Total Recall: Talking Tech Porn With Director Len Wiseman

Underworld director Len Wiseman has spent decades inventing sci-fi gadgets. Now he’s finally found a movie to stick them in, and he couldn’t be happier

After the John Carter debacle earlier this year, were you glad the new Total Recall didn’t take place on Mars?

LW: “It wasn’t anything to do with, ‘Well, Mars movies don’t work.’ It had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with the fact that it was a new experience. When I read the script I was surprised it didn’t go to Mars. I wasn’t involved in the first draft, so when they sent it to me I was reading it, waiting for it to get to Mars, and then I was going, ‘Clearly, we’re on page 60 and we haven’t touched the Mars aspect yet!’ And then I found myself having no idea where it was going, in a very good way, because all of a sudden I didn’t know where this adventure’s going, and that actually got me very hooked. Ultimately one of the reasons why I decided to do the project was because it wasn’t a replica of the other one.”

It’s kinda weird watching this new Total Recall because it has the similar beats to the original, but is very different at the same time. It’s not a cover version, if I can put it that way…

“No, it’s not a cover version and honestly, if it was then I’d rather just go and watch the other one. I wouldn’t want to see the same film over again. Definitely wouldn’t wanna put two years into directing a copy. But yeah it shares a lot of the beats and the elements. Have you read the short story?”

Yes

“So you’re aware, in the short story the main character never travels to Mars. A lot of people are gonna go ‘Oh! No Mars, no ticket!’ It’s like, ‘If it doesn’t stick to the original…’ But the original didn’t stick to the original! They took their own creative licence. When I was speaking to the writer, one of the things he wanted to do was return to the original story which was about an imminent threat to Earth, an invasion to Earth…

“The short story is so short, that it’s really like a very great first act, because it’s all about the set-up of an unhappy man who needs to go to Rekall and choose an adventure. Then Verhoeven chose to take that adventure to Mars; we’re deciding to take that adventure somewhere else.”

Talking about the beats that are similar – the extraction of the tracking device, the bead of sweat, the customs disguise – was it a case of, ‘These are so iconic we have to reference them but we’ve got to twist them somehow’?

“For sure, it was deliberate… because when I read the script, it was such a departure, and it went in such a different direction, that I actually felt that it probably should have some of those familiar elements. I wanted to bring in some of the things that I remembered from when I was 14 when I saw the film. And there were a lot of things I remembered; I actually made a list of them before I went back and re-watched it, and it had been 22, 21 years since I had seen it. Obviously I’m remembering from a kid’s point of view, so the three-breasted woman was high on that list. I remember him pulling that thing out of his nose, the sweat, I do remember that, and then the ‘two weeks’ lady. So I wanted us to give that a spin, and…it’s really those more superficial, fun elements that personally I’d wanna see.”

Thinking about the “two weeks” scene, was there ever any possibility of putting Colin Farrell in a dress?

“No. [laughs]”

The other main thing about the movie – and this is no hyperbole – it’s gotta be the best movie for tech porn in a long while. Was that from you or was that in the script?

“Absolutely me! I’m a huge fan of tech porn. Again, there’s the kid side in me, the teenager, that’s been wanting to make movies. And I love science fiction. I haven’t had a chance to do science fiction really, and it’s so fun! When you’re creating an entire world you have to occupy that world with technology, and I love to try and create things you’ve never seen before. There are ideas in Total Recall that I had developed years and years ago. Some of them dating back as far as the movies I was making when I was in college.

“The shrapnel camera for one [a kind of bomb that embeds hundreds of mini cameras in to the walls of a room] – that was something I developed way back in college that I was trying to put into this little movie I was making. I couldn’t pull it off. There was no way I could do it. Then I tried to fit it into this other script that I was developing, once I’d started making movies, and I trashed that script. But I always liked that idea…

“Also the palm phone, that was another idea I’m very proud of because a lot of people have commented on it, and it’s something that I developed over eight years ago now. I always thought it would be kinda cool. When I pitched it to the producers in the studio, their response was, ‘Isn’t that going to be a bit silly? You just talk into your hand?’ But it’s not unlike an FBI agent who does this [he mimics famous FBI finger in ear pose]. We’re all familiar with that! So what’s so different about talking like that? [talks into his palm] And this thing lights up!

After the scene at Rekall, Colin Farrell is in nearly every scene of the film, apart from one where you cut away to his wife – er, your wife – er, this is confusing, Lori, the character played by Kate Beckinsale. Was that deliberate?

“For sure. This could all be real; it could all be a fantasy. I have my own opinion about which one it really is. I did have to have a point of view that I’m not going to share, but it’s interesting seeing how many people agree with me. But in the ‘version’ where it’s all a dream – you rarely dream out of your own perspective; you dream within your own POV, you rarely step out of it. Your dreams don’t cut away to what’s happening with the bad guy. So even with the one scene with Kate, it starts with Colin… he kinda hands the scene over to her. It’s still connected to that same scene where he was spying on what was happening.”

Are there going to be more Underworld films?

“I think I’m always a let-down with that answer because I should be the right one to ask, but I remember being asked if there was going to be an Underworld 4 and I said no, so… I really don’t know now. I’d developed this Underworld concept as a trilogy, and I’d always imagined it as a trilogy, so once that trilogy was done… But I’m not sure. There’s no plan as of yet, but like I said there wasn’t a plan for a fourth one either until there was a story that was fun enough to tell.”

What are you doing next then?

“A few things. I’m maybe producing a film called Darkness. It’s based on a Top Cow comic book. It’s tied into the Witchblade universe. I’ve been working with Top Cow on that. I just started working in television as well with Hawaii Five-0 , and I’m directing a pilot in January for Sleepy Hollow, which is being created by with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci who did Hawaii Five-0 . It’s a modern-day tale, a modern-day take on the Sleepy Hollow original tale. Nothing to do with Tim Burton’s version.”

Total Recall is in UK cinemas now