Stephanie Panisello

Redefining Claire Redfield: Interview with Resident Evil’s Stephanie Panisello

This month, Resident Evil: Death Island arrives digitally on Bluray on July 25th in Canada. The CG film is a canonical continuation of the Resident Evil franchise, that includes the recent Resident Evil remake games. It also serves as a sequel to Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness.

What makes Resident Evil: Death Island such an important piece of media for fans is this will be the first time all four main characters of the franchise interact on screen. This includes Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, Jill Valentine, and Clair Redfield. The latter of which is played by actor Stephanie Panisello, who stepped into the role during 2019’s Resident Evil 2.

Panisello has worked on a number of games including Genshin Impact, Gears 5, Octopath Traveller II, and of course, Resident Evil. Creating her spin on Claire, an iconic character, Panisello has evolved the hero beyond a singular entry in the franchise. With credits spanning multiple projects, Panisello is definitively Clair Redfield as far as many fans are concerned.

Panisello also hosts a live stream series dubbed ‘Because I Claire’. While commonly streaming Resident Evil games, Panisello also brings on cast members to talk to interview and talk with the community.

Redefining Resident Evil’s Claire Redfield with Stephanie Panisello

We spoke with Panisello to discuss her career in Resident Evil and how she made the character her own.

Steve Vegvari: I want to go back even further than you receiving the call for Resident Evil 2. You have more than a decade of experience in acting, mocap, voice work, etc. What was the journey like leaving FSU to doing stand-up comedy and transitioning to working in games and animation?

Stephanie Panisello: It’s funny because I went to FSU for political science and international affairs. My plan was to go to law school. I’m going to work for the United Nations, and then I’m going to start my own non-governmental organization. I never thought of acting as a career, I just didn’t think you could do it. I just thought you go to school for theatre, and then you go act in theatre. All the way through elementary, middle school, high school, and college, I was in every play. I was still always starting my own like a morning announcement show or in every short film in college. But it’s never something that registered as a career. I’m really glad that it did.

“Stand up was about learning how to write my own material, learning how to perform it, and learning how to fail, gracefully.”

The transition was a big deal. When I came to LA, I started doing stand-up. Again, didn’t think of it as a career for me. Stand-up was about learning how to write my own material, learning how to perform it, and learning how to fail, gracefully. I think was really massive for me. I give that recommendation to a lot of people. It’s your own material and your performance and then get nothing get crickets. The beautiful thing about that is that I actually loved the nights that were rough. You just learn to build this skin where nothing bothers you, nothing affects you. Then the next time around, you write something a little different. Your performance is a little different, or you read the room a little differently.

Steve Vegvari: I think what’s really interesting about your career is that it not only spans across many credited acting roles but you’re also experienced in the sound department as a Voice Over Session Assistant. What are the ways each role helps hone the craft of the other?

Stephanie Panisello: Because I was able to do script supervision and no taking on all that it allowed me to sit in on so many sessions with different directors and different game publishers, developers. I also got to witness other actors and get to see how all of that process went to be sure, right? It was interesting and also humbling. You have to have zero ego, right? You are there to be in that position, not to be the star.

When I was there for that job, no one even knew I was acting. They didn’t even know I was an actress already. I remember working out in Gears of War and they had no clue that I was an actress. One of the sound engineers was on a break. He’s like I can’t believe I saw that article about your game. Other people on the team were like, “Oh, are you working behind the scenes on that game too?” And I was like, “No, not exactly.” (laughs) Then the engineers like “She’s so-and-so in the game.” And they’re like, “Wait, what?!” It’s crazy.

Steve Vegvari: I know this will be of interest to many fans –– What was the audition process like for Resident Evil 2? Did you know it was going to be a remake of such a beloved game ahead of time? What was the phone call like when you were offered the role?

Stephanie Panisello: I didn’t know. What I knew was that the script said, “Don’t shoot. I’m a human.” (Laughs) Well, there aren’t too many people that say that! So what I was like, “Wait a minute.” I just didn’t understand what was happening. I went through three callbacks or something. On my last one, I wore a red leather vest. This is it, I’m going head this could either bite me in the butt, or it would be the best thing that I’ve ever done. I was doing like a lot of basic stunts, and gun training too. They were very big on mobility and how I could move. All of those extra bits that I chose to do is what got it.

“Yeah, I am Claire Redfield.” And he’s like, “What?!”

We didn’t know how big that game was going to be, right? At that time remakes weren’t doing as great. When our game came out, it was really well received. It went down in history! I think I saw a list. It was ‘Top Best Games and All of History’ and it’s a remake. So many articles came out saying, “This is the way you do a remake.”

Everybody else was trying to copy that. I was working on Trials of Mana. I was playing Faerie. The director was like, “I have an audition for you. Our reference is Claire Redfield I was like, “Yeah, I am Claire Redfield.” And he’s like, “What?!”

Steve Vegvari: The character of Claire Redfield is iconic but she was born in a very different time in media. What was it like to step into the shoes of the character and begin elevating her beyond what fans already knew?

Stephanie Panisello: So, that was tricky at first, right? You want to take a very iconic character, and you want to recreate it. But how do you do that? I did struggle with that in the very beginning because I wondered if I should do it like it’s been done or what do I do. I thought about characters that I love. I’m big Tomb Raider fan, I love Lara Croft. I thought about Ellie in The Last of Us.

I’m so thankful that our director and writers were so receptive and said “You are her.” Our director Tom was like, “This is fresh, they want you to bring whatever it is.” So for me, what I did was decide to keep Claire’s essence. Then I added in as much as I want. I won’t take away but I will add. And so that’s what I decided to do.

