Under the harsh lights of an unused studio set up for interviews on the Pinewood Toronto Studios lot during the filming of the upcoming Total Recall remake from Underworld and Live Free or Die Harder director Len Wiseman, sitting in really uncomfortable plastic molded chairs, movie stars Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel look like a couple who have been in a minor car wreck and are waiting for treatment in an ER.
They've been filming an action scene, and the makeup department has fitted them with bruises, scrapes and cuts convincing enough, even up close as I am sitting across the table from them, to make a Boy Scout want to start administering first aid.
This new iteration of Total Recall, like the 1990 Paul Verhoeven movie that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, is based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" and deals with the purchasing of manufactured memories. Unlike the 1990 movie, this Total Recall won't take place on Mars but will be set totally on a dystopian Earth in which Quaid, a Regular Joe played by Farrell, tries to buy some new memories and finds himself stuck in a global conflict between the multi-nation states of United Britain and New Asia (which may have since been changed to Euromerica and New Shanghai, according to some of the press materials that've come out since Blastr's set visit).
I talk to the pair about how there are all of these action movies like Inception and the Matrix movies, the primary drama of which is the intangibility of memory, reality, and what is real and what is not. But they are action movies, as evidenced by all the fake bruises and injuries they're sporting. Do they think it's inherently cathartic to deal with an existential crisis by hitting and shooting something? Is this something that can be brought into a performance?
Farrell, who's sitting in his plastic chair with a slumped-forward posture that would make any nun itch for a ruler to smack him with, laughs and says, "I think so! Someone once told me that in Japan there is a place or places where you can go and buy like a hundred plates and f**king throw them against the wall."
Biel lights up and says, "Really?! That's a great idea!"
Farrell goes on, "It is a great idea, whether it exists or not. I think that touches onto what you're saying. I much prefer for people to go to shooting ranges and shoot at two-dimensional paper targets than to have to go out in the street or to foreign territories and do the same. I think, as human beings, we at times overvalue the intellect and we undermine the body. I don't mean a body externally and the shape of a body. I mean the intelligence of a body, the memories that a body can store, how a body feels emotion, and how a body processes emotion. So I think, with that in mind, I think you are possibly right. I love a good bit of discourse myself. I love a good existential conversation when I don't get too in over my head and feel like a dip$#@!. At the end of the day, I think it is really good to get it on its feet. I had a really cool time talking about all of these scenes with you and with Len. At the end of the day, there is a literally a moment where I go, 'Can we just get up now, talk about it, and move through it?' So, yeah, I think you're right."
I ask Biel, "Colin is our point-of-view character, and his head, in this story, is memory soup. So, if he's our point-of-view character with changing memories, the reality of the movie is constantly changing. Do you feel that you are playing different characters each time we are entering a different phase of his memory salad?"
"Memory salad?" asks Biel. "That sounds delicious! What kind of dressing do you have on there? Is that vinaigrette?"
Farrell jumps in. "It was a two-course meal! It started with memory soup and went to salad." Then he laughs at my soup/salad gaffe.
Biel steers the talk away from food. "That is a good question, but no. I don't feel like [that's the case], even though Quaid is our point-of-view [character] and he is taking the audience along on his journey, which is quite confusing. I think an important element to my character is that she is very consistent. She is pretty consistent in what she believes in. There are many times where it is confusing, but I think she knows what they experienced together. She remembers it. She is a little bit unsure about how he feels about things a lot of the time, but she is aggressive in her consistency about 'I need you to come with me and we need to do these things. I am crossing my fingers that you will eventually remember.'
"Then when all of this different information starts coming at her and all of these different possibilities of Quaid maybe having been a part of this infiltration and the stealing of ideas and actually getting Cohaagen [the movie's bad guy, played by Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston] to find out where my father is, that gets a little confusing. But we are still maintaining this idea that Melina [Biel's character] is very clear and more than anything believes in what this person remembers. It's kind of what you were saying about physically... we deal a lot with this idea of 'Does he remember, or does he just feel it?' Like you said, the brain is a memory soup. It can't really be trusted, but [there is] that feeling of 'I know. I just know, for some reason.'"
Farrell jumps in again. "Yes. She represents the truth, I think. I think Melina in the film is kind of the emotional anchor of the story. I really do. She represents the truth, and Quaid represents the audience's disorientation as a result of an inability to grasp what's truly real and what is not and what is a construct of the mind and what is a construct of the cause and effect of experience. The whole thing, with all of the action, really comes down to 'If you don't give a @#$! about what the characters are going through, the film just won't work.' It really won't, even with all the gadgetry and all of the wonderfully conceived and creative visions of the future and what it may hold. If you don't care about the journey of Melina, Quaid, or side with Cohaagen, the film doesn't work."
Biel agrees. "The scenes we did today are so important for those reasons, because we only have three or four moments. If we haven't gotten to you in your heart this first time, we have two or three more to make you really want these people to be together. You really want him to remember her, or you really want her to convince him."
Total Recall opens Aug. 3, 2012.