In a world of remakes, it's hard to discern what's worth your time. Underworld director Len Wiseman takes a stab at an iconic sci-fi flick with rabid fans - Total Recall. With a more understated hero (Colin Farrell), new universe, and two seriously strong female leads (Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale), Wiseman has set out to challenge the original 1990 Philip K. Dick adaptation starring larger-than-life action star turned governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the midst of promotion, Farrell, Biel, and Beckinsale were eager to share with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier just how different their version of Total Recall will be.
Emmanuel Itier: How did you get involved with this movie? Did you watch the original film or read the novel?
Jessica Biel: I didn’t talk to anyone from the original film, but of course read the book. And of course watched the film, and I had watched it as a kid. But really I think, speaking to Len, we really wanted to stay far away from what that world was. Not trying to recreate or redo anything that that cast or that director had done at that time. It was a completely different world – the reinvention and rethinking of that world. So, it didn’t really feel necessary to take much from it. The ideas of identity and heart verses mind and all that kind of thing, that is what I think I took from the original film and from the book and the question of reality and carried that throughout the filming of this one.
EI: You’ve done a fair amount of these action thriller films. Was there a particular challenge here?
JB: I mean, there’s always a challenge. Every film I think, no matter what genre it is, is a big challenge, even if you’re kind of an expert at a particular genre per se. This one was quite challenging mentally to understand how much do we remember? How much does he remember? What do we play? It’s a very delicate balance of what we’re going to share with the audience. And we were constantly walking that fine line. So that was very tricky on a day-to-day basis. And, to keep our mind straight about well, what does he know? And, what does he feel he thinks he knows? You know, it’s very complicated. That was, I think, the most challenging part for all of us.
EI: There’s one specific scene in the elevator where you have to be very violent with Kate Beckinsale. Is it different performing fight scenes with another woman? How do you work that sort of scene?
JB: It was very fun. I love that kind of a scene. Fight sequences I think are incredibly invigorating and interesting. Completely different doing it with another woman, it’s so true. It literally was, “Oh I am so sorry. Oh, are you okay? Oh, I got your hair. Oh, I am stuck in your hair. I’m sorry. Did I get you?” I mean, it was that, literally, constantly. It was so funny because it’s so different than the perception that you see on screen.
It was tough. We were in a small space. Colin was fighting this crazy robot and this other guy and we all had to make sure we you know didn’t punch each other in the head.
EI: How was your experience working with Len Wiseman and what do you think he brings to the picture?
JB: Well, Len’s vision is to create a world that is incredibly relatable, that is in the future but you feel like you believe this could be a possibility. Not only is the world different and the world interesting and changed, but the people that are in the world are exactly the same as you and I are right now. We’re dealing with the same issues. We’re dealing with the same questions and we’re dealing with a loss of environment. Which is only exacerbated in this futuristic world – this space in this world is gone. That’s what the struggle is in politics and the government in this world.
So, that I loved because I felt like I could grab onto that idea. And, it wasn’t a futuristic world that was so far from anything that I could relate to that I couldn’t ground myself. So, that was a huge helping point and corner stone for me to figure my way around this world.
Emmanuel Itier: Tell us a little about remaking Total Recall. Was it intimidating to step into Arnold’s shoes?
Colin Farrell: I have to stuff the toes, those big sized 16’s. Was it intimidating? Not really, because the character was so different. If it was the same kind of animus that is portrayed by Arnie, I might be a bit nervous. I’ve done two remakes now. I am both characters. These were characters that I loved growing up and watching film. Fright Night and Total Recall, they really were. I’m not just trying to say the right thing. So, both times I was nervous about even contemplating the script. And, then when I read them, the characters were different enough that I didn’t feel like I was emulating. I didn’t feel like I was walking in the shadow of you know. Kind of the only thing that they share is environment and name. How they move through the environment, completely different. What they think about the environment, completely different.
EI: What was it about this particular re-imagining and working with Len Wiseman that convinced you to do the reboot?
CF: I saw the artwork that Len had done for this. I went over to his office one day and he showed me various pictures of what the world was going to look like and the modes of transport at the time. I just got really excited about his vision man. It wasn’t in the script. I mean, the script there is some descriptions as to what the world looks like, but when he got into the detail and he showed me what he had already done, I was just fascinated.
I am a fan of film more than anything, more than an actor. I mean, you know I still go to the cinema twice a week. I grew up watching films. I never came from a culture that had enough background to be taken to theater. I’ve sense gained a taste for theater in my own life. But I love film. This was one of those things where my potential is to go to work as an actor and my fanatical aspect for film got to experience a really cool marriage.
EI: Was there a particular scene that was challenging? How was it to do so many fight sequences with the ladies?
CF: Kicking the a** off all these women, yes indeed – fancy experience with that. Who did I fight with? I fought with Kate. Kate is tough. She’s really tough. She’s very dainty. She’s very, “Hello, how are you?” And then… she’s tough, man. It was fun. You know, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t over extend your arm at the wrong time, I was all pretty safe.
EI: What do you think is the main theme of the film?
