We had literally watched Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel hanging from wires in a green screen environment on the set of Total Recall for a couple of hours, and it was obvious they were tired from a long day of work, especially Farrell, who was a bit punchy by day’s end. They were both obviously a bit beaten up and bruised as well, probably from some of the action that takes place before the scene we watched them shoot for hours.
Q: It looks like you had a rough day.
Jessica Biel: We have a rough day every day. (laughs) At least it appears to be.
Q: Can each of you talk about how you see your characters?
Colin Farrell: How do I see Jess’ character?
Biel: A trick question.
Farrell: As often as possible and not often enough. Do you want to go first? I’ve started, shall I continue?
Biel: Whatever you’d like.
Farrell: I’ll give you a chance to formulate something that’s smarter than what I’m going to trip my way through. So I play Doug Quaid, which pretty much like the original incarnation, is a member of the Proletariat, a fairly low-level blue collar worker in a way really grand factory scheme, who lives in a part of the world called New Asia and travels daily to the United Federation of Britain, UFB, and makes a really long trip in a short space of time through the use of this public transport system called the China Fall, which is a really wicked concept. The China Fall is basically a 60-story escalator that transports about 30,000 people at a time that can travel from one side of the planet to the other. They’ve dug a tunnel system through the planet that traverses the earth’s core and there’s a switch in gravity at that stage, so that’s how Quaid gets to work every day.
I have one friend that we know of in the film known as Harry, who I work very closely with in the factory, and basically he’s somebody who at the beginning of the film, as I found him in the script, is suffering from some form of mild discontentment with his lot. His life just doesn’t seem to be adding up in the way for so many of us, at various times, it doesn’t seem to. I don’t know, man, they’re all relative terms but maybe through success and hardship in a life, a state of grace that maybe people find themselves in every now and then is feeling that you’re living the life you’re supposed to be living. If someone can feel that, that’s a really cool thing. I don’t always feel it. Now and every then, I get a pinch of that and that’s a very cool thing if it ever arrives. This is a man, Quaid, that doesn’t feel that he’s living the life that he should be living, and this is a much more common thing that he’s going through. It doesn’t add up. He has a beautiful wife, he’s in a marriage that he seems to be content enough in and a job that, as I said, while it’s fairly low-level blue collar work, it pays okay, and yet, there is something beneath the system of what he can see that doesn’t add up. He can’t put his finger on, he’s not even that suspicious about it, but in the short space of time before there’s a fracture with the character, it’s beginning to come to the surface, the level of frustration that he’s experiencing.
Then he goes into this place “Rekall” just to avail of the technology that is existent, which is you can go on a one or two-week holiday without leaving a room. You sit in this chair and you get implanted with a memory, and it all goes tits up, I suppose, for lack of a better term. He begins to be told and shown that he’s not actually who he thought he was, and that he discovers that he’s been a pawn in a much bigger game than he could have ever visualized. So yes, he’s just a regular Joe to start and then he finds out that he’s anything but that. That there’s a greater purpose to his life all along.
Q: When the armed guards burst into Rekall, you say “I’m nobody” so is this a search for identity?
Farrell: Completely. Regardless of how superficial or light something is, you approach it, or at least I approached every single thing I’ve done, with the same level of seriousness and you play it with the same level as respect, so for me, this is a story of a man who is going from being unconscious to being conscious, a man who is going from being lost in the quagmire of his own irrelevant existence, or what he feels is irrelevant, to something with more relevance and sustenance that can take him through. It’s basically that time-old thing that we all search for, which is meaning in our lives, just meaning, wherever that come. Sorry, I go on. I have to learn to shorten answers. I’m f*cking putting myself to sleep here (laughter) (to Jessica) Please, jump in.
Biel: I definitely didn’t think of anything better, just so you know that you’re all safe. Melina, the first thing I thought if while you started your answer was that I don’t know Melina’s last name.
Farrell: Right, right. That’s cool, though. At least it’s interesting.
Biel: Is it? I don’t know. Identity questions? I think. So I play Melina, who in this story is a woman who has in her backstory that we’ve all kind of talked about, she’s grown up in this family who has always been against this particular government and system that they feel is quite unfair and corrupt and has always been part of an underground revolutionary-type movement, and that’s how she’s grown up probably–this is just the story we created, but maybe she lost her mother in the mess of this fighting and having a very close family member who is kind of a leader of this underground movement. This is very much that person’s dream and she wants to fulfill and be a part of this idea that the government that is ruling these two sides of the world is against the people, not for the people, and this revolutionary movement is trying very hard to stop that, break it up, and show the truth to the people. She’s grown up very much this underground soldier and this very strong empowered, very skilled, very able person, and obviously in our story, as these two come to meet each other (as Quaid thinks) for the first time, he feels that he remembers her in some way, my character obviously understands a lot more of the situation that he has been going through, which is terribly confusing for him. I pretty much spend the film trying to help him understand and remember and more than anything, feel that I’m someone that he does know cellularly, and that idea of that very deep and strong emotion like the emotion of love is not something that you can erase, even if a memory was taken or a brain was swapped with another brain, which is available in this world.
