Greg Smith may look a little bit older now, but the resemblance is still uncanny. There’s the reddish hair, the bushy beard, and the stocky physique. All these years later, the Australian is still the spitting image of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Alpha team member Barry Burton, a role he played almost thirty years ago for the original Resident Evil.
In 1995, Smith, along with five other foreigners living in Japan at the time took an acting gig for an upcoming game called, Biohazard. With development already underway, Capcom’s eventual horror classic already had character models and voice actors in place. But Biohazard’s director Shinji Mikami wanted to shoot some additional live-action scenes to bookend the experience and add to its sense of realism. This ask meant hiring a totally new set of actors who already resembled the characters and assembling a crew to shoot on location. The end result led to the now-iconic opening in which S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team arrives in the Arklay Mountains to investigate the whereabouts of the missing Bravo Team, as well as four different endings portraying the remaining survivors’ miraculous escape from the horrors of the Spencer Mansion. For Smith and the other actors, it was just another role; another way to make money while living in Japan. They couldn’t possibly have imagined what happened next.
In the decades following, Resident Evil (the name given to Biohazard in the west) became an extremely successful media franchise, consisting of new games, comics, and various films. Fans online inevitably wanted to know more about the live-action performers who originated the roles on screen, but Capcom never gave the actors’ full names. However, through a ton of hard work, a group of dedicated fans has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down these actors and share their enthusiasm for their work. IGN spoke to one of these fans, Fred Derf, who runs Raccoon Stars blog, a fansite detailing this endeavor, as well as some of the actors to find out their response to this renewed interest.
25 years later, Smith is a retired principal who spends his days riding Harley-Davidsons around the greater Albury-Wodonga area of Australia. But in the mid-90s, he lived in Japan as an assistant school principal on an exchange-teacher scholarship at a Tokyo high school. As he tells IGN, one day while visiting a friend in Roppongi, a scout for the I.M.O (Inagawa Motoko Office), a Japanese talent agency, approached him to potentially be cast in Resident Evil.
“They had made the game up already, and they had to find someone who looked like the video game character Barry Burton,” said Smith. “That rudimentary character that stifles around, stiff-legged. […] It was close to 2000 dollars American a day or something. It was good money back in 1995. Next thing I know they’ve got me in for costume fittings, and they brought me in to get my hair cut the right way to look like Barry, and have my beard cut. They then brought me in to do some rehearsals and meet everyone because at that stage I hadn’t met anyone.”
Besides Smith, the cast for the live-action sections also included two young actresses named Inezh and Linda as Jill Valentine and Rebecca Chambers; the I.M.O employee and actor Charles Kraslavsky as Chris Redfield; and another two performers named Jason and Eric Pirius as Joseph Frost and Albert Wesker. Together they made up S.T.A.R.S, Raccoon City’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service, the group of soldiers who would contend with Umbrella’s undead experiments throughout the game. As far as we know, everyone besides Smith already had some acting experience prior to taking on their roles, with Eric Pirius, for instance, being signed to five other agencies prior to starring as Wesker.
Pirius, now a mortgage banker, told IGN, “I did a little bit of everything. TV commercials. Voices for video games. I was on Japan’s version of Broadway where I was a drunken sailor. And also industrials, like Kyoto needs an instructional video. It was kind of clapping for dollars pretty much, or yen I should say.”
Pirius first heard of the job through I.M.O, which sent his comp card (essentially a resume for actors) over to the casting director for the shoot. He then attended a short audition with 15-20 other actors in which the director asked him to read some lines and put on Wesker’s glasses. He must have done something right, because he got the part soon after and eventually found himself in wardrobe, where production dyed his natural dark hair lighter to match Wesker’s bleached blonde locks. Not everyone had as smooth a process getting into character though. Charles Kraslavsky, for example, found himself caught between bickering crew members.
Kraslavsky told the Raccoon Stars blog, “They asked me permission to dye my hair, which is naturally very dark brown, almost black, and they also asked me to grow some stubble. I remember the stylist having a very strong opinion that the character would never grow stubble, that he would be very disciplined about shaving, while the director felt very strongly that I would have stubble because we would be on the mission for several days. When they dyed my hair, they used straight peroxide, which turned my hair almost a red color. That red hair with my almost black beard stubble looked ridiculous, so they decided the character would be clean shaven.”
