Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes to great lengths to recreate the events of the original Resident Evil game and its beloved sequel in condensed, cinematic form. From “Jill[’s] sandwich” puns to green herbs on set, director Johannes Roberts strived to show his love of the Resident Evil games in his newly released movie adaptation.
One unforgettable Resident Evil scene Roberts chose to include is the original game’s frightening first encounter with a zombie. Early in Resident Evil, the player comes upon an undead man feasting upon a corpse, who slowly turns around, in search of fresh meat, and attacks the player. (Resident Evil’s “Director’s Cut” and Sega Saturn releases used an image of that specific zombie for their cover art, establishing the over-the-shoulder zombie as key to the series’ visual language.)
Original Resident Evil game director Shinji Mikami referred to that particular zombie as the Turning Around Zombie in a 2002 interview. The actor who plays that zombie on film in Welcome to Raccoon City is Matthew MacCallum, an enthusiastic, energetic Canadian performer who has a brief, Doug Jones-like list of (mostly background character) credits playing aliens, zombies, and other oddities. Over his career he’s played a Russian Army Zombie in Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Retribution, and a Silent Brother in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. He’ll next be seen as “Tattooed Swordsman” in Guillermo del Toro’s next movie, Nightmare Alley.
McCallum said he wasn’t just casually familiar with the zombie scene he appears in in Welcome to Raccoon City, he fought to get it. MacCallum, who describes himself as a skinny dude with high cheekbones and a good physical fit for horror movie monsters, took the role of “Turnaround Zombie” — his official credit — very seriously. Maybe too seriously, by his own admission. After seeing Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’s first trailer, which includes a taste of MacCallum’s zombie, I wanted to talk to him. So I did.
Here’s our pleasant conversation, edited for clarity.
You play a zombie and you have a very iconic scene in the movie. And when I saw that shot in the trailer, I thought, “Oh, that’s that’s the scene from Resident Evil and they did it perfectly. I gotta talk to this guy.”
MacCallum: Yeah, I flat out asked for that role. My first on-camera job in this business was playing a background zombie in Resident Evil: Retribution. So this is kind of full circle. I got into this business to be behind the camera. I just wanted to be a storyteller. I was happy pulling cables, being on crew, and I kind of fell into it. I made a joke on set one day to a friend of mine who’s in the makeup department, like, “If you ever need a zombie, give me a call.” Because I’m a skinny dude to begin with.
I was doing Nightmare Alley, and got a call to come in [for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City] because it was the same casting director for both films. And I said, “Well ... I just have one question: If they’re going to recreate the scene from the first game where they come in and a zombie turns around and then gets killed by Barry, I want that role.” She said, “Why?!” I said, “I just want it. If I’m doing another Resident Evil, and they’re gonna recreate that scene [I have to be in it],” because I’m such a fan. I know how pivotal it is.
And Johannes seemed to have really liked [my scene]. So as long as the director was happy, that’s amazing.
Johannes seemed very adamant about doing a very straightforward adaptation — very faithful and authentic. And I thought your scene in particular is exactly that. How did you prepare for it?
I actually thought a lot about it. I replayed the first game again. Just actually, two days ago I finished the Resident Evil 2 remake. And I’m a huge George Romero fan … yeah, I went through all the [Romero] films and like, just studied and really thought about what I wanted to do with it.
I was friends with Alan, who did some of the zombie makeup on [Welcome to Raccoon City] and was my makeup artist on Nightmare Alley as well. I was getting bits and pieces [about the movie] through him like, “Here’s what we’re thinking” and he’d show me on his cell phone, and I’m like, “That looks like the game!” So the more I could see what they were bringing, and using the features of my face, because I do have the high cheekbones like what they were doing with that I was like, OK, so now I have to up it just a little bit more. I just kept getting more and more into my head.
Once I got the makeup on, and the teeth popped in … it was all about the movement. And once we got onto the location where they shot the Spencer mansion — that’s an actual house here in Hamilton; I’ve walked by it 100 times. Once I got there [it felt right].
On the first take, Johannes explained to me what he wanted. I got down to talk to the other actor and then he was like, you want to try one? I was like “Deep breath. OK, let’s do it.” I don’t know if it’s luck, fortune, or surprise or what it was but I did the turn and stood up, I get shot, dropped to the ground. I hear cut. And the next thing I hear was — pardon my language — was [STARS member Richard Aiken actor] Chad Rook saying, “Holy fuck, that was fucking terrifying.” And the whole crew erupted in laughter and I was like, “I got it.” Like, I didn’t have to think about it like I did. I did a ton of prep work. But it was that moment it was like, “Well, I guess we’re gonna do it.” After that it was maybe four more takes. I think I landed differently once. Chad kicked me a couple of times to make sure I was dead. Everything from that moment on, once I figured out that movement, it just kind of became robotic. Honestly, I stopped thinking because what’s my quote-unquote motivation in that scene? I’m eating someone right? I hear something behind me. And I’m like, oh, more food. Yeah. That’s it. That’s my motivation. But it was ... yeah, it was the most fun.
You had played the games, you’re familiar with the scene that you were going to be doing, and you had lobbied for the roll. Was Johannes aware that you knew so much about what you were recreating?
I don’t think so. He and I had no conversation until we got to set. Friends in the makeup department knew, yes, and maybe Jane Rogers in casting. She mentioned something about it. Anytime there’s a big creature kind of film in Toronto and she’s casting it I always get a call. She knows I can do the job and I enjoy playing creatures. I really enjoy it. I didn’t even really know what [Johannes] thought about my performance until I came back for reshoots.
We talked about it. “What do you need me to do?” I did that a few times and got minor direction, but he gave us all the freedom. He had the trust that everybody was a fan [or] had at least some familiarity if not with the actual game, but the genre he’s making. He didn’t say it on set that I heard the interview with him when he said it was very much a John Carpenter-style genre film. He’s 1,000% right.
I actually play three separate zombies: I play the Turnaround Zombie, and they brought me back in a couple of days later, and we shot close ups of the RPD gates. Yeah. So I’m in a different makeup there. And then there’s a shot when we break through a door. And I’m in there. They brought me back for the reshoot day as another completely different zombie. Because it’s all different makeups, the director doesn’t [recognize you]. As he’s talking to me, and we’re going back and forth. He was like, “Have we seen you before?” And I was like, “Yeah, I was your turnaround zombie.” He was like, “Oh, Christ you’re a good zombie man.” Anyway, that’s all I need to hear.
What was your reaction to finally seeing your zombie in the trailer?
I was so happy. It was on par with the last few projects I’ve done and I keep [mentioning] Nightmare Alley and because I had so that was just another completely different experience … I can honestly say, it sounds ridiculous, but, like, I can quit work. I don’t even have to work in this business again and I will be happy.