Stephanie Panisello, the talented actress behind some of the most iconic video game characters, has had a remarkable journey since first embarking on the entertainment industry. 

Best known for her captivating performances as Claire Redfield in popular franchise Resident Evil, Stephanie has since captivated the hearts of audiences worldwide. Ahead of the franchise’s latest release, Resident Evil: Death Island, we caught up with the talented actress to talk all-things behind the scenes. 

Born for the screen: a childhood love of performance

Growing up with a love for video games and a knack for entertaining those around her, Stephanie Panisello’s passion for acting was evident from a young age. She recalls her childhood days fondly, looking back at how she would write plays and convince her brothers to act in them.

“I just naturally gravitated towards it as a kid,” explains the actress. “I had my own morning announcement show when I was in elementary school and, at the time, I got made fun of for it. Looking back, it’s funny, because now people I grew up with are like ‘Look at you now, you’re here!’.”

Despite having a natural pull towards performance, Panisello’s journey of becoming an actress was unconventional one. After initially pursuing other fields of study, including Political Science and International Affairs, Stephanie couldn’t shake the drive she had to entertain others.

“I had no idea how [the acting world] worked, so I decided to go to school for completely different things,” says Stephanie. “But that doesn’t mean all the things I learned at school didn’t help me in life. It still does. And I’m so thankful for it all.”

Throughout her rise to fame, Stephanie encountered plenty of teachers and mentors along the way, mentors who recognised her talent early on and acted as the catalyst to pursue acting as a career. 

“I had certain teachers that saw it in me,” she tells us. “My first grade teacher, Miss Hart, would always say she couldn’t wait to see me on Broadway. My parents too were very supportive.”

Thanks to their encouragement, the Resident Evil actress U-turned on her initial plans to become a lawyer – and the rest is history.

A working vacation: Stephanie’s rise to fame

After deciding to visit Los Angeles on vacation, Stephanie’s career took an unexpected yet welcome turn. Armed with determination and a hunger for success, she delved headfirst into learning from those around her.

As for her journey to get there, Panisello’s entrance into the world of voice acting is made up of chance encounters and a drive to seize every opportunity that came her way.

“I came out here on vacation and never left,” laughs Stephanie as she looks back on landing her first role. “I was doing background acting and got suspended because I didn’t have a car and missed a bus. Funnily enough, Brad Pitt also got suspended from the same place. But I’m so glad they did that. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it put me in a situation to meet the right person that was going to help me in the next situation.”

By choosing to look at apparent roadblocks as new opportunities, it’s these early experiences that ultimately guided Stephanie down the right path.

“While I was doing stand-up comedy, I had a customer who just so happened to work for video games,” explains the actress. “I’m so thankful he’s the type of person that loves to mentor because he saw something in me and encouraged me to get into voice acting.”

In a stroke of fortune, her new mentor recommended the book ‘Voice-over Voice Actor’ by Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt. The book proved to be an invaluable source, unravelling the intricacies of various voice acting styles, character creation, and more. And while the book fuelled her thirst for knowledge, it was Stephanie’s unwavering dedication that paved the way for what was to follow.

Impressed by an unyielding passion for the craft, Stephanie’s mentor invited her to sit in on a recording session at the studio he worked at. Unbeknownst to her, this seemingly small opportunity served as the launching pad for her professional acting career. When a production vacancy unexpectedly opened up at the studio, Stephanie grabbed at it with both hands, unaware of the greater plan fate had in store.

Recalling the pivotal moment, Stephanie shares, “One day, we had a character who didn’t show up for the session.” As all eyes turned towards her, Stephanie stepped in to ensure production could resume.

“It was my first time doing voice acting, but thankfully I was prepared,” says the actress. “I’d been taking acting classes and I was comfortable with my improv skills from doing standup comedy.

Recognising her journey’s uniqueness, Stephanie looks back fondly. “It’s such a different story from a lot of other people, but I’m thankful I did it this way,” she tells Student Pages. “Everything was like a series of events. I was willing to work on the production side so I could learn and that opened up another door at the right moment.”

Resident Evil and Marvel’s “What If…?”