Farrell: She’s basically Quaid’s emotional GPS, you know what I mean? (Jessica laughs at this.) Seriously, she’s kind of the lighthouse that brings him home.
Q: What was the lure of doing this movie?
Farrell: I was open for the first time in a few years to do something that’s really big. It was terrifying. I have kind of been quite content in the last six or seven years creatively doing films that budgetarily were smaller in scale, and so you didn’t feel the pressure. It’s not exactly a tough life that I have that the pressure I feel of being the center of a $150 million dollar film or whatever it is, but I was quite happy doing, whether it was the film with Martin (McDonagh), “In Bruges,” or “Ondine” with Neil (Jordan) or whatever it may be, and I went, “You know what? It scares the shite out of me the idea of being in a really, really big film.” It really does, but I’m open to it and it’s something that I have a little bit of fear around then I’m really open to it. It’s really an attractive idea for me, and this came along. I met Len and I saw some of his artwork, some of his conceptual designs for the film, and the notion that I could be involved in something that was as magnificent as what I saw that was as all-encompassing cinematically, encompassed what a child’s mind could only wish it could dream of in terms of scale. That, along with the script, which I read before I met Len, so meeting Len and the artwork and the concept and the world and what he was going to create was the final thing. I came away from meeting him going, “F*ck, I’d really love to do it, I hope I can.” But initially I responded to the script, I responded to the idea of a man who really just didn’t know who he was and I was trying to grasp the idea of “What makes us all?” it’s that simple. It brings up those questions every day, “What makes a person idea of who they are?” It’s nature and nurture, it’s all those old arguments. Are we really formed by this society we’re in starting with the family, and then branching out into the school and the neighborhood and then the city and the country and it becomes the world. What forms us? Is it experience or is it some genetic make-up, something deeper than that, or is it a mix of both? Can you reclaim? Can you change? All those things. ‘Cause Quaid doesn’t know who he is. He’s told by Melina that he’s Hauser, and he’s been told recently that he’s Quaid. That’s all he’s known, that’s all he remembers. He’s had this life of memories, but it’s actually only been six weeks that he’s been this Quaid character, so his whole world keeps crumbling around him in a really violent and aggressive way. She’s very much my emotional GPS and the whole thing is him finding a journey, not being back to who he was, but back to who he is.
Q: This is the second time you’ve done a Philip K. Dick adaptation, so is there something you really like about his work that you can zero in on?
Farrell: I mean, just the idea of this film, the genesis of it, the concept. Dick’s work seems to always be very significant or pertinent to whatever time it’s viewed in, because power has always been abused. As long as human beings could think for themselves and as long as they had some degree of what people term consciousness, power’s always been sought out and it’s inevitably, even those who begun in a just way, abused and Dick was someone who seemed to understand that, and he seemed to understand the fearsome power that the state has and how easy it would be to subjugate people, and that’s something that we see around the world all the time. Just the ideas that he had and the vision for the future continues to be correct. There is no stop point. It’s not like “What future did he see?” You can set his stuff and go as far or as short into the future as you want and it works. His themes are timeless.
Q: Was it really obvious when you script that this was a different Quaid than the Schwarzenegger one?
Farrell: Yeah, it’s weird because I never read the script (for the original movie) and a script’s a script and a film’s a film. The original film I knew really well, and so I can see what Verhoeven brought to it and stuff, but you have the script and that has a particular tone and then there’s a lot of tone and color that’s thrown onto that palette. The story is lifted from the script and put on that canvas, and there’s so many factors and so much influence from the director of photography to how shots are set-up to the music that’s used, all of that stuff changes the texture of the film, but I noticed one thing. I noticed a lack of one-line jokes, and no one does those one-liners like Arnie. I grew up on “Commando” and “Predator” still stands up as a brilliant, brilliant film, and this one I love. This one just stood alone.
Q: What’s it been like working together? During the scene we watched you shoot, you were giggling and having fun before every take.
Farrell: She’s high all the time. (laughter) I’ve enjoyed working with you very much.
Biel: We’ve had a good time, honestly. It’s just so silly sometimes what we do and it feels so bad. It’s so physically painful.
Farrell: It’s not comfortable up there today.
Biel: There’s nothing to do but to laugh and get completely giggly and giddy.
