REactors

I had a wild idea early in the drafting phase of my Resident Evil book: I’d try to contact one of the actors or voice actors from the game, so that I could include some insight regarding those infamous performances.

It was something I both really wanted to do and something I’d already resigned myself to failing at. I’m some nobody on the internet, after all, who wanted them to set aside their personal time to talk about the most embarrassing roles of their lives for free.

It was important, though, that I’d try. If I couldn’t include any anecdotes or insights from these primary sources, I could rely on whatever information I could find and verify on my own, and that would be fine. But I at least had to give it a shot.

I ended up getting not one actor from the game, which was the goal I set for myself, or two actors from the game, which I’d have considered a massive success. I got every known actor from the game, with only two exceptions. If we narrow the focus to only the surviving actors from the game, there was only one exception.

I knew from the start there would be a lot of difficult work ahead of me. Nowadays you can read the in-game credits, get somebody’s name, reach out to their agent, and hope they grant you an interview. But back in 1996, when Resident Evil was released, actors were rarely credited. In Resident Evil specifically, the voice actors are not credited, and the live-action actors are credited only by their first names. What’s more, these actors were as likely to be friends of the developer as they were professionals with representation.

Oh, and, also, none of the live actors knew they were in the game.
You’ll learn why that is in the book, as well as the fascinating oral histories of both the live performances and voice recording sessions. In this post, I want to take you through how those chapters came to be.

(The book, by the way, is nearing an incredible 500% funded on Kickstarter. Preorder it now if you haven’t already!)

Walking you through the process of discovery and outreach wouldn’t be worth it or interesting in any way. Through whatever avenue of communication was available to me, I sent a message letting them know who I was and that I was writing a book about Resident Evil. I was as honest and friendly as possible, and I made it clear that I respected and valued their time. I didn’t offer any kind of compensation, but I promised each of them a copy of the finished book as a way of saying thanks. I invited them to contact the publisher if they wished to verify anything I was telling them. (I don’t know if any of them did that, but it was important to me that I afforded them the opportunity.)

Thanks to the tireless work of Monique Alves and Fred Fouchet, two Resident Evil fans who have been researching and chronicling the game as much as possible over the years, I had almost uniformly solid leads. Some of the actors they had already spoken to. Others they hadn’t been able to reach but were sure they had the right people. In a few cases there was only partial information available.

I took everything they were able to give me and hoped for the best.

I got better than the best.

CHRIS REDFIELD


The first actor who got back to me, and also the first I was able to speak with, was Charlie Kraslavsky, the original Chris Redfield.

Kraslavsky played Chris in the game’s live-action opening sequence and its conclusion, assuming he survives in your playthrough. As with the other live actors, he delivered all of the character’s dialogue on set, but was ultimately overdubbed by a voice actor.

He set the stage for all my interviews by being unexpectedly friendly. I say “unexpectedly” because Resident Evil isn’t exactly a friendly game. It’s deadly serious, cruel, and profoundly punishing. While I of course wouldn’t assume a guy who put on a costume for the opening sequence would share the game’s “personality,” the fact is that the game was the only window into any of these people I had. My feelings on Resident Evil were the only feelings I could associate them with.

Speaking with Kraslavsky was like speaking with someone you might have known back in high school, but only barely. Somebody with whom you had a shared history but which didn’t entirely overlap. You could both speak the same language and you had a lot of common ground, but there were lots of things you knew that he didn’t, and lots of things he knew that you didn’t.

Our discussion was very conversational. I could also tell it was honest, simply because he didn’t try to pretend he had a better memory of the filming that he actually does. He let me know whenever I asked a question he couldn’t answer with confidence, nearly always volunteering different information instead, as a probably unintentional method of apology.

He made sure to share as much as he could. He pointed me toward the few other actors he remembered by name, and he shared as much as he remembered about the others.

Every human being who watches the live-action introduction of Resident Evil will know it wasn’t quite…professional filmmaking, but Kraslavsky had nothing but nice things to say about everybody he worked with.

That’s exactly how he came across to me as a person. Not as some guy who is willing to talk about an old job, but as somebody who will reach for positive things to say about everyone involved. He did not have an unkind word to say about anyone, and I don’t think that’s because he forgot or avoided these things. I think Kraslavsky genuinely doesn’t see people negatively.

I could not have asked for a better start, and I also learned that it’s his frightened eyeball we see on the game’s title screen. That was interesting enough, and the fact that he had a great anecdote to go along with it was even better.

Let me emphasize that: Kraslavsky is the kind of guy who has a great anecdote about the time someone filmed his eyeball.

