Total Recall is a darker version of the original sci-fi flick
THE forthcoming blockbuster Total Recall thrust its leading man, Colin Farrell, into a potentially tricky situation. Not only did the film require him in intimate scenes with English actress Kate Beckinsale, who in real life is the wife of Total Recall director Len Wiseman, he then had to take her on in a fist fight.
During their dramatic punch-up Beckinsale gives as good as she gets — in fact, her character probably dishes out more punishment than she receives — but Farrell still flinches when he recalls the memory.
“Kissing the director’s wife was a bit tricky,” begins the 36-year-old Dubliner. He then laughs, “But beating her up was okay.
“I’ve hit guys in the face by mistake when making films and you feel like crap afterwards. The two women in this film are very strong women, though, and they are well able to take care of themselves.”
The other woman, alongside Beckinsale, is American superstar Jessica Biel. “Jess is funny and she is tough,” says Farrell. “I came in one morning and I heard someone hitting the punch bag in the corner and it sounded as though they were giving it a merciless beating. And then I realised it was Biel. She is tough.”
And she needed to be — Biel, Beckinsale and Farrell were all required to prove their mettle on Total Recall, which plays out as a high-intensity action drama. The film is inspired by the famous short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, which also inspired the 1990 Total Recall movie, shot by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading role.
“Following Arnold Schwarzenegger, I didn’t feel any pressure,” says Farrell. “I’m not trying to give a rehearsed answer, but ours really felt like a different film. It really did.
“I am a huge fan of the original Total Recall,” he continues. “I was a big fan of Arnie’s stuff as a kid, I’m talking Red Heat, Commando, obviously Terminator, and Predator is still to this day one of the best action films I think I have ever seen. I love his stuff, so thank God I didn’t feel pressure to fill those shoes or compete with that ability to throw out a one-liner.”
Farrell goes on to note that director Wiseman’s re-imagining of Total Recall is darker and more serious than the Schwarzenegger film. “I wouldn’t like to say the original is cheesy, but it was a bit camp,” he says. “You put a bullet in your wife’s head and you say: ‘Consider that a divorce!’ I mean, that was good, that was very good. It’s camp and it’s intended that way, it’s not an accident, but our film is tonally very different.
“I really approached our film more as a drama, set against the backdrop of these magnificent cityscapes and these really elaborate action scenes.”
Like Schwarzenegger, Farrell takes on the role of Douglas Quaid, a regular guy in a fantastic future, albeit with an exceptionally beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale). His life, however, feels a little empty and he decides that a “mind-trip” could prove the perfect tonic and pays a visit to Rekall.
But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. On the run from the police — controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) — there is no one Quaid can trust, except possibly a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) working for the head of an underground resistance movement (Bill Nighy).
As the film unfolds, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred. Gradually Quaid begins to discover his true identity, his true love, and his true fate. His world and his life hang in the balance. Wiseman is best known for shooting the first two Underworld films along with Live Free or Die Hard.
Wiseman, in fact, also has an art department background, having worked on big budget sci-fi hits Independence Day and Stargate and sought to delve deeper into the main character by creating a hybrid of a psychological thriller and action film that plays out against a sci-fi backdrop.
“My brother’s a massive sci-fi fan, while I’m not that into it, though obviously I love things like Alien,” says Farrell, who dipped into sci-fi previously with 2002’s Minority Report. “And actually with Minority Report and Total Recall, they’re not dissimilar visions of the future.
“They’re both inspired by Dick’s work, and while his stories in literary form are open to interpretation and expansion, he inspired a certain world format. Sci-fi generally seems to be a fertile ground for drama.”
Farrell’s talent for drama came to international attention in the wake of Tigerland, in 2000, and he’s gone on to rack up a series of tantalising roles in films as diverse as Phone Booth, The Recruit, S.W.A.T., The New World and Ondine among many others. Following Oliver Stone’s big-budget epic Alexander in 2004, however, and then the blockbusting interpretation of Miami Vice in 2006, Farrell has thrived in a series of smaller-budget movies.
In 2008 he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor — Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his acclaimed performance in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy hit, In Bruges. In 2011, meanwhile, he trod a new path with the likes of Horrible Bosses and Fright Night.
“When Total Recall came along I was initially dubious when I heard that they were remaking it. I thought, ‘Is it worth it and what are they going to say about the original?’ But I read it and it was such an excellent script,” Farrell says.
The actor notes that in spite of the film’s epic scope and budget, the shoot felt rather personal. “Honestly, Total Recall felt more intimate than some of the smaller films I’ve done. It just happens that way and it defies explanation. It was like 100 and whatever million dollars, but I worked really, really closely with the director, Len, and with the other actors.”
Farrell spent five months living in Toronto during production. “There were all these grand action sequences and these beautiful epic worlds, but on the day it was just a bunch of actors on set, trying to figure out what the other person was feeling and doing and thinking. It was great.
“Ideally, I would mix it up, go from one genre to another. I’d love to do big films and small films for the rest of my life.”
He will undoubtedly get his wish: Farrell is currently in high demand. After Total Recall comes Seven Psychopaths, another piece from In Bruges helmer, Martin McDonagh. “Martin’s stuff is always kind of absurd and dark and yet hopeful,” says Farrell. “This one was set in America and I’m the only Irish character in it.”
After that comes the Philadelphia-set gangster thriller, Dead Man Down, written by Joe Wyman and directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who shot the original, Swedish-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. “Dead Man Down is about an Hungarian immigrant who loses his family and decides to infiltrate a gang that was responsible for the death of his daughter,” explains Farrell.
“That script really is dark.” He smiles. “They’re both tough films actually, but at least on them I don’t have to fight or kiss the director’s wife!” Sony Pictures Releasing International
Total Recall opens in cinemas nationwide on Aug 2