CF: The biggest theme of the film is the idea of, are we all living the lives that we could live or the lives that we’re supposed to be living? You know, a lot of us in life, and myself, with all the gifts that I’ve had in my life and the blessings in my personal life and professional life. At times you wonder, am I living the life I should be living or could be living or is there another life that would suit me better that’s maybe more quieter, maybe more louder, maybe less public, or maybe more…
You meet this man at the start of the film who has some nagging idea that things just aren’t right. There is something in the corners of the picture frame that is his life that are beginning to curl. The corners are beginning to curl. But he doesn’t know quite what it is. Then, the story reveals about 10-15 minutes in that all is not as it seems and then it’s a journey for this man back to himself. I don't know if it’s even back to himself or in this new idea, this new creation, this new birth of who he is and who he wants to be.
I am going to do something very dangerous here and paraphrase Confucius - which one should never do, of course – and say that Confucius said something along the lines of, all men by design are the same, but by choice different. And, it kind of goes back to that notion. It’s how much of your life do you real design, whether you’re aware of it or not? Do you design based on your reactions to what you see growing up or do you at some stage decide literally, clinically, consciously, I am going to do this. I am going to be that. I think, therefore I am. Maybe [it] goes to I do, therefore I’ve become.
But, for this guy, he has no idea who he is. He can’t remember the past. So, he has to really go inside himself and see what he feels about the present to understand who he is. Which, is a gift that seems like a curse in the film, but it’s probably a blessing. He probably gets to find some core, essential truth about himself that he was admired by memories of the past he might not be able to access.
Emmanuel Itier: After filming several movies with your husband, Len Wiseman, how is it to return to work on an entirely new project?
Kate Beckinsale: To work with my husband? It was weird because I was never going to be able to do Total Recall. My husband had been working on it for a long time and I think had had me in his mind for this character. I was doing Underworld 4 at the time and it didn’t look like the dates were going to work out. And then ultimately, Total Recall got pushed I think by two weeks which made it very tight, but possible. So I knew he was doing the movie and yet I ended up having maybe ten days’ notice that I was doing it and four days in between Underworld and Total Recall. So it was one of those like, thank God I know and trust this director because I feel like this is kind of off in the blue. And in that respect, I had done Underworld and it was kind of a bummer not doing it with my husband. You know, even though our directors were great – you know, that’s where we met. So I followed that up by spending the entire summer working on this, which is a lovely experience.
EI: This is definitely not your first action movie. Did you find any new challenges with this particular film?
KB: I must say, this is not my first talent, this whole action thing. I mean, I’m thrilled that I get to do it, that I get to do these movies. But it’s not something I necessarily feel is like second nature or the thing that I’m really great at. So I do worry about it quite a bit. And you know, there’s a lot in it. I’m beating up everybody in the whole movie – Colin, Jessica…
EI: There’s that great action sequence in the elevator between you and Jessica Biel. What, if any, difference is there in a tough action sequence with another woman?
KB: It was tough. And actually, I end up beating them both up in the elevator in the whole scene. So I was very busy in the elevator, the busiest I’ve ever been. It was good. It was a little tight time-wise to learn the fight stuff just because I only just showed up a couple weeks before. So I was pretty nervous about that. But it was great.
It was very polite, you know, two girls desperately trying not to hurt each other. At the same time, they just wanted you to make the fight look as brutal and vicious as they possibly can. You know, it was pretty funny. The outtake that my husband had, just peppered with everyone going, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, are you okay? It was my fault. No, no, no, it was my fault.” Which I don’t think the boys do that so much maybe.
EI: What do you think is inherently unique about this version of Total Recall than the original?
KB: I mean, I think it’s different… Obviously, the bare bones of the story are very similar. My character’s married to Colin Farrell and then it turns out that there’s more going on than you originally thought. And he goes off and decides to have this experience, that “recall”. That’s all the same and I think people who are familiar with the movie will definitely know what’s coming and know where the story’s going to go probably on the whole.
The tone is very different. So I think a lot of the movies from the sort of late eighties, early nineties have that very particular kind of tongue-in-cheek tone that this doesn’t have. And as much as this is a very fun movie, a very fun write, it’s not so much Colin kind of winking at the camera and having a one-liner. That seems very much part of the time that the original movie was released. You know, there was a lot more of that going on.
I like the fact that Colin has a little bit more of an everyman quality than Arnold. You know, you see Arnold coming and you think, oh, he’s going to take care of it. You know, thank goodness he’s on my plane. Whereas Colin, I think, it’s such a surprise for him to be in this position and to be a guy who’s a factory worker who wants to have this experience, and is having this experience and is having to kind of scramble. I like the fact that Colin brings a kind of contemplative, sort of soulful quality to his character, which I think in our movie is very appropriate. It wouldn’t have been in the Arnold version. That’s a completely different tone. I like that for us.
EI: What do you think is the main theme of the movie? What is, for you, at the heart of Total Recall?
KB: I think that central question of what is real, who am I? How do I figure out what is real? Do I figure it out intellectually? Do I figure it out with my heart? You know, all that stuff was questions that obviously we were talking about a lot on the set. And that was the stuff that I think most of us found kind of really interesting and sort of endlessly appealing.
'Total Recall' is released in theaters nationwide Friday August 3rd, 2012.