Director Len Wiseman
cut his teeth on ads and music videos before creating and helming the first Underworld
in 2003, with a new stylish take on the vampire legend. He returned for sequel Evolution
with new partner Kate Beckinsale
before decamping to take on the challenge of the much maligned Die Hard 4.0
Wiseman is back, and teaming up again with wife Beckinsale
, for Total Recall
– a film that owes as much to the original Philip K. Dick
short story as it does to Paul Verhoeven’s
1990 movie effort. We caught up with the director in Cancun to talk about reboots, violence and torturing actors who have to kiss his wife.[This interview was conducted in April 2012]CLICK: The word remake is used an awful lot now…LW:
Yea, especially today! [laughs]CLICK: I don’t know how you feel about it but I’m not that fond of the word, there’s a negative connotation.
I do not like the word remake because it immediately brings into conversation all about comparison. It’s funny even the difference between hearing remake and retelling. Because that’s really what this is for instance. And some movies maybe are more straightforward remakes; this is really a retelling of the concept. So maybe people should start using that word I don’t know!CLICK: How did you get involved with the film?
This was already the screenplay was already written. Neal Moritz, a producer I’ve been wanting to work with for awhile, he gave me a private heads up that they had just gotten a script in and it was really good and it was for Total Recall. I had no idea that Total Recall was even being written. I had no idea. It kind of got developed under the radar. So I went in and I read it and to be very honest I read it because I was also interested in working with that team and they really pitched it as a remake, etc with the stigma. They called it a remake, not a retelling! And so I actually went in more in a headspace that I should probably not do it. And also because of Die Hard, I’d been through the process. And then I was reading the script and it was just… tonally it was so different and it was such a great mystery and it went further into his dilemma and head space. I was really caught up in that and then when I finally got far enough into it and it didn’t go to Mars. Which I was shocked about but also was now completely intrigued, so I was shocked in a good way and had no idea what was going to happen!CLICK: This was Kurt Wimmer’s treatment?
Yea. And so I had no idea what was going to happen, so I’m following this new mystery. And I ended, called my agents and said ‘I gotta do this!’ and they thought I wasn’t into the idea but I’d totally changed my mind. The script really… it’s really interesting.CLICK: Both versions of the story to date don’t seem to have much to do with Philip K. Dick’s short - do you feel like you’ve brought any of that back or is it still just more of a concept?
It’s concept. I mean I personally brought some things in there. But I would say that honestly what I was really pulling from was tonality from the original story. When I read that in college what I just remember from that story was dealt with in a slightly more dangerous way, a more questioning and serious version of that concept. So when I read this script it was a really fun combination of the film but also was clearly drawing from some ideas from the Philip K Dick story that I was very interested by. And in the Dick story, he never goes to Mars either, and actually Quaid’s mission is to stop an invasion of Earth. Verhoeven’s version spun that whole thing around and it was Mars that was being invaded and Earth was the threat to Mars. That one was taking its own direction and ours has a similar premise. And I think people will just find that the set up of the movie is probably the most familiar part and then it takes off into another mission.
CLICK: There was talk about having Arnie show up in a cameo…? Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel in Total Recall Enlarge
So one of the main reasons was I just was worried, as tempted as I was and I really was because I grew up as such a fan of Arnold’s movie and many of his movies are the reason I started making movies in my backyard. When I was getting interested in making films. So the lure of that and the temptation was quite strong but at the end of the day I wanted this movie to be its own movie and exist without being so distracted. And I just got worried if Arnold popped up or Sharon Stone popped up, it would just kick you out of the movie and become such a cameo gimmick that you’d be distracted.CLICK: A big element of the original is the violence – it seems this is going for PG-13?
It is yea.CLICK: Did you consider paying homage with the violence?
Again talking about style and things. I don’t want to emulate what Verhoeven has done. He chose to build from the source material which doesn’t evoke violence in any sense, it evokes a question. And the whole idea of fantasy vs. reality is the biggest core element of the original story. Verhoeven if anything put his own style into it which he also brought into Robocop, he likes his violence! I love intensity more than I love gore. So no I didn’t want to copy or mimic a gore level that he has done. Look my personal taste is I always battle a little bit with the ratings board because I just shoot the way that I shoot, I just don’t happen to be a very gory action director because it slides a little more into a horror sense. But I am glad that the PG-13 needle is really being pushed lately. The one that upset me, on Die Hard because it was one of the series, and you have a character that is known for swearing and just dropping lines left and right, that’s just part of his character. So that disturbed me when I find out that was going to be PG-13 because I had no idea. I was three months into making that movie and I still thought it was rated R! When I heard it was PG-13 I actually flipped out. In this one it’s a retelling of a sci-fi concept, it’s not an iconic character that we’re used to swearing all the time and we have to alter. So in a way, it’s different to me.CLICK: You mentioned that you’re not a fan of 3D movies, why?