One of the talents I was not able to interview was Scott McCulloch, who voiced Chris in the game. McCulloch passed away in 2000. I was very fortunate that the other voice actors I was able to speak to were willing to share their memories of working with him.

Therefore, out of sad necessity, McCulloch is obviously not interviewed in the book. I did, however, want to make sure he had a presence in the narrative. It wouldn’t have been the same without him.

BARRY BURTON


For fan-favorite character Barry Burton, I got to interview both his live actor and voice actor. One was a markedly more difficult process than the other, though.

The easy part was getting a hold of Greg Smith, the live actor. Kraslavsky had been in touch with him a few times since they met during filming. Starting with Kraslavsky ended up being a real benefit to me, I think, because the guy is so friendly and lovable that he was willing to let others know that my project was worth being a part of. I could not possibly be more grateful.

Smith is an educator in Australia. He’s a large, physically imposing man — he looks like and is an avid biker — but was just as friendly as Kraslavsky, albeit in a different way. Kraslavsky comes across like a friend from another lifetime. Smith comes across like a beloved uncle you don’t get to see often enough.

His thick Australian accent and playful sense of humor are far removed from his appearance. If a man who looked like him started to pick a fight with me in a bar, for instance, I’d be worried. On the phone, though, he was the closest thing imaginable to a human teddy bear.

Smith had the most vivid memories of the actual filming. Kraslavsky, by contrast, had the most vivid memories of the behind-the-scenes production details. Together, they painted an almost complete portrait of each day of shooting.

Barry’s voice actor, Barry Gjerde, posed more of a problem. Without question, Gjerde’s performance in Resident Evil is the most notorious. That’s the reason I really wanted his insight, but it’s also the reason I wasn’t likely to get it. Gjerde has been relentlessly bullied online for decades, all for a job he couldn’t possibly have done well.

For much of his career, Gjerde was open and approachable. Once the bullying started up — strangers from all around the world actively harassing him for lines he didn’t write — that started to change. Eventually it became so serious that he removed himself from the internet.

I was able to track down various old contact methods, but I had no reason to think they still worked or, if they did, that he still checked them.

I reached out anyway, of course. I wanted to let him know that this was an opportunity to speak for himself. I wanted him to be aware that this was not a hit piece. My aim was not to mock and abuse, but simply to get the story from the folks who were involved.

I told him all of those things in my messages, but, of course, he had no reason to believe them. I couldn’t blame him at all.

Knowing I wouldn’t likely have his involvement, I looked up more of his work. I’d heard some of it without even realizing it — he played Red in Mega Man X7, for instance — and sought out much more.

Gjerde was, and remains, an extremely good voice artist. He has a very clear and proper diction, and his voice is almost overwhelmingly soothing. The more I listened to, the more I was convinced his performance in Resident Evil could not have been his own fault. So what happened? I wanted the story more than ever.

It was only after I interviewed Ward Sexton — Resident Evil’s narrator, who we will discuss later — that I was able to get it.

I let Sexton know that I was having difficulty reaching Gjerde; this may or may not have shocked Sexton, but he offered to help. He and Gjerde weren’t just old colleagues; for many years they had been good friends. He — a human being Gjerde respected and cared about, as opposed to some dodo on the internet — reached out and let Gjerde know that the book was nothing to be afraid of.

He shared his own experience being interviewed by me, and let Gjerde know that I wasn’t a bully or a fraud. He told Gjerde that if he were interested in sharing his side of the story, now was the time.

I don’t know any of this because Sexton told me; I know this because Gjerde, months after I’d tried so hard to find him, responded to one of my old emails. I’d reached him after all, but it was only after Sexton went out of his way to back up my claims that Gjerde was willing to talk.

And talk he did. Gjerde is such a friendly and wonderful man that the fact that he’d been bullied for so long and for such strange reasons became more and more distasteful to me.

I suspect Gjerde found it difficult at first to open himself up to me because he’s a sensitive person. That’s borne out by the things he was willing to share and the warmth with which he shared them. When someone criticized him, it must have hurt. When that criticism became constant, it must have been unbearable. Gjerde isn’t and has never been a negative guy. When negativity was directed toward him, he just stepped back and got out of its way.

He didn’t want to come back into focus, but I’m so glad and honored he was willing to speak with me after all. His perspective ended up being both crucial to the story I was telling and profoundly enlightening as to how a solid voice artist ended up being known for one of the most infamous performances in video game history.

JILL VALENTINE


When you think of Resident Evil, you think of Jill Valentine. Which might be a bit odd, because to this day nobody knows who the heck she is.

