During the production of Len Wiseman’s Total Recall, I drove down to Toronto’s Pinewood Studios to spend a full day with the cast and crew of the remake based on the classic Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

While on set, I had the opportunity to sit down for half an hour with stars Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel who play Doug Quaid and Melina, respectively, as key returning characters from the original. In our discussion, we touch on the key differences in their characters, the importance of remakes and what sort of mental trip the film will take moviegoers on.

List of topics discussed in this interview:

  • Differences in the Quaid and Melina characters from the original to the remake.
  • Arnold’s classic one-liners and which ones return.
  • Meeting expectations from fans of the original.
  • Colin Farrell’s feelings on remakes and the one film that should never be remade (unless he’s in it).
  • Ethan Hawke’s role in the film.
  • The various versions of Total Recall that director Len Wiseman could make with what they shot.
  • Quick fan questions about Blade, Daredevil, In Bruges and The A-Team.

Warning: There are plot/character spoilers from the original and new Total Recall within this post. The major new spoiler is on page 2 and you’ll be able to skip it with links below.

How does the 1990 character of Doug Quaid/Hauser differ from this 2012 version you’ve created?

FARRELL: There’s a distinct lack of one-liners. That’s the most noticeable omission, when I read this script. I mean it’s really hard to try and compare the two things, purely because I know one, having read it and experienced it practically which is this one, and I know the other one having been a fan of it way back when, but never having read the script. It’s really hard to put my finger on it on how different the two are because a lot of what both the films or what one film is or what other film will be– what Paul Verhoeven’s was and what ours will be is down to Verhoeven’s influence on the original script and Len’s influence on this script, because it’s so conceptual and it will be so about the look but also about the feel of it. Ours will feel very different, certainly, I don’t want to say it’s darker or heavier but it’s more dramatic.

I love the original Total Recall still, as a fan of film, but this one is less tongue and cheek. It’s the most simple way to put it. It really is. It’s less tongue and cheek and less camp, and I say camp not in a pejorative way , but in a way Total Recall – when it came out – was kind of camp, never mind now, it’s not just something that has earned its pizzazz badge in the last 15 years as a result of time passing. Even at the time it was kind of camp and a little bit over the top and a little bit bigger than reality in the sensibility of the piece even.  This seems to be a little bit more grounded in truth and again I don’t mean that in an insulting way to the original. It’s just there’s less one-liners, thank fuck, because no one delivers a one-liner quite like Arnie and it’s hard enough to compete with that (laughs). I mean it’s very different, you know.

My guy I think has a harder time understanding who he is because – Arnie’s Quaid, his fracture is kind of accompanied by some form of seemingly self-knowledge like he’s like “get away from me! I’m a spy!”  He goes through that first, whereas my guy really can’t – they’ve done a really good job toasting him, he can’t remember a single thing. The only thing he does recall is a feeling. He can’t remember anything that the mind has done, but he can remember a feeling and the feeling is very much in relation to the woman in his life, Melina, played by… I now hand you over to the beautiful and talented Jessica Biel.

BIEL: (laughs)

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Bill Nighy as Matthias in Total Recall

Throughout today we learned that a lot of the characters are going through some changes from the original to this one, like Kuato is now Matthias, but you guys keep the same names. You’re still Melina in this one but how does your character differentiate from what Rachel did in the original? Is it different or is it a similar journey?

BIEL: They are taking a similar journey, together, though with a lot of question marks and a lot of confusion. I think where Rachel’s character and this Melina differ specifically is that originally her character – I remember the first time she sees him, she slaps him across the face and she’s like ‘don’t you remember me? You love me!’ She’s very clear who this person is, what he is to her.

FARRELL: Yeah, she goes maybe you’ll remember you’ll love me…

BIEL: Exactly.

FARRELL: … once you get your memory back (laughs).

BIEL: Right, and Melina, this Melina – we talk about this a lot – is she 100% sure this is, first of all, the guy, which we realize, yes, but she’s not sure what he knows and how does she respond to him and how can she be compassionate towards him. I feel like there’s a much greater level and sense of compassion to her…

FARRELL: …demonstration of patience…

BIEL: … to look at the man that she knows is the man she loves, knows that somewhere in there are the memories and the feelings and hopefully he will be able to capture who he was and remember us at all. But it’s much more of a touch and go with each other and she’s much more sensitive to that. And all the same things Colin is saying about Quaid now as opposed to what Arnold did with the character, it’s just a bit more grounded. She’s just a little less big, a little less of a caricature. And again, that was perfect for that tone and that time, so that’s not a negative view of that character at all.

FARRELL: You hope you don’t strangle the fun out of it, because it is a different film and the original was a lot of fun. I have a friend who has two sons who are very bright, they’re 14 and 16 and kind of at the age where they’re very bright and too cool, saying ‘Captain America ***** and Thor whatever’ and I’m like ‘well, I kinda liked it’ and I’m embarrassed to say it in front of them but they saw the original Total Recall and were like ‘that was fucking fun’ and the dad was like, ‘don’t say fucking,’ and they were like ‘yeah, but it was fun, dad!’ And he told me that it is a really fun film, and you hope that this is. I mean there are a thousand ways and it’s really hard to capture any of them on film, but this is a different way. There are different questions being asked and I know Len is diligently pursuing some kind of emotional truth that’s dressed up in this really beautiful and magnificent backdrop of this future world that he has envisioned and created with a really wicked production team.

