"Bang, bang" someone shouts feebly off-camera as Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel, hoisted on harnesses and armed with prop guns, are lowered upside down through a doorway while filming an action scene for director Len Wiseman's remake of Total Recall.
Despite the sci-fi film's sobering themes — memory, identity, freedom — and the inherent discomfort of being strung upside down for at least 20 takes on the day we visited the Toronto set last September, Farrell and Biel erupt in giggle fits every time Wiseman yells, "Cut!"
Farrell takes on the role of Douglas Quaid, first made famous by Austrian beefcake Arnold Schwarzenegger in Paul Verhoeven's 1990 version of Philip K. Dick's story, and offers an everyman approach to the blue-collar character. Quaid is, after all, a factory worker who visits Rekall for a virtual vacation only to discover he's not who he thought he was after the procedure goes haywire. Meanwhile, Biel solidifies her reputation as the go-to actress for tough-lady roles playing freedom fighter Melina, who claims to have had a relationship with Quaid in a reality he can no longer remember.
We sat down with Farrell and Biel between takes to talk about their characters, the film's meaning, and just what's so funny about hanging upside down.
We saw you laughing and giggling during the scene with the harnesses; what’s it been like working together?
BIEL: "We've had a good time, honestly. It's just so silly sometimes what we do, and feels so bad, it's actually so physically painful, that there’s nothing to do but to laugh. There’s nothing to do but get completely giggly."
FARRELL: "It's so ungraceful. Things happening to your body. You're afraid that if you laugh too hard that you're going to fart, me in front of her, her in front of me [laughs]."
BIEL: "There's been some close calls. For this particular scene, and a few other ones, it gets to a point where, literally, our eyeballs felt like they're about to pop out and all the blood is rushing to your face and you’re looking like this [smooshes face] as you're coming through the camera so we've just done our best to laugh through it, have fun and not take ourselves all that seriously when we can."
The characters you play were in the original movie, but have they changed much here? How would you describe them?
FARRELL: "I play Doug Quaid, who, very much like the original, is a member of the proletariat, fairly low-level blue collar worker in a really grand factory scheme. This is a man, Quaid, that doesn't feel like he is living the life that he should be and it just 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 pays okay, and yet there is something beneath the system of what he can see that doesn’t add up. And he begins to be told, and shown, that he's actually not who he thought he was, and that he’s been a pawn in a much bigger game than he could have ever visualized. But he's just a normal regular Joe at the start and then he finds out that he's anything but; that there was a greater purpose to his life all along."
BIEL: "In the backstory that we have all talked about, [Melina] has grown up in this family who has always been against this particular government and system that feels quite unfair and corrupt…. She's very much this kind of underground soldier and this very strong, empowered, skilled, very able person. My character obviously understands a lot more of the situation than [Quaid does], which is terribly confusing for him. And I pretty much spend the film trying to help him understand and remember and see and feel, more than anything, feel, that I am someone that he does know, cellularly, and the idea that a very deep, strong emotion like the emotion of love is something that you cannot erase even if a memory was taken or a brain was swapped with another brain, which is what's available in this world."
There's a scene in the trailer where someone asks Quaid who he is and he says, "I'm nobody." Do you see this movie being about his search for an identity, his search for truth?
FARRELL: "Completely. This is, for me, the story of a man who’s 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 of more relevance or something of more substance that can take him through. It's basically that time-old thing we all search for, meaning in our lives, wherever that comes from."
What was the allure of doing a movie like this, a big-budget remake?
FARRELL: "I was open, for the first time in a few years, to doing something that was really big. I mean, it was terrifying. I've been quite content over the last six or seven years creatively doing films that, budgetarily, were smaller in scale and so you didn't feel the pressure. And I went, 'You know what, it scares the sh-t out of me, being in a really, really big film. It really does, but I'm open to it….' And this came along. I met Len, I saw some of his artwork, I saw 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…. I came away from meeting him going, 'Fu-k, I’d really love to do it. I hope I can.'"
Was it obvious from the script that this version of Quaid was very different from Arnold's version?
FARRELL: "I noticed one thing: a lack of one-liner jokes, and no one does one-liners like Arnie. Do you know what I mean? [Laughs.] I don't know anyone that does. And I grew up on Commando, and Predator still stands up as a brilliant, brilliant film, and [the original Total Recall] I loved. But this does stand alone."
Andrea Miller is a writer and content producer for Cineplex.com.
Bryan Cranston, who's won multiple Emmy Awards for his role as bald-headed chemistry-teacher-turned- meth-cooker Walter White on TV's "Breaking Bad," sports a noticeably lighter hairdo as Total Recall's Vilos Cohaagen, a scheming world leader intent on keeping order no matter the cost. Cranston says he doesn’t think his character is evil as much as "greatly misunderstood" and he was careful not to make him a "moustache-twisting, desk-pounding, kind of villain.”" Surprisingly, it was Cohaagen's hair that did a lot of the work.
"My hair is wavy and blond [in the film] and I asked for that," says Cranston on set. "In fact, I said, 'Think of John Edwards as a template.' I have a craggy kind of aggressive face. When I'm not emoting , you know, I look like, a Shar-Pei I have so many lines. When I'm not really emoting, there's still some intensity there and so I wanted to be clean-shaven and I wanted some waviness to the hair to try to soften the look so that you wouldn't go 'Uh oh, here comes the bad guy.'"
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