This past week we got the opportunity to sit down with film director Len Wiseman at the Los Angeles press junket for the newest science fiction blockbuster of the summer: Total Recall. Wiseman revealed that not only is he a long-standing superfan of science fiction in general, he’s had a bit of a history with the original Philip K Dick short story that inspired the 1990 film Total Recall – and of course loves Arnold as well. Have a peek at this 2012-based vision for the future from the meistro’s seat right here and now.
Also be sure to check out our full review of Total Recall (2012) and stay tuned for a collection of interviews just such as this one coming up over the course of the week – we’ve got Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, and your favorite and mine: Bryan Cranston – coming up soon as well!
[Wiseman] It started with a phone call. I wasn’t aware there was a Total Recall script being put together so it was a surprise to me. Neal called me and had me come down and read it – and I went into it with quite a bit of hesitation, first off, being a film of the first film but also being a part of Die Hard as a franchise. I’d just gotten done with a previous project and I wasn’t ready to go through with this at first, I was still developing some things of my own.
So it was one of those projects that I read wanting not to like it, but I felt like I should just read it, and I’d been wanting to work with Neil for a long time, so – as I went through it it became more ‘ah man, this is actually pretty good.” And then I just got hooked. So that’s what it was initially, it was just at first trepidation, then just really loving the new take on the script – that’s how it all started for me.
From left: Brian Cranston, Jessica Biel, Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Len Wiseman as they appeared in Los Angeles for the Total Recall junket.
[Q] Obviously you stayed away from wise-crackery which was one of the trademarks of the original movie but there were lines, you did keep actual lines – what was your take on that?
[W] Yeah we did kind of our own take on certain lines and there were certain things that – you know – it’s a tough mix to bring in things that are familiar – and the original script, it deviates so much [from the original film], especially towards the second half. This film doesn’t go to Mars, and the second and third act [of the 1990 film] are on Mars. So there were some things that I wanted to bring in that were familiar. But the lines and things that we have are just slightly skewed in a different tone.
[Q] What were some of your influences in developing the look of the film?
[W] That’s such a hard question to answer because there are so many influences in being such a fan of science fiction in general. So a lot of it – for me – I collect a lot of science fiction artwork, and always have, so if you go to my house it’s just geek out, it’s like a library of science fiction material.
And then a lot of the elements, the colony world specifically, where part of what influences or builds out this world is a melting pot of different societies. Because the world is at a point where there are only two zones that are inhabitable. So it was drawing in on a lot of that district in Brazil, there’s a lot of asian influence, and there’s a lot in terms of architecture to put those things together.
And then everything I’ve been growing up with, sci-fis, everything from Blade Runner to Aliens and Star Wars. It’s probably endless in terms of what is probably engrained in our minds and what we’ve got to draw from, ideas where you don’t exactly know what you’re influenced by. I can’t say specifically, but you’re influenced by watching movies like this and reading books and comic books and everything since I was a kid.
[Q] Can you talk about working with Kate [Beckinsale, aka Wiseman's wife] and speak on if she was always going to play the role she’s in or if she was considered for the other female lead in the film?
[W] She was never considered for the other role, I had considered her for the Lori role early on. It was just a combination of what I wanted Lori to be which was not exactly what was on the page. I just had the confidence and knew what Kate could bring to it. And then schedules changed and they pulled up her Underworld schedule.
So she took off to do Underworld which just meant that this was cancelled out and so we started a long casting process but it was just not going to happen. And then my movie got pushed. Luckily I was behind, so we got pushed back 3 weeks which created literally a 2 day window. She finished up Underworld, we put her on a plane, she came out. So there was this weird process – it was something that I was excited about, that happened, and then the schedules opened up again.
[Q] With both Underworld and Total Recall both being action movies, what did you do to push the envelope with Kate and make things different?
[W] I think it’s always different. It’s just movies in general, it’s such a wonderful business because as much as you feel like you’re crafting or fine tuning your career route, each movie is a completely different challenge, so it’s different even with those little details. Every fight sequence is different, and everything even in just the terms of the action sequences, it’s always different.
So I can really enjoy that, and she’s been in enough of these [action movies] now where it’s not starting from ground zero, where she’s just terrified to throw a punch. She’s not the same girl now. So that part gets a lot easier. So it’s always different, which is great.
[Q] The idea of class separated society is an element that’s present both in the Philip K Dick story and here in the movie, and fortuitously the Occupy Movement started after you’d envisioned this whole thing – how did that factor into this movie, with the class warfare aspect of it all?
[W] The class warfare was obviously there, it was in the script as well, and it’s a help to think about what would happen if we did have two zones that were left, and everyone had to just survive in these two areas, and what would our society do with that setup? So it’s commenting on that, and it’s the state of the world – in my mind, would that realistically unfold? So I tried to stay true to that. That was the starting point from what was actually already in the script.
