During the production of 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 spent some time in the trailer of producers Toby Jaffe and Neal Moritz who shared details on the motivation and ideas behind the upcoming re-imagining of Total Recall, differences between it and the original, and much, much more.
List of topics discussed in this interview:
- Getting the rights to remake Total Recall.
- Why there’s no Mars storyline or mutants.
- Casting Colin Farrell as the new Hauser and choosing Len Wiseman to direct.
- Living up to the original Total Recall, but remaining grounded.
- Ethan Hawke’s character explained.
- Three-breasted women.
- Reflecting on the original Total Recall & cheese factor.
- Sequel aspirations.
- Why Kuato was renamed “Matthias.”
- Why Total Recall isn’t in 3D.
- Updates on Preacher and The 8th Voyage of Sinbad.
What was the greatest challenge of adapting a story that’s been done before?
Neal: Luckily the source material was so good that it had such a great idea and jumping off point of being able to walk in a place and have these fantastic vacations, a mental holiday… It was just such an intriguing idea to us. You know, you work these jobs and you go into the corner or walk into one of these places, get this thing done and feel like you’ve been on vacation for two weeks or had some incredible experience, whether you’re a thrill junkie or whatever it is. That to me was just such a fantastic idea whether it had already been made or not.
How did this project originate and tell us about the obstacles in getting the rights to remake Total Recall?
Toby: It started with us reading the original story again and realizing how rich it was and how great it was and we set out to find out where the movie rights were and it turned out that was sort of a complicated situation. It took us about six months to actually get the rights and I think our initial instinct really was just to start from scratch and go from the short story, but also going back and looking at the film, there were certain touchstone moments that for the segment of the audience that knows it, you want to find some way to reference them, but the challenge was to reinvent them in a fresh way, but at the same time not be bound by that movie at all.
And I think one of the big things that we decided early on was to try and tell a more grounded version of the story, something that feels, in terms of the world, is relatable as possible. And so I think part of that was not to go to Mars and not put yourself in a position where you have to kind of create a pure fantasy world which that would require. And given the cinematic era we’re in right now with visual effects with movies like Avatar and stuff like that, you’re going to Mars and all of a sudden you’ve got that bar to kind of measure up to. And so it just seemed like if we wanted to do a futuristic action movie that you felt as an audience member that you could put yourself in, that would be my fantasy of being a spy to try and keep it within a futuristic version of Earth seemed like tonally the right way to go.
So that was a goal right from the beginning?
Toby: Right from the beginning. Kurt Wimmer, who pitched us his take, that was his take. ‘Let’s keep it on Earth and it’ll be very futuristic, but it’ll be an extension of our world today.’
Avoiding any conflicts with other Mars-based films like John Carter?
Toby: That wasn’t on our mind at the time, but it just turned out that way.
What were your first impressions on the tech and designs of this version of the future?
Neal: Luckily we had seen so many evolutions of this as the pre-production period was going on, seeing different variations of the China Fall, different variations of weapons, robot suits and cars. We were impressed by the vision of Len [Wiseman] and Pat [Tatopoulos] had of what the future would be.
Toby: You can actually see right up there [pointing to wall in trailer featuring concept art], that’s one of the first images Len developed with Patrick and his team of what he saw this futuristic world looking like.
The original Total Recall won an Oscar for effects…
Neal: That’s our aspirations, to be as good or better than the last one. This is kind of a wholly original version of Recall, even though we have touched on moments that touch back to the original, but this is a movie we’re trying to make that stands on its own.
Can you tell us about the casting process in selecting Colin?
Neal: Colin was the first person involved. He was somebody I had worked with in the past who I loved. We really wanted a ‘real man’ and we went to him first and luckily he wanted to do it and we were off to the races after that. And then we added Jessica and Kate, and then Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy and Ethan Hawke. It was just one of these things where people were really interested in doing the movie so it wasn’t that hard.
The first question here is a character/plot spoiler about Ethan Hawke’s role in the film. Skip past the first question on this page if you wish to avoid.
Can you tell us a little bit about Ethan Hawke’s character?
Toby: Not to give away too much, but one of the big differences between the earlier film and this film is that not only do they erase his memory but they change the way he looks, so he has a different face. Ethan plays who he was before they wiped his mind and changed his face.
[Update: Ethan Hawke's role is not in the final cut of the film]
*** End of SPOILER***
Was everyone onboard with bringing back the three-breasted woman?
Neal: Yes (laughs). And it’s really… And they sent me a picture of her with this prosthetic on and you just couldn’t believe it’s not real. It looks incredibly real. In fact, I heard Len ask if he could touch, you know… (laughs).
Toby: But you know, you always go through that conversation when you’re doing a remake. How do you acknowledge the original and as we said, because we were trying to make it really grounded and feel realistic for the audience we didn’t want to go to the cameo of any of the original cast or anything like that. But when you start to read comments online, I would say 90% of them reference the three-breasted woman. So, it wasn’t actually in our original plan but once we sort of got into it, Len was like ‘we have to do that.’ And there are no mutants in the movie either so he found a way that made sense in the world that he created to justify it, and once he did that, once he found a way into it, we figured out how to put it in the movie.
Some of the most iconic scenes include Arnold gasping for air, are there new ‘wow’ moments that will stick with audiences.
Toby: We have a lot of ‘wow’ moments that will stick with the audience. That whole Mars storyline and oxygen and mutants is not part of this movie. So we don’t have any of that but we have other, other things.
