Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted and completed prior to the start of the SAG/AFTRA strike.
Stephanie Panisello has always viewed gaming as a means to connect with others. Behind the console, another world awaits. “I started playing games at a young age with my family,” she says. “It became a way to bond with my brothers, and later on, with friends. Then I was introduced to Tomb Raider, which inspired me to get outside to explore and adventure. I also love that games are so immersive in their storytelling and that you can understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.” A chance encounter led her to voiceover work. Through the microphone, she was completely unleashed. “I didn’t know I was interested in it until I met my first mentor at a Starbucks while on my lunch break. I knew of voiceover acting, but I had no clue how to get into it or how it all worked until I read my first book about the craft. Once I found out it was such a liberating form of acting, requiring a lot of imagination and I could be anyone or anything, I was hooked!” Shooting motion capture might look a bit unusual to outside observers, but for Stephanie, it’s all in a day’s work. “The easiest way to explain Mocap or PCAP is that an actor wears a suit – like they do in the making of Avatar, that has shiny white balls – markers that are strategically placed to create a ‘skeleton.’ That skeleton is then picked up by a bunch of cameras in a room called the ‘volume.’ It is then placed beneath a character model, so that when I move, the character does too. As far as the acting process goes, it’s not much different than acting on camera or on a stage. We simply have more tech involved and minimal props or barriers around us.”
Stephanie will be returning as Claire Redfield in the upcoming Resident Evil: Death Island film. “Resident Evil is a video game franchise with multiple films and TV shows. It’s been around for over 27 years now and is one of the first games to put horror on the map. What’s made it so successful is that it balances action adventure with horror and comedic one-liners to ease the tension. It’s also got some pretty awesome heroes, with one being the iconic character I play, Claire Redfield! I first starred as her in the video game Resident Evil 2, then reprised my role in the Netflix series, Infinite Darkness, and now in the film Death Island. Claire is a spunky, quick witted, strong woman, with a big heart, driven by a desire to help people. Some might call her stubborn, but I think she’s just intentional,” Stephanie laughs. Claire has grown quite a bit since her introduction to the franchise. Stephanie loves peeling back all her layers. “She started out just trying to survive while cussing like a sailor in the first game, then we saw her come into her inquisitive detective side; now we see she knows who she is and she’s secure in her decisions. It’s been a really fun journey and I hope I get to do more with her so I can tap deeper into her character.” She even ventured into Twitch, thanks to her beloved Claire-acter. “I initially started the channel when playing Resident Evil 2 for fans. I called it a ‘Claire-ception.’ I liked the pun ‘Because I Claire,’ which was a play on a line that explains why she does everything she does, ‘…because I care.’ It just felt right. It’s more of a motto now than anything. My channel has since gone beyond Resident Evil, but the meaning behind it will always stay.” She feels a responsibility to continue forging the path for women in gaming. “I remember the first time I saw a female character in a game and how it opened up my world. I realized I wasn’t restricted, that as a girl, I could also play as a kick-butt character. And that’s why it’s important to me that I use my career, platforms and community to create a safe, welcoming and empowering place for all. I love showing that a woman can be more than just attractive – she can be smart, funny, strong, loving, and flawed. Respectful representations of women in games attracts a larger audience and subconsciously inspires and empowers women to be fully themselves, whatever that may be.” Just as Stephanie has given Claire life, Claire has continuously renewed hers. “My involvement with Resident Evil changed my career forever. It’s been a beautiful journey and one that I am so very grateful for. I learned that I was capable and talented enough to carry a lead character through multiple media platforms, while keeping her iconic for old and new fans. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel all over the world meeting fans, which is great for me because I’m a big adventurer and explorer by nature. Ultimately, it’s helped give me the experience and confidence to take on multiple different lead characters throughout all mediums of entertainment.” Women uplift and invigorate one another, whether they’re real or fictional. Resident Evil: Death Island will be available worldwide on Blu-ray and digital starting July 25th.
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Stephanie Panisello Returns as Claire Redfield for “Resident Evil: Death Island.” Photo Credit: Diana Ragland. Hair: Jon Lieckfelt. Makeup: Grace Phillips. Wardrobe: Melvin Sanders.