Neither Jill’s live actor nor voice actor have been identified. Her live actor is credited as Inezh in the game, which is at least an uncommon name, but Kraslavsky thinks that might be a typo, so that could be even less helpful than having no information at all.

Fans have tried for more than two decades to find either of Jill’s actors, and it still hasn’t happened. Both Kraslavsky and Smith shared their memories of the live actor, and perhaps the information they provided will help somebody to make headway in the search.

I, of course, tried to track them down as well. I wasn’t trying to “outdo” anyone who had looked for her in the past as much as I would have loved to find her as a way of paying the Resident Evil community back for all of the information they provided me.

No luck. But while I was writing, there was a big breakthrough on the game’s other leading lady.

REBECCA CHAMBERS


Will Jill being an absolute no-go, I wanted even more to get in touch with one of Rebecca’s actors. After all, if I failed to do so, I wouldn’t have any female perspective in these sections at all. While that’s bound to happen now and then, Resident Evil has two very famous female characters; not hearing from any of the four actors playing those characters would represent a glaring absence.

Like Jill, though, nobody had identified Rebecca’s live actor. I tried to do so; I failed to do so. That was also a no-go.

I invested my efforts in contacting Lynn Harris, who had voiced the character. Harris had a long history of video game voice work which — at the time I was researching — seemed to have come to a stop in 2007 with Mega Man ZX Advent. That’s if IMDB is to be believed, and it probably shouldn’t be; it now claims she voiced Amy Rose in 2017’s Sonic Mania. If that’s true, it wasn’t there when I was looking previously. It also doesn’t reflect her role in 2019’s Dragon Marked for Death, even though she is clearly credited in game. What’s more, her narrative on that page claims that she voiced Rebecca in Resident Evil’s “opening FMV.” Rebecca indeed appears in that FMV, but has no lines; she isn’t voiced by anyone at all.

What you’ve just gotten is only a small sample of the strange, contradicting, twisting, easily dismissed information I found about Harris online. She’s gone by several names professionally. She’s listed for roles in productions nobody else seems to believe ever happened. Her biographies read like journal entries. She’s retired from the industry, but is also still active.

It was extraordinarily difficult to separate fact from fiction. With everybody else I researched this was also the case, but to a much smaller degree. In those cases, I’d have to weed out some bogus information. With Harris, I seemed to only find bogus information.

A friend of mine dug up some old forums posts. Buried within a long discussion on a completely different topic, one poster said he’d written to Harris around the time of Resident Evil and got a signed photo back. He couldn’t find the photo. We couldn’t get a hold of the poster.

Another commenter at an old forum claimed he’d communicated with Harris at one point and that she claimed to have directed the Resident Evil voice actors in addition to playing Rebecca. I tried to substantiate this claim and couldn’t, outside of a biography that was clearly written by Harris herself. There was no evidence for her having taken on this role that I could find, and it does indeed seem like a reasonable exaggeration. Perhaps she actually did help someone else figure out how to deliver a line, and with the same spirit that we all have when we update our resumes, she inflated her importance a bit.

It was only after I spoke to other voice actors and asked about her — and had them independently confirm the claim that she did unofficially direct the others — that I was willing to believe it. Now her input would be even more valuable.

I figured I could get her ear if she knew I wasn’t out to write anything insulting or damaging. In fact, Ward Sexton counted her as a friend just as he counted Barry Gjerde. He said he’d have gladly reached out, but he hadn’t spoken to her in years. He had only fond things to say about working with her, but wouldn’t know how to get in contact.

I reached out to some other voice actors who worked on the same games she did. I reached out to the developers that had hired her for their games. In most cases, as you might guess, I heard nothing back. In a few cases I got very polite emails in return, but they weren’t able to help me.

When I saw her name in Dragon Marked for Death — which I played almost immediately upon release, so I knew it was recent work — I got in touch with IntiCreates to see if they’d pass along an interview request. They said they would. That was the last I heard…from them.

Not long afterward, a different voice actor reached out to me. I recognized her name. She sent me a very friendly message. There was not an ounce of ire or irritation in it. It boiled down to, “I know you’re looking for Lynn, but she isn’t interested in any kind of media contact. Please don’t try.”

Of course, I stopped trying. I was disappointed. I felt — and still feel — strongly that her involvement would have been to the book’s massive benefit. Think of all the untruths we could untangle. Think of the story we could finally tell about Resident Evil’s secret voice director.

But I get it. Gjerde may, consciously or not, have been waiting for the right time to speak up. Harris may not have been. She may still not be. Maybe hers is a story she doesn’t want to tell. Maybe, unlike Gjerde, she can’t believe somebody will treat her involvement with Resident Evil as something worthy of respectful discussion. Maybe she’s been burned before.

