played the Resident Evil games and want to talk to you. What do fans who run into you want to talk about?
Kodjoe: Well after they get over the initial, you know, anger that I wasn’t in the video games – and they’re appalled usually that I’m in the movie without being in the video game – after we get over that first hump then we make up. They’re intrigued. They love the movies. They’re excited. Actually, the creators of the games came to set and said they’ve gotten a lot of response from people saying they want to see the Luther character in the video games. So we’ll see, maybe I’ll end up in the video games now.
It is funny how people who love the video games try and hate on the movie, but they still watch the movies anyway.
Kodjoe: Of course. That’s the nucleus of their life (everyone laughs). How can we dare differ from the direction of the video games have gone in? You go to those conventions? It’s hysterical. It’s literally about life and death. People tearing up and screaming. It’s unbelievable. It’s very serious so you have to be very serious when you talk about it.
Are you caught up on the games? Do you catch the references when Paul throws them at you?
Kodjoe: (shakes his head “no”).
I gotta ask. You never know who’s a closeted gamer.
Kodjoe: No, we grew up in Germany and my mother was a psychologist and she was completely against any type of video games or anything in the house. I was like totally flipping. So I was an athlete, I was never into video games unfortunately.
The ending of the 4th film has a big setup. A big finale with 100 planes coming in. And we’re hearing that the beginning of this film plays a little bit with the time of that if you will -
Kodjoe: It plays with the time?
Yeah, Jeremy [Bolt] was saying that it’s not as linear as the 4th film.
Kodjoe: Well, it starts where the last one ends.
Kodjoe: What’s the question?
They’re saying that this one isn’t as linear. That it jumps around.
Kodjoe: Oh, I see what you mean. It has to do with the mythology as well. Because I think one of the things that I was lucky to be a part of is sort of this new incarnation of Resident Evil. I think starting with Resident Evil 4 it’s sort of a new franchise. And Paul also says that. That he thinks starting with 4,5 and 6 it’s a new type of Resident Evil where there’s a lot of mythology, there’s a lot of secrets that are revealed and other things that people don’t understand. And he’s also, when he writes, he’s also looking forward and looking ahead to possible storylines and secrets that might come out in the movie after. So there’s a lot of back and forth and there’s a lot of “is this a real person or not? Who am I fighting now? Is this a clone?”
Have you talked to Paul about the 6th one? Does this seem intrinsically connected with that film?
Kodjoe: Yeah, it is. It’s also connected just from an economic standpoint because Sony is very excited about this franchise. So there were actually talks about shooting both of them at the same time, back to back. Which they abandoned at the last minute.
So the script for the next one actually exists?
Kodjoe: I don’t think he’s written it but I think it’s very prominent in his head. He’s told me about it, so I think he already knows in broad strokes what the 6th one is going to look like.
It seems like you guys have a lot of fun. It seems like a family atmosphere. When you go to other sets sometimes it seems kind of intense.
Kodjoe: Did you go to the Nurse set?
Can you talk more about your star (Paz de la Huerta) in that one?
Kodjoe: Don’t get me started.
Have you seen her twitter account?
Kodjoe: I’m not talking about her (laughter). I don’t even remember her.
It’s a 55 day shoot and obviously you’re not in every scene, so what have you been doing in Toronto?
Kodjoe: You, come on with the numbers. 100 planes… I feel like I’m being tested. It’s like the SAT’s all over again.
You’ve filmed here before. What do you recommend to someone who’s never been here before?
Kodjoe: Come to Toronto. I love Toronto. I really do. I’ve traveled all over the world, I’ve lived everywhere, and I think Toronto is one of the only truly culturally diverse places in the world. People say New York, but New York during the day looks like it’s diverse. But as soon as the clock strikes 6PM, everyone goes in their respective holes. Here you can actually see family portraits with like 5 different ethnicities. And people seem to have figured it out. The whole world is going to look like this in 50 years, but I love Toronto. I love that I can go to different parts of the city and eat different kinds of food. Hear different kinds of music. And everyone seems to be open minded about it and cool. And unless it’s 5 degrees out, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. No doubt. The summers here? I love it.
Is there a certain place here you’d recommend to people who have never been here?
Kodjoe: In Toronto?
Kodjoe: York Grill. Beaches. Danforth, I love. What else? I love the theater district. There’s so much culture here, too. It’s just great. It’s a nice sort of blend between European culture and American sort of principles. It’s not as American as the US. In education, the healthcare system, everything is a little bit better in the states. It’s closer to what I’m used to where I grew up.