I don’t not like 3D movies. There are a few of them that I think are fantastic – I was blown away by Avatar like most people on the planet, it’s phenomenal. There’s a disconnect that I have with some of the live action 3D movies that I’m too aware of watching the 3D and I find myself in the theatre evaluating it. And what’s happening to me when I’m watching that is that I’m disconnecting, even just slightly, from the drama that’s actually going on. There’s also a concern that I have about a movie like this. It was talked about being in 3D ad nauseum and I was very adamant about not wanting it to be 3D and to have a movie that is over 100 million dollars, it’s quite difficult not to get it 3D at this stage. But I felt that because it was such a futuristic world, such a different world than ours, putting the 3D on it would make it almost overtly futuristic. And I didn’t want to put that other layer onto it. I’m not against technology in any way. I go every time and put on those glasses and go ‘this is going to be the one that convinces me’. And so far honestly I would say it’s only been Avatar but Avatar is also 90 percent CG and it works so well in that environment and looks very real. But there’s something that’s not quite as seamless yet with the live action that I still feel that separation.CLICK: It was great to see some early footage of the film – are you apprehensive about showing it unfinished?
Absolutely! It kills me that you guys were able to see it. I knew I had to show something but I’m always nervous about showing stuff that’s not done and greyscale stuff. So I think that’s a challenge for any director.CLICK: It seemed to mostly be from the first half of the movie?
Correct because the second half of the movie goes to a different part of the world which is the most difficult to build and won’t be ready until later. So actually in the materials a lot of what people are seeing and commenting on while only seeing a small portion of one of the worlds. There are actually three different worlds and environments within this film that you know you can see the Asian influence and the Blade Runner reference. There’s a whole other world that’s so opposite that we haven’t even seen yet.CLICK: You moved on after the first two Underworld movies to other things – why?
As a director you’re passionate about doing certain projects. And I wanted to do other stuff and if I could create a copy of myself I would continue to do those movies because they are so close to me but I would have time for other movies! So it’s just creatively I think you sometimes have to follow passion, and when you do that and then you do a sequel and another sequel – you’re dealing with the same elements. And how many conversations can you have a director about how long this transformation is going to take on screen, what kind of transformation it is. And then you get to the point where you never want to hear the word ‘transformation’ again! Of werevolves, of vampires – I’ve created too many of those. So I thought I’d love to do a science-fiction, something that plays on reality vs. fantasy. It’s just whatever your creativity gets sparked by.CLICK: Did it take much convincing to get Colin Farrell on board? He was saying he hasn’t done a big movie in quite a while.
LW: I had a meeting with him first. He read the script, was same as I was… kind of shocked and relieved by how different the take was. And we hit it off, we had a great meeting. He saw what kind of tone I was putting together. And he approached it with quite a bit of nervousness as well. I think for an actor like himself there’s a reason why he hasn’t done his action movie or his sci-fi movie because a lot of times, as an actor, you don’t really know what tone it’s going to be put together. And he was very interested in the kind of direction and it was great because a very strong reason that I wanted Colin was because I wanted to help to convey that kind of tone. And he, with his past work and everything, he embodied that kind of performance and tone that I read.
CLICK: Colin said that he had a hard time doing the more passionate scenes with your wife while you were there on set!? Kate Beckinsale in Total Recall Enlarge
LW: [laughs] It’s just weird. It’s just simply weird for everybody! I think as strange as it is for me I do think it’s harder for the other actor. Everyone always asks how I deal with it, it must be stressful. And yes sure it’s weird but I tell you who it’s really stressful for, the other person. The other actor who is kissing the directors wife.CLICK: Sure because you guys have an understanding
LW: Yea right. And he’s just wondering if he’s allowed to do this and that – the questions you don’t even want to ask. If I wasn’t married to her, he’d probably just ask: “look, what kind of kiss are you looking for – like a movie kiss or something else. Is this a tongue kiss? What are we actually doing here?” He didn’t have those conversations with me of course but I will tell you there is something we’ve found, because we’ve done a couple of scenes together. When you’re shooting those scenes and if you call cut and the kissing does not stop, then it’s amazing how your blood will boil. Because we were shooting a scene on a different movie and I wasn’t really paying attention and I was watching the monitor and I didn’t really call cut that loud. And they kept kissing and I just yelled “cut!” So now I just make sure when I’m doing a scene like that, regardless of how delicate the scene is, I willCLICK: Megaphone!
LW: Megaphone! Break through the delicate nature of the scene and yell cut.Total Recall is in US cinemas from the 3rd of August and arrives in Ireland and the UK on the 29th of August.