Why Bryan Cranston loves breaking bad as Total Recall's villain

After a day walking around the Pinewood Toronto Studios lot visiting the set of the new Total Recall remake directed by Len Wiseman, reality feels kind of flimsy. Which is kind of fitting, as the movie is based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale".

There are so many sound stages, that as an old school Gerry Anderson fan, I half-expect Ed Bishop as Edward Straker to march around a corner bearing the weight of world security on his shoulders as he puffs on a cigarillo. Then I sit a long while in a cold, sterile sound stage with some other journalists that looks like a David Lynch set, because there is an old "grandma's-house" comfy sofa against a far wall in a Costco-sized space of blankness. Then Bryan Cranston walks into this THX-1138-ish void ... and ... freakin'... FILLS IT!!

At the close of a long day of shooting, still costumed in a Tom James suit that makes him look like an older, calmer Patrick Bateman, Cranston, at the time flush with good notices from the then-just-released-Drive, sits down at a table full of reporters and lets us know in no uncertain terms that this is gonna be his show, and we're along for the ride.

The Breaking Bad star makes a few cracks about being a scary guy, which is incongruous with the fact that the theme from Malcolm in the Middle is going through my head at the moment. Since we journalists have seen Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman's wife, in action on set as Lori, the muscle behind Vilos Cohaagen, the villain that Cranston plays in Total Recall, I decide to ask him about his character's "working relationship" with Lori.

"There's a villain dynamic going all the way back," I say, "the classic paradigm of which is Goldfinger and Odd Job, and that can be pretty limiting. You got the main bad guy and then the physical villain. It can be pretty limiting because we've seen so many Bond movies, and we've seen so many [other action] movies with the Bad Guy and his Muscle. What are you and Kate bringing to this that is different and new?"

"Obviously, she's the brains and I'm the beauty," Cranston deadpans with delivery befitting a Midwestern politician. "I love it! When I first heard that Kate and Jessica [Biel, Total Recall's heroine] were in it, for some reason I thought they [each] would do the other's role. I don't know why. Then I realized, 'Oh, that's interesting!' It's so delicious, and I know Kate is having a great time, as am I, to play the bad guy. They're always the best-written roles! I'm telling you it's so much fun. But there is that trap that you can get into, with that mustache-twisting bad guy. You don't want to do that. I don't want to do that desk-pounding 'GET HIM!' that type of thing."

Cranston punctuates that desk-pounding remark by, you guessed it, pounding the desk. And by going, "Rarrrgh!"

"My approach to this [bad guy role] is that Quaid/Hauser [the hero of Total Recall played by Colin Farrell] was a dear friend of mine, and I looked upon him almost like a son." Cranston's voice gets a little softer and sadder at this point, kinda like Ward Cleaver's as he's about to apologize to Beaver for being too rough on the kid. "So I desperately tried to do anything within my power, to reign him in. And the way I'm playing it, and hopefully it will come off this way, is that he [Quaid/Hauser] is like a rebellious teenager. He just has to have a little tough love, be disciplined and he'll come around. And when he comes around we'll be back together again and I'm looking forward to that. And he doesn't, and he doesn't, and we have to punish him further."

Cranston compares himself to Ronny Cox, who'd played the villain in the 1990 version of Total Recall that was directed Paul Verhoeven movie and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. I say, "The motive of Ronny Cox in the previous Total Recall was that he was an oxygen barren [on Mars]. Now,'oxygen' is 'oil' spelled sideways if you squint right. Is there something metaphoric between your motives [in this version of Total Recall, which is set entirely on Earth] and the real world? Is it globalization, or [is it] oil again?"

Cranston feigns indignity. "I was going to say 'globalization,' dammit!" Then he gets a bit more serious. "We've already seen it, even 20 years ago. When Total Recall was first made, life was a little different. It will be 22 years [since the first Total Recall] by the time our film comes out. And now, look what happened the other day! [On August 5, 2011] Standard and Poor's reduced the [AAA long-term sovereign credit] rating [of the USA] and it affected every market, basically. We're so interconnected, I think it feels familiar for an audience to accept that as a fact of future life. I think that's the key to doing science fiction, is to not go to the implausible. You want to surprise people with the 'Oh my God! Wouldn't that be weird?' and 'Oh, that's cool!' but also with a sensibility that is somewhat relatable. Especially from the humanoid position. You want to have people go, 'I get it! I see where he's going, I see what his motivation is, and I see why that's happening.'"

Related Stories

Go behind the scenes with Kate Beckinsale for a Total Recall rumble

The soundstage on which a big science fiction movie is being filmed feels ... like science fiction. There are a bunch of different sets scrunched together in one mixed metaphor of a space, and these disparate environments are connected by umbilicals of heavy cable that look like they're strung around the engine room of the Nostromo in Ridely Scott's Alien.