You did another remake in Fright Night, what is the biggest challenge about working on a story that has already been told?

FARRELL: Answering questions about it afterwards (laughs). Answering questions about it afterwards is tricky you know, like I genuinely was a fan of film long before I thought of being an actor so I have certain pockets of my youth and my childhood that are significantly tied in with songs, with films. As I said, if I hear they are remaking Goonies I may not be that happy. You know, I may get a little pissed off and go ‘really? Okay.’ Unless I get the call to play Sloth (laughs). I have the Superman T-shirt ready.

Farrell proceeds to do a Sloth impression, loudly shouting “hey you guys!” as the group and Biel laugh.

FARRELL: But seriously, so I understand why people get frustrated. I mean, I’m well aware that there is this whole kind of pocket of the filmgoing public that are like ‘ugh, remakes, how unoriginal’ and all that stuff. So, it’s kind of addressing that or being aware of that and then not apologizing for what you do at the same time, but respecting that people have their opinions. And you just hope – and it’s too much to ask the people go in and judge something like this based on its own, especially if they have some heart for the original. But you just hope that what you do, I mean you just don’t think of the original – that’s the hardest thing for me because of both Fright Night and Total Recall, is to go, trust in the concept of this one, trust that Kuato is a bit different and designed differently as Matthias and that that’ll work, trust that the relationship between us (points to Jessica) is something that we’ve worked on hard enough and long enough that it’ll carry the audience through it. I can see what Len is gonna do, I’ve seen the artistic renderings and how he is creating the world. I know that is going to be fucking magnificent looking, I know it’s gonna be so beautiful. You just have to switch off any expectation you have, even as an actor born of being a fan and just commit completely to the originality of a remake I suppose, as much of an oxymoron as that is.

Next: Potential spoiler for Total RecallClick here to bypass the spoilers and move on to page 3.

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Jessica, it sounds like when you were talking of the relationship between your two characters, you were holding back a little bit. I learned from Neal (Moritz) that Ethan Hawke is playing (points to Colin).

FARRELL: See, I have no idea how much is known…

I don’t think he was supposed to tell us…

BIEL: (Laughs) I don’t know, I’m always being careful about what to say…

FARRELL: (laughs) Note to self: Neal Moritz.

We can’t write about this for a year anyway, but I will ask, does that complicate the relationship?

BIEL: It does absolutely complicate the relationship.

FARRELL: It’s as much about mutual distrust kind of at the beginning.

(To BIEL) Do you know it’s him?

BIEL (to FARRELL): Have we made this decision yet about the dream sequence?

FARRELL: No, not really (laughs).

BIEL: There’s a big question mark about…

FARRELL: I still don’t understand it by the way so I’m not comfortable talking about it (laughs).

BIEL: A sniper is about to take us all out in about 10 seconds (laughs). It’s hugely complicated and we’re trying to decide. All of us are having conversations about it, but Len [Wiseman] is trying to figure out how do we make it the most clear for the audience, because we’re all having trouble together after we read it multiple times and sitting down speaking about It, constantly checking each other and saying ‘oh wait a minute, we can’t do this because, oh right.’ So we’re having multiple conversations about it and thinking if we’re having a hard time understanding this concept of he looks different in the beginning, how I do know for sure? That’s kind of what I was saying there being a mutual distrust about it. We also might decide to…

FARRELL: (imitates sound and action of shooting a shotgun) If it were a Robert Rodriguez film that’s what it’d be.

At this point, Farrell and Biel felt much more open and excited about their character arcs and were overlapping each other in conversation trying to piece together how it could work and how they’d like it to work.

BIEL: It’s complicated. We’re not sure how it’s going to end up. I guess the one uncomplicated part is that I don’t actually… Melina doesn’t actually have a scene with Ethan [Hawke].

FARRELL: Thank god.

That may have been weird for audiences…

BIEL: So there isn’t a ‘here I am with you before and now here I am with you’

FARRELL: That would be weird? That would be weird. There was nearly a moment, a bit of a flashback to where it was going to go back to, and at the end of it, it was kind of like weird to have the audience get used to…

[Update: Ethan Hawke’s role is not in the final cut of the film.]

Next: One-liners, Remakes and fan questions for Biel and Farrell.

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That was changed?

FARRELL: Well yeah, who knows what’s going to be in? There was stuff covered and stuff like that, I mean, this will be a film that genuinely… Len will have such a wonderful and I would imagine, complicated journey through in the edit. It really will. The mental work he has ahead of him with all the coverage that he’s got and with the options that he has. I’ve never seen before cleanly, how two or three films can be made from what we’ve already have in the can. So it’ll be fascinating to see.

