The finest film ever made in which Milla Jovovich kicks a zombie Doberman in the face, Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 horror blockbuster Resident Evil inspired five sequels—including this past weekend’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Actor Ryan McCluskey, who splits his time between Los Angeles and London, was there from the start: Thanks to a doomed elevator, his character “Mr. Grey” is one of the series’ very first victims. We spoke with McCluskey about his part in Resident Evil history.
STRANGER: So how did you end up in Resident Evil?
McCLUSKEY: I was living in London and had just finished my contract with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I needed a challenge that would rival the Bard’s complexity, and the after reading the script for Resident Evil, I knew I had found that challenge. As Shakespeare wrote, “Action is eloquence, and the eyes of th’ ignorant more learned than the ears.”
Honestly, it was an action movie (which I’d always dreamed of doing) and I was out of work. It sounded like a blast and so I auditioned. The casting lady wanted me sweaty before I read, so she had me run around the block. Apparently my natural flop sweat wasn’t enough.
You once summed up your Resident Evil role to me as, “I walk, spill coffee, and die,” which is... true. But did you have a good time walking, spilling coffee, and dying?
It was a hoot. It was my first film job and after nearly two years solid of stage work. I was really looking forward to it. Sure, it wasn’t Taxi Driver, but I didn’t care. There I was on a gigantic soundstage in Berlin, hanging out behind the scenes with Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. I was gonna walk, spill, and die like no one had ever seen before. They gave me 10 identical Hugo Boss gray suits. I was told that if there was one that wasn’t destroyed by the coffee and elevator action, I could have it. I destroyed all 10.
The scene in the elevator was my first-ever close up. David Johnson, the cinematographer, gave me some great advice: “Ryan, your face is on a two-story screen. Dial it down. Just ‘think’ panicked and we’ll see it.” I blame the previous two years of theater.
Did it ever occur to you that 15 years later, you’d still be talking about that time you died in Resident Evil?
I had zero expectations and no delusions about the part I was playing in the machine. It is what it is—a fun popcorn flick. But thanks to basic cable, I can never forget I was involved.
Was there ever any discussion about Mr. Grey coming back in zombie form?
I can’t stress how much fun I was having filming. I didn’t want to leave. I started pestering Paul between takes: “You don’t want some random zombie chasing Milla, you want Grey.” I was annoyingly relentless, but after my shoot days, Paul said his goodbyes and I reluctantly returned to London. The next day I got an email from Paul saying he’d written me into several scenes and that I needed to get fitted for zombie contacts. But by the time I got the call to come back to Berlin, I was already on another job, shooting an NBC movie of the week with Sam Neill in Rome. The dates Paul wanted me to shoot conflicted with only two days of shooting with the NBC job, but neither side would budge. So close, and yet so far.