Neal: We have a place where his eyes almost bulge but it doesn’t have to do with Mars. When the robots almost crush in his head.
Toby: Yes… For example, we have robots which is something that’s completely kind of original to our story.
Were you fans of the original?
Neal: It’s funny though. I remember loving the movie, and I did love the movie when I saw it, and when we started to embark on this, when we were getting the rights we watched the movie again, like we love the movie, but we didn’t realize how cheesy it was today. But when we saw it originally, it wasn’t cheesy.
Toby: Yeah, it shows you how everything is sort of…
Toby… relative to the context in which you see it. I mean, back then it was incredibly fresh and cool, and when you look at it today the whole filmmaking process has evolved so much that a lot of those sets and production design, and even the effects are rudimentary.
Ever chat with Arnold?
Neal: Nope, we didn’t speak to him about it. Nope. I ran into Sharon Stone though one day. I was sitting a restaurant next to her and somebody said ‘Neal, duh duh duh’ and she said you know, we talked a little about it and I said ‘it’s really hard to find someone to replace you’ and she was very touched. She really liked that.
A lot of characters retain the same name but Kuato (Bill Nighty) is now named Matthias. Are there any additional characters that are entirely new?
Neal: There are many characters. We felt that since Kuato in our movie is not a mutant it would have been weird , it would be something people would be expecting to kind of…
Toby: When we removed that whole story line, at first we didn’t think to change the name, but we realized that a portion of the audience would come with some expectation that he was going to be some sort of supernatural, weird mutant character which he’s not, so we changed the name.
With the mutants gone, is there some sort of alien story in the background?
Toby: No, completely grounded. You know, there are some smaller characters who are new, but it is, you know, you’re recognize some version of some of those characters..
Neal: Or a combination of…
Toby: Yeah, and there’s no Richter, [Michael] Ironside’s character. He’s sort of been combined into the Lori character. She’s a much bigger role in the story than the Sharon Stone part in the original film.
Since there are no mutants and no Mars, what’s the big plot device that’s motivating the characters?
Toby: Space. Overpopulation. That’s what the film is all about on a sci-fi level, is the need for more space.
That’s what forms this resistance led by Matthias?
Toby, Neal: Yes
Is there any studio pressure to do 3D?
Neal: It wasn’t pressure. We talked about it and honestly, when we looked at some of the pre-vis that we had done for the movie, it would have just been overwhelming to the brain. We’re creating this whole world, we’re going through this whole world, and just maybe it would have detracted from what ultimately is a character story about a guy who forgot who he is.
How was Len Wiseman selected?
Neal: We had tried to get him to direct a number of movies. In fact, it’s funny, we were just talking, we have a movie starting shooting Monday in Boston with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds called R.I.P.D. and I really wanted Len to direct that and we really wanted Len to direct Escape From New York and there was a number of our other projects, so we’ve always kind of been after him. Ever since I saw the first Underworld I have been very impressed with what he had done and then when I saw [Live Free or] Die Hard, very, very impressed with his work. And I really just liked him personally so when this came up, he was actually the second director that read it and he wanted to do it and he wanted to do it and that was it.
Who was the first?
Neal: I shouldn’t talk about it (laughs). I mean it was a very, very established director who wanted to do it but just couldn’t fit it in with what his schedule was.
In terms of merchandising is there a video game coming for Total Recall?
Neal: We haven’t honestly… I always find the timing of these video game movie things is really hard to mesh, especially because it takes so…
Toby: The lead time is so long…
Neal: The lead time is so long and when we’ve done them in the past I haven’t felt that the video games were that great and I don’t really want to do it unless to me, the game is at the level of quality that the movie is.
The original Total Recall had a sequel get as far as the script stage, is this a one-shot remake or is there potential to continue the story?
Toby: We hope so.
Neal: We hope so. We never set out to make a movie that has a sequel. Anytime we’ve maybe tried to do that, it hasn’t necessarily worked and luckily, during the Fast and Furious movies and a lot of other movies we’ve made, we’ve made a lot of sequels, and my feeling is that if the audience likes it, we’ll make a sequel.
So, I mean, we’d like to. It’s a great world to be in. It’s fun. Plus when you make a sequel, audiences already know the characters, so it’s a lot easier to get a movie going.
If you had to choose one Arnold movie to sign up for what would it be?
Neal: I’d probably do Twins.
Who’d you choose as the siblings?
Neal: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I just think it’s a very funny concept.
Toby: How about Jonah Hill and Vin Diesel?
Neal: Okay. There you go. (laughs).
Neal: I just thought that was a very funny concept. I thought Kindergarten Cop was a funny concept too but that would feel very dated to me whereas I could see how Twins could be redone. Maybe you’ll see it at a theater pretty soon (smiles).
You guys are working on Sinbad together?
Neal: Yes we are.
Toby: We are.
Can you tell us where we are with that?
Neal: We are developing a script, it’s called the The 8th Voyage of Sinbad, so it’s kind of like the voyage that’s never been written about. So it’s something we really would like to do, we just haven’t got the script to the point where we are ready to make it yet.
Who’s writing it?
Neal: Right now, (laughs), right now we don’t have anybody writing it. We’re deciding what direction we want to go in. There’s been a lot of movies obviously, Pirates and Prince of Persia, and so we have to be careful that we’re not treading on same territory.
Can you talk about Preacher?
Neal: Preacher is something that we have a script that we really like that we’re developing further. That’s something we’re very interested in.
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.
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Total Recall opens in theaters August 3, 2012.