The pre-production process had its own ups and downs, but the unique approach to filming brought another set of challenges to the shoot, with the actors receiving little direction on how to proceed.
The Filming Process
Filming for the live-action scenes took place in late Spring across two different locations on the outskirts of Tokyo: an abandoned warehouse outfitted with a fake helicopter, and a rural area east of Mt Fuji that doubled as the exterior of the Spencer mansion.
According to the actors, the interior scenes were shot first, with Resident Evil’s director Shinji Mikami present on set for the shoot, though he wasn’t directing. Instead, Capcom hired a commercial filmmaker named Mitsuhisa Hosoki to be in charge of the filming, though very little is actually known about their directing experience outside of their work on Resident Evil. Perhaps, because of this, there was a lot of indecision between the director and their crew, with Kraslavsky being caught up in the middle.
“I remember that before we started shooting that scene the director said my white shirt was much too clean, because this was supposed to be after we had already battled.” he told the Raccoon Stars blog. “I remembered the parking lot outside was unpaved, it was dirt and gravel, and there were some puddles from recent rain. I offered to go outside and roll around in the dirt to get the shirt looking dirty and worn, and they thought it was a great idea. I rolled around in the dirt and came back. The stylist was horrified, and thought I was too dirty. The director said that I was not dirty enough, and so I went outside and rolled around some more. Looking at the video, I think the shirt is still too clean. Really it should have been much more dirty, and maybe a little bloody too.”
While Kraslavsky was rolling around in the dirt, the other actors spent much of the day waiting around. Smith, for instance, only had two scenes to shoot, including one alternative ending with Barry and Jill aboard the escaping chopper, and a video of him posing to the camera in character. The rest of the time, he spent on call.
“We basically spent the whole day in a studio, filming the imitation helicopter scenes, the introduction, and different bits and pieces,” Smith said. “All the indoor stuff was shot there in about 10 hours. We spent a lot of time sitting down drinking coffee and eating sushi [and] I only ever filmed with one person really. We spent what might have been 10 hours together — it was a long time. We got there in the morning and we didn’t leave until dark.”
“We basically spent the whole day in a studio, filming the imitation helicopter scenes, the introduction, and different bits and pieces… All the indoor stuff was shot there in about 10 hours.”
After filming the interiors, the actors then hopped on buses to travel to the next location to shoot the exterior scenes. This involved the introduction where Alpha team arrives in the Arklay Mountains and discovers the body of their fallen comrade. This nighttime shoot was a far bigger production than many of the actors were used to, with a lot more people on location, fake firearms, animatronic dogs, and large smoke machines to give the area its creepy atmosphere. Though the scene had apparently been storyboarded, some of the actors didn’t always know what was happening, or what the finished product would look like.
“The storyboards were kind of nondescript, and we didn’t really know what was going on; I didn’t. And when you’re in the field, and they say, ‘Now there is going to be an explosion and smoke’ — you’re just like ‘Okay’. ‘Run over there’ – ‘Okay’. You don’t know, you just run until they say stop. It was trial by error,” Prius told IGN. “You found out when you did something wrong. And then you were corrected. You weren’t told what the director wanted. You were just told what they don’t want, until they whittled it down until it was like, ‘Okay, this is what they want.’”
The Search for the Actors
In the years since their debut, opinions seem to be split over the live-action scenes. Mikami himself has gone on record in the rare book ‘Another Side of Biohazard’ (translated here) as being critical of the live-action sequences, claiming he never had the proper budget to realize his vision and that he should have done a better job with casting the characters based on their performance, rather than their appearance. But there are plenty of people who love the live-action scenes as is and feel like it adds another layer of intrigue to the game, including Resident Evil fans like Derf, Sam Scott, Dr Raichi, and Talonide. They have been working collaboratively over the last decade to find the actors who starred in the live-action scenes.
“That sequence, cheesy or not, had a big impact on the player,” Derf told IGN over email. “It was immersive, it helped to create a link between the characters in-game sprites you play and real, genuine people. The game having a horror/mystery theme, it really helped a lot. Another thing, you got to see these actors also during the endings, after all the feelings that the players experienced throughout the game, it really helped to build a “bond” between the characters and the players. Besides, even if it was filmed in 1995, there is something very “eighties” about it, and I love that decade. I think even if you laugh at the video rather than being creeped out by it, it has an impact and that impact makes the experience memorable.”