[Q] Was there talk of any cameos from the original film planned or executed here in 2012?
[W] There was talk of it, I was tempted as just a fan of the original. I think of the original Total Recall as an Arnold movie. I wasn’t really aware of Philip K Dick at the time, I was 14, and I was just went to see – I want to see the Arnold film. So there was talk about it very early on, there was talk of Sharon Stone, and I don’t know if they were contacted, I’m not sure. But as we started to develop our film, I didn’t want to distract too much. So it would be a fun idea, and that fan in me really wanted to see it happen, just the storyteller [won me over]. Every time I’ve seen it happen – Lou Ferrigno shows up in the Hulk – it does take me out of it. It just seems Comic Con a little bit too much.
[Q] What elements were you insistent on keeping from the first one? Obviously like the three breasted hooker was a memorable one: were there any ideas you wanted to keep?
[W] Yeah the first thing I wanted in there, it’s absolutely one of the things I remember most about the original one, and it’s just at the core of this concept was the representative from Rekall comes back in and sets the stage. And tells Quaid that he’s actually living out a fantasy. And it’s that great core battle of fantasy vs reality. That was one of the things that I wanted to make sure that was really fleshed out, and then to push it further, was one.
Then some of the fun more superficial stuff we just wanted to put in: I had made a list, a list of about 10 things or so that I remembered from the film before I went back and watched it. And it had been about 20 years for me since I’d seen it, so I wanted to write that out before I watched it again. I thought that if those were things that had stuck with me through the years, that I would want to highlight some of those.
And they were things like – the three breasted woman was one of the top things, like I said I was 14, so that was very memorable to me. And then I just remembered Arnold pulling that big tracker out of his nose, freaking out about that, and going through the immigration booth with the heavy set red-headed lady. There were a lot of moments that I remembered. So we just wanted to put them in in a different twist. We give an homage to them but we switch em up, twist em up a bit.
[Q] Where there any things like Johnny Cab that you wanted in there or thought about but couldn’t get in there for one reason or another?
[W] Yeah there were things that – I’m trying to think of them – actually Johnny Cab was one of them, but it didn’t end up applying to us. There was also actually an element, the oxygen element that didn’t really fit in to our storyline. Obviously, we don’t go to Mars. But at one point there was a sub-plot about an oxygen level within the colony, but within this universe and on the planet it just didn’t make much sense.
[Q] Could you talk about choosing Colin Farrell, you spoke about going specifically to see an Arnold movie where comparatively Colin Farrell is a more real actor – and could you talk about that shift in dynamic?
[W] I had absolutely no intention of replacing Arnold. And there were a few things that made me want to do the movie, the first that the script took a different direction to it, and a different tone, and this was a chance to do a very different kind of Quaid. I didn’t read the short story until I went to college, so I had kind of a reverse knowledge of it.
I had seen it first as an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, then it wasn’t until college that I read Philip K Dick’s story and I remember at the time thinking, ‘oh that’s that Arnold movie that I love when I was in high school’, and just reading the story had a very different effect on me than what I remember, just from the tone of the story. And Quaid, or Quail as he is in the story, is a bit more of an everyman.
So I wanted somebody that you could just relate to a bit more. The whole idea of that story was that it has such a strong wish fulfillment to it – of a man that wishes he could be more, then turns into a super spy, verses my recollection of what I felt when I watched the original Total Recall: we’re watching a guy who you already feel is a super spy because we’ve seen him in such a capacity. So I wanted a guy who was, I think of an everyman.
My sister-in-law says that, ‘if Colin Farrell is the every-man then I’m living in the wrong city.’ *laughter* So he’s the Hollywood everyman, I guess. So that was exciting to me, when it first came out there was so much talk about, ‘who’s gonna replace Arnold.’ And The Rock came up, all these wrestlers, all these people that I was totally unaware of.
[Q] Did they pitch these actors and ideas to you, or what?
[W] Ah no, it was all over, like, online. Speculation about who the next Arnold was going to be. And I was like, ‘alright, when I announce who the next Quaid is going to be, and not the next Arnold, maybe they’ll like it and maybe they won’t.’ But it was quite a reaction and very well received and I think it immediately helps to set a tone of what we’re trying to do.
[Q] Where there any other actors that were considered for the role?
[W] Just The Rock. Ha, no. No, he was my first choice which, I feel like a director rarely talks about if you don’t, you don’t have that conversation. Like, ‘he wasn’t my first choice but man, he worked out great.’ *laughter*
[W] I’m actually glad to not have to cover or navigate around, he was my first choice and it was great, it was a situation where, also with Kate, it just works out. Bryan Cranston, who I was watching on – I had really been sucked into Breaking Bad at the time, and I was thinking, one, I want to work with this man at some point. He’s fantastic. And then when the script came about I thought he’d be perfect, and, first choice, yeah that was really fun.