This is obviously going to carry you into the holidays. Do you have anything lined up after the 1st of the year?
Kodjoe: Actually, I’m going to take some time off because my wife is about to star in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway. She’s going to play Blanche DuBois. She’s going to be there for four months so I’m going to be with the kids in LA and go and visit.
Who’s playing Stanley?
Kodjoe: Blair Underwood is playing Stanley. And Wood Harris is playing Mitch, who’s also great. You know him from The Wire. He was a big kingpin [Avon Barksdale] in The Wire.
Does the film…? If it follows the script from the film how’s the direction on stage going to be?
Kodjoe: It’s Emily Mann who is incredible. If you know anything about theater she’s one of the top directors on Broadway and she’s going right from Tennessee Williams and I can’t wait. I think it’s going to be incredible. And for my wife, like obviously for any actress, it’s a dream role.
Like the film business, having or producing a Broadway show, even when you get to Broadway the odds of being successful are 1 in 20 if you’re lucky.
Kodjoe: Well actually, you know what? Funnily enough this is going to be the first time it’s going to be an African-American cast on Broadway [for this play]. It’s never been done before. We did the same thing three years ago with “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” It was me and James Earl Jones and Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad. And it was tremendously successful. They went right from Broadway to the West End of London. And it’s the same producer, so they’re hoping it’s going to be just as successful.
Are there any new creatures in this film that you’re excited about?
Kodjoe: In “Streetcar?” (people laugh) Yeah, Stanley, he mutates halfway through the 2nd act. Yeah there’s a couple of very exciting creatures that I can’t reveal otherwise she’s (Karen) just gonna jump down my throat.
When you put that [picture] on Twitter did you all of a sudden get a few phone calls?
Kodjoe: I got a lot of phone calls from the studio threatening me. Telling me to take the picture off Twitter. No, the anticipation is definitely amazing. And huge. And there’s a lot of creatures we haven’t seen before. Some from the video [game] that we sort of made bigger. I saw some of the stuff and I was like, “Whoa!” Plus with the technology now, look at the stuff that’s out, it’s getting better and better. It looks really real. And Paul is a master so I’m sure it’s going to be incredible. The stuff that I’ve seen is incredible.
Were you involved in the stuff they were shooting in Red Square?
Kodjoe: Yeah, yeah.
Talk about shooting in Red Square, that’s such an amazing place.
Kodjoe: It was cool. It was great. They pay so much attention to detail. They literally paved the whole, I mean I don’t know how big – the size of a football field, with cobblestone just to duplicate that. And the whole storefront of this Moscow department store. it looks incredible. It looks really amazing. We shot there for a couple of days.
On a soundstage.
Kodjoe: Well, it’s outside.
Why do you think the Resident Evil movies have done so well whereas other video game adaptations from Hollywood have failed?
Kodjoe: Good question. I don’t think there’s a formula. I think it’s just a roll of the dice. But I also think that Paul is a great storyteller. I think sometimes people rely too much on the video game as a content that will stand alone. There are certain elements that have to fit for it to come alive. People want to root for somebody. People want to be invested in somebody. I think Milla is the perfect hero to carry this franchise. She brings everything to the table. She brings hardcore “kickassness”, that’s a word I just made up. She brings sensibility, she brings a layered character, she brings Clint Eastwood-ness to the character.
Kodjoe: Meaning (affects Eastwood voice) “she talks like this”. Which is cool. When we first started rehearsing she was doing her thing, and I was doing my thing which was like 300 times bigger. And I was thinking she was sort of saving it. But she kept doing it. And I was like, “Wow!” So I went and looked at the take and I looked like a clown. I was like “I need to tone this down real quick.” No, she’s incredible. So she’s the anchor and she pulls it all together. And also this post-apocalyptic thing that people always sort of romanticize in a way also has a lot to do with it. But, you know, it’s also luck. You never know. You just never know. I think now that we’ve sort of got into a nice rhythm, starting with number 4 the awareness has changed from just sort of provincial video game fans to the actual general public. That audience has been turned on to it.
Which is weird because it’s usually diminishing returns by the time people get to 5.
Kodjoe: Yeah, but I think the video game audience was huge in the beginning but now it’s caught on to general audiences. So, like you said, the other way around I think. So I think it’s going to grow. And then there’s going to be a movie that’s called Luther West 3D: Luther West and Nurse.
For more on Resident Evil: Retribution: