Matthew Mercer talks about playing Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil: Damnation

Actor Matthew Mercer talks about voicing the iconic Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil: Damnation, available on Blu-ray and DVD right now

If most people heard or read the name Leon Kennedy, it probably wouldn't trigger any type of response. However, if you mention the name near a die-hard fan of the Resident Evil video game franchise, that would likely not be the case. The Resident Evil live action franchise is still going strong with Resident Evil: Retribution currently in theaters, but RE fans are also in for a treat with the release of the animated Resident Evil: Damnation, the follow-up to 2008's Resident Evil: Degeneration. I recently had the chance to speak with Matthew Mercer, who voices Leon Kennedy not only in this new movie, but also in the upcoming Resident Evil 6 video game that arrives October 2. Take a look at what he had to say about this new movie, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD, the new game, and much more.

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Since you have voiced this character in the games, is there any distinction, as far as your work goes, between the game and an animated movie like this?

Matthew Mercer: It really depends on the character arc. The process is definitely different. Video games, for the most part, you're running a script, line by line, but it doesn't necessarily have to be in the proper order. There's not a direct narrative, because different choices can affect what happens in the game. The difference between Resident Evil: Damnation and Resident Evil 6 is in Resident Evil 6 we did facial mo-cap, along with the voice over. We had these little reflectors glued to our faces and these head pieces in this room filled with light with about 40 cameras. Not only were we performing the voice for the character, but we were also performing all the facial expressions, all the reactions that were happening in the game. It was a lot more of an involved process, compared to Resident Evil: Damnation, but the character arcs were also different. Resident Evil: Damnation had a younger, cockier Leon, and actually follows his transition into the more broken, downtrodden Leon that Resident Evil 6 begins with.

It's interesting to see these two franchises running concurrently, with Resident Evil: Damnation and Resident Evil: Degeneration, along with this long-running theatrical franchise. Do you find there are fans of specifically each separate franchise, or both overall?

Matthew Mercer: So far, I've found they're pretty polarized. There are people who are fans of the live-action films, but they've also never played the games. On the reverse side, there are people who have played the games their entire lives since the first one, who are not crazy huge fans of the live-action. I'm sure there's definitely a crossover there, but the experiences I've had seem to be pretty polarized. I think it's because there are some creative liberties taken with the films, definitely more action and survival horror from the very beginning. For the fans of that aspect of the game series, they felt it strayed too far from what they wanted out of that. I can understand that.

These animated films definitely do stick closer to the games. For you, being in both the game and animation worlds, is it hard to keep the different plot points straight, as you're working on both?

Matthew Mercer: Well, thankfully we're not working on both too concurrently. Resident Evil 6 was done in chunks over the period of about a year to a year and a half, whereas Resident Evil: Damnation was recorded in a period of about five days. It was a smaller process. It didn't require as many actors, it didn't require as many lines of dialogue. Resident Evil: Damnation, I could follow that arc from beginning to end without too much distraction, whereas Resident Evil 6, we'd record maybe three or four times a month. I was getting re-integrated to what was going on each session. At the same time, I've been a fan of the video game franchise from the beginning, so I had enough knowledge of the world and the characters that it wasn't too hard for me to dive back in.

Leon is pretty snarky in this one. It's a lot of fun to see these one-liners. Is there any room for improv on a project like this?

Matthew Mercer: There were some performance elements that I was able to toy with a little, subtle things. The script was pretty stringent, but we were able to improvise a bit. The unique thing was working with the director on making lines have a little more personality, goosing them a bit with Leon's need to cut the tension sometimes. I very much relate it to Spider-Man. In an intense situation, his natural reaction is to crack wise, but it also maybe distracts an opponent. Of course, a lot of his opponent's aren't too conversation-worthy, being brain-dead and all. There is a little bit of flexibility from a performance standpoint, but not too much.

I presume you don't get to record with anyone in the studio. I know there are some animation projects that they record as an ensemble. Are there times when you do wish you'd have Courtenay (Taylor) in there as Ada, or anyone else that you'd like to interact with in the studio?

Matthew Mercer: Yeah, very much so. I've done some animation series' and films where we've had an ensemble cast. Those are usually projects where you record first, and everything is animated to the voice. Resident Evil: Damnation was physically mo-capped and recorded with the mo-cap actors first, so there wasn't a whole lot of flexibility with timing, so it was more stringent. We had to go in individually. I feel, personally, it's a lot more interesting to have other actors to play off of, but, at the same time, being alone in the booth with the director gives it a much more technically precise feel, which has its own rewards as well. I like both methods. I prefer ensemble casts, but with games like Resident Evil 6, where there's just so much dialogue and recording mo-cap, or with Resident Evil: Damnation, where the story pace is already set by a previous set of mo-cap actors, it makes more sense to do it individually.

How much stuff do you get to see of Leon when you're recording? Do they show you concept art and things like that? Obviously you're familiar with the character, but does having that visual sense help you get into the character more as well?

Matthew Mercer: It does, for a lot of reasons. A lot of games and voice over projects, they're not giving the actor a lot of context. The actor, no matter how good they are, might not be able to deliver a performance that fits the action. If they don't tell you that the character has been running hard for 30 minutes, and you don't have any direction to tell you that you're breathless, or vice versa. If you got stabbed in the chest, it'd be nice to know that tension and pain. It is helpful to have these visual aides. For Resident Evil: Damnation, they had done a lot of the preliminary animation, and we were actually matching to picture for a lot of this. There were no textures, it was all very simple, 3D models moving around and temporary art, but it was enough to know what was going on in the scene, which would allow us to add texture to dialogue that matched what was going on. It's a major boon to any performer.

Is there anything that you're currently working on that you can talk about? Are you still working on Thundercats?

Matthew Mercer: Yeah, we're gearing up for Thundercats Season 2 pretty soon. They put it on hiatus for a short time, so they could retool the budget. I don't know. I'm so far removed from the business side, I don't know what the details are there. There's Thundercats, there's another series coming up called Beware the Batman that I did a little work on. I'm also helping production on a web series called Batgirl Spoiled, which is like a live-action fan series revolving around the Stephanie Brown Batgirl in the DC Universe. That has been a really cool project to help produce, and I'll be directing a future episode, at one point or another.

What would you like to say to fans of the Resident Evil franchise about why they should pick up the Blu-ray or DVD?

Matthew Mercer: To all you Resident Evil fans out there, thank you for being so awesome and enjoying this franchise and supporting it. I have big shoes to fill with the Leon character, as he is very much one of the beloved characters in this series. Paul Mercier, who previously portrayed the character, is fantastic. I hope you guys enjoy my interpretation of the Leon character. I put a lot of love and a lot of energy to it, and I hope for many more experiences in the future to play Leon Kennedy as well. Feel free to follow me on the web. I'm on Twitter @MatthewMercer and much love to you all. Check out Damnation. It's pretty friggin awesome.

Excellent. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.

Matthew Mercer: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

You can watch Matthew Mercer as Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil: Damnation, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.