Finding the actors wasn’t exactly easy. Most of the actors largely did commercials, which don’t inherently credit their stars, so the group spent time combing through thousands of Japanese commercials and reaching out to those close to the productions they could find contact info for in the hopes of finding out more about the cast. Another hurdle came in the form of popular fan theories, with individuals claiming to know who the actors were, with little to no evidence, leading rumors to spread within the community.
“I would say that it was a problem to get some fans to acknowledge the finds,” wrote Derf. “When Sam Scott Identified Eric Pirius, a lot of people, to this day, tell us that Sergio Alarcon played him and voiced him. […] There was a reluctance from certain people to admit new facts. In 2022, a lot of people still believe that the Canadian actress Una Kavanagh is Inezh. We [also] got tons of lookalikes, I’ve contacted many and got many reactions, some people just block you, some cheer you up, some ignore you or just don’t notice your message.”
Remarkably, they’ve identified five of the six actors this way, and even interviewed four of them for their fansite. Perhaps the biggest discovery so far came in July 2020, when they discovered who played Jill Valentine. Though, unlike the other actors, Inezh has yet to provide an interview about her experiences.
“That sequence, cheesy or not, had a big impact on the player… It was immersive, it helped to create a link between the characters in-game sprites you play and real, genuine people.”
“Inezh is still a mystery,” says Derf. “We know that she knows about Jill since she has been contacted, but we don’t know what her opinion is about the filming. Shinji Mikami said that she wanted to go back home during the overlong night shoot near the Tama River and complained about mosquito bites, but on the other hand she can be seen smiling and having fun in the Birth of Biohazard making of VHS. If only she could write up a few lines about her experience, it would be so little but so rad at the same time. But time will tell if she changes her mind.”
While Inezh’s firsthand opinions on the filming and subsequent fan interest remain a mystery, the rest of the actors speak about the appreciation as a pleasant surprise. Many of them have given up acting in the intervening years, or taken up other careers away from the spotlight. Now they’re being treated like celebrities over something they did more than twenty years ago.
“I hadn’t thought about it since,” said Pirius. “At first, I shunned it kind of, like ‘What?’ But then I did enough learning to realize what that game means to a lot of people, and I grasped some of the significance, so I responded as much as I could. It’s interesting and fun for me to remember. And hey, if somebody gets a kick out of this, that’s awesome.”
“We never actually saw a copy of the game,” Smith told IGN. “The only time I ever saw the game was when I looked it up on the internet years later. […] Then about [20 years later], about 2017, I was a school principal and I had just retired and an email came with someone wanting to know if I was Greg Smith who did such and such. I was like, they’re going to give me royalties – you beauty! But instead, it was this guy in Germany who had tracked me down through the local paper. Then the ball started rolling. A lot of people write and say I helped them through their childhood. I’m like, ‘How did I do that?’ And they say, ‘Oh, you were an inspiration throughout my adolescence.’ I’m going like ‘What?’ I realized I could be an inspiration as an educator, I didn’t realize I could be an inspiration as a video game character. I didn’t really understand that.”
Interest in Resident Evil remains high today, with critically acclaimed new entries like Resident Evil Village and remakes of older Resident Evil games receiving similar praise. As a result, there are constantly new players stumbling across the small yet fascinating role these actors played in the series. And while their roles have since been recast several times over, they will always be a part of Resident Evil’s history. And it’s in large part thanks to fans like Derf they are now able to enjoy it. Just before our call with Smith ends, he expresses an interest in returning to play the character in his seventies.
“I just wish they would make a new Resident Evil with old Barry in it,” Smith told IGN. “I’d love to go back and do it again. I’ve got super fit in my old age, I could play Barry Burton much better now. I’m fitter now than when I was forty. I’ve hit my stride in my later life. I lift weights and ride Harley Davidsons and all those kinds of things.”
Capcom, it may be time to get the original S.T.A.R.S. team back together.
Jack Yarwood is a freelance feature writer who writes primarily about the video game industry. He has written for Fanbyte, Wireframe Magazine, and The Washington Post, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JackGYarwood.
Author: Jonathon Dornbush. [Source Link (*), IGN All]