When it comes to auditioning for a role, meticulous preparation is paramount. That said, you’d be forgiven for thinking knowing the name of your character is a pretty essential detail – unless, of course, the franchise you’re auditioning for has strict protection guidelines.

Reflecting on her initial experience auditioning for Resident Evil, Stephanie Panisello recounts how the character she was auditioning for first remained a mystery.

“I had no idea what I was auditioning for at first,” she reveals to Student Pages. “There was no information about it. There wasn’t a ‘This is Claire Redfield. This is Resident Evil.’ It tends to be very codename based when you’re auditioning for video games.”

After a successful audition, it wouldn’t be long before the actress landed her first major role for a franchise she adored so much growing up.

“Honestly, it really is a dream to be able to do what I loved as a kid,” says the actress. “To be able to do that and bring that joy as an adult is a kind of beautiful fusion, knowing you’re doing the right thing – that you’re on the right path.”

Speaking of the evolution of Resident Evil since the days of her youth, Stephanie shares her excitement of the opportunities the advancement in technology has opened up.

“These days, we’ve got it all,” says Panisello, speaking of the success of the franchise. “We’ve got the graphics, then we have the ability to have elaborate cutscenes, which we weren’t able to have back in the day. In my eyes, the games that are most successful are the ones that have story and gameplay. That’s how you get enthralled in a game.”

Fast forward to landing her role as Betty Ross in Marvel’s “What If…?”, the actress tells us another chance encounter had a big part to play in this chapter of her career. The audition took place amidst the throes of lockdown – and as uncertainty loomed for everyone, so did Stephanie’s chances of becoming Betty.

While the audition went well, the production team presented a challenge: Stephanie needed an at-home studio to proceed with the role during the pandemic – something she did not have at the time. Unwilling to let the opportunity slip away, the resourceful actress once turned to her earlier mentor, who helped her record at home.

“I’m so thankful I had my friend Morgan, who was my original mentor,” she recalls. “It was such a beautiful experience. I also got to work with Brian Andrews, the wonderful director for “What If…?” and getting to do that and giving Betty Ross life, was beautiful.”

“In a way, it’s a little bit symbolic,” she says. “Because the episode I was in as Betty Ross, all our big heroes had just died. And on the other side of that, we were experiencing the world in a completely different way. The duality of that was so interesting.”

Speaking of bringing the character to life, the actress tells us: “Although it was just one episode, we really took her through the gamut of emotions. It really took you to another level. I’m so glad Brian allowed me to go to those places.”

How to level-up in the world of acting

While Stephanie Panisello’s journey into acting may have been an unconventional one, her experience serves as a reminder that you don’t have to follow traditional pathways to make your dreams come true.

Encouraging those who want to follow in her footsteps to enjoy the journey, Stephanie tells us a true love for the industry is key to making it.

“You have to love it,” urges the actress. “If you don’t love it, there’s probably another thing you love that you can make money with. There’s an ebb and flow that you have to feel comfortable with. It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride at times. You could be at your absolute high, but then there’s no goal in this industry. You have to enjoy the journey and when you have a peak, you have to allow yourself to be excited. And when it gets low, just know there will be more peaks.”

And above all, the actress recommends taking as many classes as possible.

“I can’t tell you how many times people are shocked when I tell them you have to take acting classes to do voice acting,” she explains. “You have to be very good at acting because you don’t get to use your face or body to show emotion.”

With Resident Evil Death Island’s release date set for 7th July, Stephanie tells us viewers should prepare to expect the unexpected.

“If you follow the series, you’ll know this is the first time we’ve had all the big guys together,” Panisello reveals to Student Pages. “We’ve got Leon, we’ve got Rebecca, we’ve got Chris Redfield – and of course, our girl Claire. We’ve got a strong female cast, so that’s huge.”

Excited? You should be. 

Gabriella Wieland
Author: Gabriella Wieland

Gabriella Wieland is a writer and English Literature graduate. She spends most of her time trying to keep her mini-poppadom obsession at bay and finding adventures of the ‘free’ variety. Residing in Manchester, she also spends much of her time liaising with scientists to find a geographical cure for eternally-grey skies and Vitamin D deficiency.