We really dug deep into what is it about Claire specifically. That is important. And the thing is Claire is a loner. So all her reasons for doing things is because she cares about people. And she’s afraid she will be alone. So, when you kind of tap into that and realize she’s 19 years old, can’t find her brother and it’s the end of the world. She’s seeing people die for the first time like really graphically. There’s the scene when she pulls out Elliott, the cop. When I pull him out, I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” You know, in some other games, maybe you wouldn’t say “I’m so sorry.” That might be the very first time she sees something that graphic and she feels responsible.

“I don’t know, how I had the courage to say this but I said, “I guess we’ll get new fans.”

Steve Vegvari: That’s very cool to actually hear because like, you think Capcom, you probably assume they’d be protective of their beloved franchise and want to preserve it as much as they can rather than hand over creative agency.

Stephanie Panisello: Don’t get me wrong. They still had their things but they were open to listening. I remember one of the last lines when she stabs G and says “Goodbye, fucker!”. After that, they did stop and were like, “Oh, we’re a little concerned that our fans will not like that she cusses so much that’s like the last thing she says. I don’t know, how I had the courage to say this but I said, I guess we’ll get new fans.”

They kind of stopped and I explained it’s the end of the world. She’s 19 years old. She’s got a gun and was trained by her brother. I think she can cuss. They kind of looked at me they waited for a second they’re like, “Okay, we trust you.” Once we embraced it, the writing for the ADR in gameplay added so much more cussing, we just went all in and we just embraced it fully.

Steve Vegvari: I want to know more about your experience working on Death Island. There seems to be a lot here that fans can look forward to, especially in having this ‘Avengers Assemble’ moment with all four main characters together for what seems like the first time. Did you get a chance to interact with any other cast members?

Stephanie Panisello: In person? No, we didn’t get to. A lot of the mocap was shot in the heart of COVID. We all get to do all our voiceovers. We kind of interact. I have gotten a chance to. Nicole Thompson (Jill Valentine), I already know her. Then Matt Mercer (Leon S. Kennedy), whom I have known throughout the years. I used to work on the other side of gaming, you know. I’ve gotten to know him throughout the years in that capacity. We never worked alongside each other. It’s just kind of come full circle. The only one that I don’t know is actually Erin Cahill (Rebecca Chambers) Then I got to work with my “brother” Kevin Dorman (Chris Redfield), on another project earlier, you know, so then I was like, “Wait a minute, you’re my brother.: He’s like, “You’re my sister!” Unfortunately, we didn’t have that interaction during. But that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t call each other after our sessions.

“I would love to do Code Veronica. I’ve loved this character so much”

Steve Vegvari: I think we’re at an interesting junction in the franchise. Between remakes and Capcom pushing the lore forward with new core entries, there are interesting ways to bring Clair back into the fold. What are your hopes for the character moving forward?

Stephanie Panisello: We’ve been able to see her in Resident Evil 2, Infinite Darkness, and then now Death Island. It’s nice because they’re still all canon. They all go between the story of the games, which is great. I don’t know where that will go outside of that. I never know. And I wish I knew it kept coming. I feel like there is this strategy where it’s like, game, remake. show and movie and then repeat. I know everybody wants to know about Code Veronica.

Capcom had put out a poll asking [what remakes fans would like to see]. What’s promising about that is that they’re asking. This means that the fans do have some power here. I would love to do Code Veronica. I’ve loved this character so much. I feel like that’s a game that can use a lot of love and TLC. Then I would be interested to see what would happen after the fact.

Steve Vegvari: I really admire your ‘Because I Claire’ streams. Not only are they super personable and fun. But I also saw you’ve brought on Maggie Robertson, and Nick Apostolides. What does it mean to you to celebrate and share these moments with the community of fans?

Stephanie Panisello: I love hanging out with my cast members. Maggie’s not my cast member, she’s in a completely different Resident Evil game that I’m not even a part of. But it’s wonderful. Nicole and I have bonded so much. Nick, he’s like my brother. It’s just been so fun. The very first stream that I did I just played Claire as myself. Then it became a thing and a bit of a hit. I’m so sad that I never knew that you could save all those videos because those were my originals.

I saw that there was a need and necessity for it. It started this community and then Nicole took it on and grew it out even bigger. Then all the Resident Evil actors now, we just keep adding to that community vibe. It’s been so lovely.

Steve Vegvari: Outside of Resident Evil, what have been a few highlights in your career that you fondly look back on?

Stephanie Panisello: So obviously, Marvel’s What If as Betty Ross. Then I would say I loved working on Genshin Impact as Cloud Retainer. She’s just such a fun character. One that hasn’t come out to the States is Ba Da Bean. I did 52 episodes. I’m the lead of the show and play Bean in it. It’s all throughout South America right now. That show was so wonderful. I’m so sad that it’s not in the States and in Canada. I wonder if it might show up

There was another character in this game called Larcenauts, which is for VR. And I play a character called Calima, which was my very first Columbian character. I’m half Colombian, half Spanish. And that was fun because I got to incorporate English and some Spanish.

Steve Vegvari: Was there anything you wanted to touch on? Any upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

Stephanie Panisello: Just follow me on Instagram, that’s where I put all the updates for everything.

Also, I’m big on self-empowerment That’s like a big deal for me. If anyone ever watches any of my streams, you’ll see I’m goofy and playful, but I also get real. I love to support people in finding their best selves and what they really love and connect with. So I will be doing some stuff later on this year that revolves around that. I’m not talking about it yet. But that would be something to kind of just keep a lookout on like social media.

This interview has been edited for language and clarity.