[Q] What were you considering when Colin Farrell was cast, were you thinking international appeal, his accent, what do you think about when you put that together? Because obviously the movie has to hang on this guy, is he a big enough box office star, is he a good enough every-man and appealing?
[W] To be completely honest I didn’t think of any of those things, I thought just simply that he’s a fantastic actor. And I want to take an actor and more so, if anything, my job would be to turn an actor into an action star rather than an action star into an actor. That rarely works. I want to start with just a really good actor.
And when you put his whole body of work together: we just said we’re going to create Quaid. Just as a starting point, as a springboard, there were elements of Quaid, the Quaid that I had read, the one that I had pictured: a little bit of Phonebooth, a little bit of In Bruges, a little bit of – he’s done so much. So it was really that.
It was really that I wanted to work with an actor for Quaid, I really want to push that, everything like the physicality, once this character has to turn into this super spy, you have to really believe him. But that’s more of a thing that’s just getting people into the gym and working with stunt players and all of that. I want the security of a fantastic actor.
[Q] Did Colin feel bad about fighting with Kate ever? Or did he just go for it?
[W] He didn’t tell me then, but he tells me now that it was a little bit nerve-racking just because of the fact that it’s the director’s wife. I think it would be kind of weird, I guess. I think he felt ok after she blasted him in the neck at one point. So I think then it was ok for the gloves to come off.
[Q] Could you speak on the conceptual design, the whole look of the film, and all the little gadgets (like the hand phone), and how real this film’s environment is compared to other concepts that films have presented?
[W] It was definitely a large part of the focus for me to have it all. I love science fiction more than the fantasy, and the distinction of how science fiction is based off of science. And where science could possibly go. It’s such a what-if quality where fantasy is kind of the study of a different thing, so I’ve been drawn towards that, and it’s this reality of: these things could possibly happen.
So it was very much – for instance that palm cell phone – I want to think that a think like that crazy of an idea [could be real.]
I saw something, it was a while ago, where it was in Japan and they were putting in LCD tattoos, that they were putting into the skin. Whether it ever came through or not. But the LCD tattoos that you see in the film as well as the phone systems – what they’re also doing is the car.
[W] With the car design we were talking to an engineer that you guys were really developing things in a way where that makes sense to how the world would progress, in a sense. At some point were going to have to start building up. You’re going to run out of room to build houses. And once you build up you have to design and build in a way with a transportation system that will also accommodate that. So that’s what we’ve done.
So yes, I’ve very much into what could possibly happen.
[Q] When Quaid is in the bank and opens up his safe and gets his money – did you have input as to who was on those bills?
[W] Did I have input – oh, yeah. Because one of those bills is my dad. It’s right by Obama, the next one over is my dad Loren. so it was perfect to put him right as one of the presidents. And yeah I thought, yeah, we see our presidents heads up, I thought Obama would make a bill.
[Q] Do you have any independent projects coming up?
[W] Yeah, you know, people say why did you take three years off after Die Hard – I have not taken one day off since after Die Hard. I have been actively developing projects that didn’t go through for various reasons – mainly of budget. It’s really difficult to get an original idea that’s not attached to a comic book or a book itself or some awareness that’s over a hundred million dollars.
And I love to build worlds, since I was a kid, it’s what I got into this industry to do. Three of those projects were ones that I had written, seven months here, with Tom Cruise, and folks saying ‘this is gonna happen’, and the budget doesn’t add up.
[Q] What one was that?
[W] It was a movie called Motorcade, it had Dreamworks, and he took off to do [something else] – and the funding wasn’t coming through, it was expensive, and it was an original title, and he went to do The Time of Day.
[Q] Do you have a Rekall fantasy yourself?
[W] Rekall fantasy myself, ah, god. Probably too many. I would love to travel to the future, just to file some things so there’s no guesswork.
[Q] What effect does working with your Wife onset have on your marriage – do you ever feel like you’re working together too much?
[W] No, it’s a weird thing. And there’s lots of directors that work with plenty of the same actors, over and over, many more times than I have. And actually I’ve worked with Bill Nye more times than I’ve worked with Kate, and I’m not married to Bill Nye, so that never comes up. I love to work with actors where I know what I’m going to get from them, as many others do, so it’s not something – you build as well as you would accrue, as well, you build up the people. It’s so risky, there are people you know you can trust, you know what you’re going to get from them, its why directors do it a lot of times.
But if people would say, ‘you’ve hired Bill Nye too many times’, I’d say, ‘well I don’t care.’ He’s fantastic.
Be sure to check out the rest of our Rekall-toting content in our Total Recall portal and check out the ever expanding timeline below to see what else we’ve got for the film in the way of unique or otherwise fabulously interesting Total Recall content!