FARRELL: In this one, not only have they robbed Quaid psychology of his experiences in life but they’ve changed him physically as well. So with that in mind, Melina represents the resistance and there are a lot of trust issues at stake. The most obvious one is me not knowing who the fuck I am, so thereby not knowing who I am in relation to anyone else. And if I’m told, which I am initially in the story in the 15 minutes that my wife is not my wife, that my job is not my job, that my friend is not my friend, that nothing is what it seems. Well then, this woman comes into my life carrying herself like she knows me, well then of course, the most obvious point of distrust is from me to her, but it works mutually as well in this where it didn’t in the first one.

That’s probably the biggest change in terms of characters.

FARRELL: That’s a really big one.

BIEL: Huge, huge one. Right, because he sort of has to trust me just because he’s dreamed of my face before. That’s the only thing when he first sees me that he can remember…

FARRELL: (laughs).

BIEL: … And I’m starting to get to him in different ways because of different physical attributes that maybe haven’t been changed or I’m inspiring some sort of feeling. More than a memory, it’s a feeling that’s growing in his brain and in his body that he just feels that he can trust me.

FARRELL: That’s what the whole film would ideally be, would be a kind of treatise. I mean it’s an action film, right? It’s supposed to be enjoyable and that’s predominantly the best thing. If it moves and people are gripped by it and it’s exciting, we’ve succeeded. But it can also be somewhat a treatise on the idea of the emotional intellect over just mental, than that’s a cool thing as well because Quaid doesn’t ever get to a stage where he’s given back his experiences, where he’s given back his mind necessarily… maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure (smile). But certainly, he comes to a place of resolution with elements of his past, the greatest element being the woman that he loved loves.

Director Len Wiseman on the set of Total Recall

Is the face and the bomb going to be in this?

FARRELL: No. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s things like that that as a fan I say ‘oh, can we’? but it was like, it was done and done brilliantly. I literally ran into a trainer one day with fucking YouTube, saying ‘look at this.’ You know? That goes back to what you were saying, it’s one of the hardest things to shut that off and go this is different. It’s inspired by the same concept but it’s very, very different.

But do you get to say, “If I’m Not Me, Then Who The Hell Am I?”

FARRELL: I do get to say that line and I do get say a variation on “consider that a divorce,” something about being separated from my wife. But I couldn’t get my head, like literally could not wrap my own feeble mind around saying in a scene with Kate Beckinsale as she dies, “consider that a divorce.” It would be like ‘what the fuck?’ That’s a different film. You know what I mean? It’s kind of really good ground for me. No, he wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say it. But Arnie could come out and say ‘consider that a divorce’ and it’s brilliant. We have a variation of that.

I have a few quick questions from some of our readers, first for you, Jessica. The A-Team, Our readers want a sequel, can you make it happen?

BIEL: I can’t. I’m not powerful enough like that to make that happen.

Colin, In Bruges, would you do a prequel?


Back to you [Biel]. With Blade 3, there was a potential for a spin-off with Ryan Reynolds’ character. Is that something that would have interested you?

BIEL: Definitely! I had so much fun doing that movie, It was a blast! We would have loved to do that.

And last for you [Farrell], In Daredevil you played the villain, would you consider playing the lead in the remake?

FARRELL: Would I? Nah.  I don’t think I could. Could I? No. Possibly. No, I’m done with remakes. I’m officially done with remakes.


FARRELL: Yeah yeah yeah, reimagined. How’s that? (laughs). Retelling? (laughs). I’m done, I’m two now, two in and out. But you hear so many things, everything. There are remakes that are better films than some original films, of course. Something doesn’t live and die by the fact that it’s inspired by a story that went before it, or is a retelling of a story that went before it. It really doesn’t. I mean, there are some: The Thing, The Fly, there are some wonderful revisitations. Jeff Buckley singing fucking Hallelujah, I’m not saying I’m comparing this to that you know, I mean interpretation is equally important as original concept. Because I’ve read great scripts that are shit films and I’ve read shit scripts that you get someone who interprets it in a particular way, a director who’s really able, and they make a wonderful film. My point being, I heard they are making Robocop and I’m like ‘ohhhh, wow.’ Brilliant, what a Greek tragedy that is, and that character and what he goes through. Talk about life taken from him and for what cause? Oh my god, it’s such brilliant stuff.

BIEL (to FARRELL): So, if they were to do a Goonies remake, which by the way, I might have to kill somebody.

FARRELL: I’m really telling you…

BIEL: You can’t mess with it.

FARRELL: Give me three years, I’ll feed the shit out of myself and I can do the fucking truffle shuffle.

BIEL: I was going to say, what is the truffle shuffle of 2012? What is that?

FARRELL: It’s just not as much fun.

BIEL: It’s just not as much fun. Don’t mess with it. (laughs)

The interview concluded with fun banter with the pair imitating each other with compliments, exemplifying the high spirited and fun nature of this shoot. That same can be said about the entire crew and everyone we met on the production. For more on that, read my full Total Recall set visit report.

Total Recall stars Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Ethan Hawke, John Cho and Bokeem Woodbine. It is directed by Len Wiseman off a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Total Recall opens in theaters August 3, 2012.