Or maybe she’s not comfortable anywhere but behind a microphone. Maybe interviews scare her. Maybe she’s more comfortable playing characters than speaking as herself.

I can only guess. But I think somewhere along the line, she did get my request for an interview. And she considered it at least long enough and seriously enough that she felt compelled to reply…albeit through a buffer she knew she could trust.

I don’t know where she is. I don’t know what she’s up to. But I hope she’s okay, and I hope she’s doing well. I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with her for the book.

Which, of course, meant that both Jill and Rebecca would go without representation in my narrative.

Until, late in the book’s editing, Fred Fouchet reached out. He’d found Rebecca’s actor. It was a miracle. I gave him the online equivalent of a hug and a high five.

Her actor, who is credited in game as Linda and prefers to keep her surname private, granted him a nice, long interview full of excellent insight.

I asked him to relay my interview request. She was not open to it. I don’t take that personally; unlike the other actors, she’d just surfaced. She didn’t know me. She stuck her head up and was immediately asked if she’d be part of a book project. The timing was unfortunate, but both she and Fred were willing to let me include the information and quotes that she shared with him.

We got our Rebecca.

ALBERT WESKER


Wesker’s voice actor is another who has not been identified. There is no shortage of theories online about who voiced him. I’m almost certain I’ve found and tested them all. Usually it would be a YouTube video comparing clips of Wesker in Resident Evil to clips of some other character in another game. The title would be, “WESKER VOICE ACTOR FOUND!!!” I’d listen to the clips and they wouldn’t sound even remotely similar.

In one case there was a decent comparison; the guy still sounded like a different person, but it was close enough to warrant followup. I reached out. The actor replied. It wasn’t him.

His live actor, however, was easy to find; he was a friend of Kraslavsky’s. (Who, in all honesty, wouldn’t be a friend of Kraslavsky’s?)

I’m bottomlessly amused by the fact that Chris and Wesker are friends in real life. There’s something so wonderful and adorable about that.

His live actor, Eric Pirius, was a good fit for the character. He’s a man of few words, and he still, to this day, looks strikingly similar to his on-screen avatar.

Unlike Kraslavsky or Smith, though, he wasn’t big on volunteering information. He answered every question, and my followups, but that was all. It didn’t come across as any kind of rudeness; he’s just less interested in conversation.

Ask Kraslavsky something and he’ll tell you everything he remembers feeling. Ask Smith and he’ll tell you everything he remembers happening. Ask Pirius something and he’ll tell you yes or no.

This was great in its own right — I wanted these actors to stand apart, to reveal their personalities, to be more than the things they had to say — but it also meant we weren’t able to use much of what he said in the book. Almost everything he covered was covered by somebody else in greater detail.

But that was okay. Wesker always was the quiet type. His actor not letting on any more than he needs to fit perfectly.

NARRATOR


And then there was Ward Sexton. The live actors were credited in-game by their first names only; the voice actors weren’t credited at all. The exception: Ward Sexton, credited by his full name.

Why? Well, he just had that much clout.

Most people will only remember a “narrator” in the game for saying two words: Resident Evil. The delivery of those words is unforgettable, but we don’t hear much more from Sexton in the game. During the opening titles he also says each character’s name as they are introduced.

That’s it.

So why reach out to him for the book? The answer to that should be obvious: Why not?

I’m glad I did, because Sexton’s involvement in Resident Evil extends far beyond what got pressed to the disc. He spoke to me about the problems with the script, about how he set himself apart from other voice actors, about the nature of voice acting in Japan and how, exactly, it leads to trainwreck performances such as what we see in Resident Evil.

From Sexton I got an insider’s view of what voice acting is like — or was like, in the mid-90s — in Japan. He had plenty of positive things to say, plenty of criticism, and a lot of great stories about being a professional in an industry that didn’t seem all that interested in professionalism.

He even talked to me about an early English Studio Ghibli dub of Porco Rosso. He produced and starred in it with — you guessed it — the cast of Resident Evil.

Tracking it down today isn’t easy — a far more beloved dub starring Michael Keaton has overwritten it completely — but I did indeed get my hands on a copy, and it’s all because a man famous for saying two words got his chance to say a lot more.

In most cases, I got stories from the trenches. “I went here, I did this.” And that was great. But thanks to Sexton, I also got to pull the camera back a bit and see things from a fascinating distance, covering larger quirks and concerns of an industry — and a period within that industry — that often goes undiscussed.

Give the book a try. You might like it.

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