Farrell: It’s really ungraceful. Things happening to your body, and you’re afraid if you laugh too hard you might fart. (laughter)
Biel What’s going to happen? There’s been some close calls but okay. That’s what it is. For this particular scene and a few other ones, it just gets to the point where literally our eyeballs felt like they were about to pop out, and all the blood is rushing to your face and you’re looking like this (makes a face) as you’re coming through the camera. What’s happening? We’ve just done our best to laugh through it, have fun, and not take ourselves all that seriously.
Farrell: It’s tough and you have a certain amount of runway through the story and then you have to take off and leave it behind, and we’re coming up to that day. Initially, the shoot was supposed to wrap this Friday.
Biel: Yeah, Friday. Tomorrow’s supposed to be
Farrell The day before wrap day initially and we’ll go on now until the 18th or 20th (of September) so we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting and all the emotional stuff has been covered, my point being that I think humor will take me through the next two weeks. (laughter) It’s a lot of action stuff
Biel: And it just gets hard to connect to it.
Farrell: And then you find a thing today with Cranston and China Fall. “I’m not Hauser!” and I better get serious again, because there’s some stuff you can’t fake.
Q: Do you guys enjoy the physical part of this movie? The fighting?
Biel and Farrell together: Yeah!
Biel: Yeah, it’s very fun. I have to keep up with everybody else, but it’s wonderful to learn about your body and the limits of it and get yanked up on a wire and spin around. I really find that to be really, really, really fun. It gets tiring, it gets silly, it starts to hurt a LOT – it doesn’t always feel so great…
Farrell: And it gets tedious.
Biel: It gets really tedious.
Farrell: It’s almost harder than dialogue scenes. If you give me a dialogue scene, I can do 100 takes with you…
Biel: And it would be different every time.
Farrell: The physical stuff is all the same or you try to make it all the same sense. There’s a specific point you hit and it’s not necessarily imbued with the minutae of emotional thrust of dramatic scenes, but it’s fun.
Q: Jessica, Len said that you have a pretty intense fight scene with Kate. How was that?
Biel: We did, we did. It was really fun. We had a great time. That sounds a bit strange, but we were laughing, because we never fight with women. You’re always fighting a man or a monster or some thug. You never really fight a beautiful, sinewy long-haired woman, so we were both looking at each other trying to be delicate. I think the first time we did it, it was a strange experience.
Farrell: That didn’t last too long, the delicate thing. (laughter)
Biel: No, we got over that pretty quickly. It was all very mapped out and we were both very careful. One of the only issues that we kept having was Kate’s hair kept getting stuck on my jacket, like wrapped around a button, and she’d go (screaming) “Ow! Stop! Stop!” and we’d cut. “Are you okay? I’m okay, are you okay?” like a lot of that happening. It was great and I think it will look really cool, because it’s not a girlie fight.
Farrell: Leave that to me.
Biel: (laughs) It’s far more aggressive.
Q: How do you find that aggression?
Biel: I fake it. It’s a combination of finding that kind of aggression against somebody that you really like. I substitute a lot of different people, depending on the day maybe (laughs). Different situations, it can be a lot of different things. That’s one way to get an emotional connection to something that feels somewhat obscure.
Q: Is it more difficult to play aggression and hatred than love?
Biel: For me, it is. I don’t know if that’s true for everybody but yeah, I’m kind of a really unbelievable mean person. I wish I was different. I think it would be interesting to have something else going on there, but yeah, it’s easier for me to be in love with her or him or whatever it is. I respond to that a little bit more, that’s a little bit more of my natural personality I think.
Farrell: I find anger and hatred easier I suppose, I think ’cause I have a fairly communal relationship with love in my life–family and friends and things I’ve been fortunate enough–that I have deposits of anger and stuff that don’t get to come out in life. I don’t hunt and I don’t gather, so there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s easier to access, where love is something that is constantly going, so to use it in work it gets very, very tricky. You have to be careful not to manipulate your own experiences too much whereas anger and rage, I think for a lot of the modern world, seems to be a very easily accessible place.
Q: What can you say about Len as a filmmaker?
Farrell: What would I say about him as a filmmaker? I do hope he works again after this. (Laughter) I really do. I have had such a wonderful time working with Len Wiseman. He’s so bright and he’s so decent, and he’s striving so diligently and nobly, really, to make what could be just an action film and a really spectacular one at that, but something that has a great deal of emotional resonance. We’re genuinely all trying to do that. Whether it works or it doesn’t as that, who knows, but that’s what we’re all aiming for, because I think we all have a shared understanding that regardless of how spectacular the sets may be or how grand a design and concept this film may have, that if it’s not grounded in something emotional, it’s not grounded in that human element, then it will fail to be of any interest. I’ve loved working with Len, he’s really specific and he’s a workhorse and he’s working all the hours that God’s given him and I’m looking forward to him getting a break.