In the cinema and on television, Colin Salmon has become a figure of immediate, unquestioned authority as Sgt Oswald in Prime Suspect and as M’s right-hand man in the recent Bond movies. Pierce Brosnan even suggested he could be the first black 007, though Salmon still sees himself as "a street boy". "I mean I played in punk bands," he says.
"Where I live, in the hood, with respect kids come up to me and they know I’m in Bond," he says, in an accent that suggests we are talking about the South Central London hood, rather than South Central LA. "When I tell them I’m in Resident Evil, they’re slightly different. This is underground, hardcore - boys take Hollywood on at what it does best."
Resident Evil is the latest film adapted from a video game - not a source that has overly distinguished itself in the past. And Salmon is right in saying this is underground (literally), hardcore video gaming, with the characters dispatched to a subterranean research centre to zap zombies, and zombie dogs, and a creature called the Licker, the result of a genetic experiment that went wrong.
Critics have seemed rather more appreciative of the novel as a source of film stories and ideas, Resident Evil is unlikely to figure on the Oscar short-leets, and Salmon himself admits Resident Evil is not, on paper, the sort of film he would go to see - if it were not for the fact he is in it, of course.
Mortal Kombat is generally regarded as the best of a bad lot and Resident Evil has the same director Paul Anderson, who took on the writing this time as well. The German production company Contantin Film, which made The NeverEnding Story and The Name of the Rose, beat Hollywood competition to the rights and the film shot in Berlin.
The basic set-up and the zombies come from the game, but Anderson introduced new characters about whom even aficionados would know nothing.
He also drew on Lewis Carroll for his tale of a heroine called Alice who goes underground and meets a succession of strange creatures during some pretty weird adventures. (There is another game called Alice, which Wes Anderson is developing as a movie, in which a grown-up Alice leaves her mental asylum to return to a much more dangerous Wonderland than she had previously known.)
Anderson’s Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in an isolated mansion, suffering from amnesia, and is whisked off by a team of commandoes led by Salmon’s character One, on an underground train journey, to the research centre, where the employees have all seemingly been killed by the computer known as the Red Queen.
One’s team are faced with a series of deadly hazards, including the Licker, which was created using a combination of animatronics and computer imagery, and the famous canine zombies, real Dobermans wearing special outfits to make it look like they had been skinned. "The way it read it was just unputdownable," says Salmon. "I did get frightened reading it, so I felt it was a great piece of writing."
Salmon found the film physically gruelling. "We were actually trained by an ex-Navy Seal guy. We did a lot of combat, we did a lot of firearms, we did live rounds... Milla was an unbelievable shot... We trained so hard it was painful."
One is very much the stereotypical, macho action-hero, but there is a major surprise for him quite early in the film, giving Alice and the female commando played by Michelle Rodriguez their chance to shine. "They’re kick-ass girls, trust me," says Salmon.
"We have no choice but to keep moving," says Rodriguez’s character, summing up much of the appeal of the game, and of the film. It manages better than most computer-game adaptations to translate that appeal to the screen, with its sense of perpetual motion and a few surprises; and, yes, Jovovich’s Alice stands comparison with Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft in terms of sexiness and kick-ass.
Resident Evil is not exactly pushing back cinematic frontiers, but the kids in the hood are unlikely to care.