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Total Recall Director Interview: Len Wiseman On Remakes, Fan Expectations, And Action Scenes

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Posted December 18, 2012 - By Alex Reveliotty

Total Recall Director Interview: Len Wiseman On Remakes, Fan Expectations, And Action Scenes

Total Recall, director Len Wiseman’s 2012 remake of Paul Verhoeven’s memorable (I say classic) 1990 sci-fi actioner, is available on DVD and Blu-ray today. While there was certainly some fan outcry regarding the decision to remake Total Recall, Weisman’s movie turned out to be a fun, polished production that paid homage to the original film while putting a different spin on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale."

This week we had an opportunity to sit down with Len Wiseman and discuss the daunting task of remaking a popular movie, managing fan expectations, his approach to directing action scenes, and some of the keys to balancing his personal relationship (he’s married to Total Recall star Kate Beckinsale) in a professional environment.

Initially Wiseman wanted no part of remaking Total Recall. “My first response was absolutely not” he said, “because the nostalgia of a movie like that. At a certain point you are remaking nostalgia which is very tough to do. When I read the script and found that the (remake) was not traveling to Mars, I was both shocked and extremely interested because it was going in a direction I couldn’t foresee and that was exciting. I became more aware of (the story) in a different kind of arena. A bit closer to how the original short story alluded to Mars but never went to Mars. That’s what Verhoeven did with his adaptation of it. They took it, set most of it on Mars. So the fact that it was different, that’s what really attracted me. But then you still have the nervousness, whether it goes to Mars or it doesn’t go to Mars; you’re still remaking nostalgia. Which is always nerve racking."

In order to create his own vision of Total Recall, early on Len distanced himself from the original movie. “The script was very different than the film that I remembered as a teenager. I wanted to absorb all that and get my ideas before I went back and watched the movie again. Later into the process I did watch it again and was kind of shocked at certain things I did not (originally) pick up on. I think as a teenager I was just going to watch the next Arnold (Schwarzeneger) movie. I wasn’t looking at it as the Phillip K. Dick story that it was. I wasn’t really looking for the sci-fi theme. It was interesting seeing it as an adult. But I really wanted to stay away. I watched it and then that was it. It wasn’t something that we went back to or that the writer’s went back to."

Check out an exclusive behind the scenes clip from Total Recall after the jump.

Some specific elements from the original film, like when Arnold wears the fake, redheaded female headpiece, were present in the new script but Weisman was eager to put his own spin on it. “That head gag was in there. (The scene) was a bit closer to what it was in the original film. I thought if I’m going to do this, I’d love to put a little twist on it, and if it is going to be paying homage, really make a point of it. (That’s where) the idea of doing the mislead with the red headed lady from the original. Lead it up with that lady and do something different with it."

Managing his own expectations for the remake was one thing, but managing fan expectations was something entirely different. “I don’t know if there’s a way to even do that. I think if you are a fan, yourself, as a filmmaker, then that’s the best that you can do. I go off of my expectations of the fact that I am a fan of the movie and the genre. I feel as close to what that response would be so I’m not trying to guess what it would be, or guess what fan expectations are. That’s possibly a dangerous path to go down. Ultimately, I think as a lot of directors do, you’re actually making the movie for yourself and hopefully you’re a huge fan of the kind of movie that you’re making."

Total Recall Director Interview: Len Wiseman On Remakes, Fan Expectations, And Action Scenes

Wiseman’s known for his exciting action scenes and Total Recall doesn’t disappoint. A standout moment in the movie is an early fisticuffs between Colin Ferrell and Kate Beckinsale that mirrors the fight in the original film (between Schwarzeneger and Sharon Stone) but ups the fight choreography considerably. Beckinsale’s unique sliding crotch chop to Ferrell’s throat being a particular crowd pleasing move. “I do really think that an action sequence needs to play as its own story. I separate an action scene versus an action sequence. I always try to strive for action sequences where you can go wow, that was a really good sequence and it had a first act, second act, and third act within just its action. I think that an action scene, no matter how you shoot it, or all the technology that you use, is only as good as the idea of the scene. If you don’t have a good idea for what’s happening, it’s going to be dull. I also think it’s really important to invest as much time as you possibly can in having your actors do the stunts, or manipulate it to where it looks like they’re doing the stunts. We’ve seen so much now that the minute you cut away, how choppy and fast action (has become), you lose that personal tension. Seeing an action sequence happen, and you swear that it’s Colin Farrell or Kate really doing that, you’re tension while watching it goes up."

“For that (early Kate vs Collin) sequence in particular, the only reason that their bedroom (where the fight takes place) was a dropped level was I needed it at a certain height to where (Kate) could do that slide gag on her knees and clip (Colin). I’d never seen that kind of move done before. I thought, if I can do this kind of like crotch/ neck hit then I’m going to have to design the bedroom at a certain level to get the actors to do that. So it’s a lot of planning out. A combination of telling the story, having the actors involved, and it’s really tough to try to show people things they haven’t seen before. Really, really tough."

Total Recall "Quaid vs. Cohaagen" Behind The Scenes Video »


Finally, I asked Wiseman what he thought some of the keys were to successfully balancing his personal relationship with his wife, and star, Kate Beckinsale in a professional environment. “One of the keys? I’m still continuing to learn them all the time. We agree on a lot of things, and certain decisions that we would make about a character are similar, so there’s a shorthand that happens that’s nice. When you know somebody that well, there are the things that are less complicated and things that are more complicated. I’ll know if she’s not happy with what she’s doing even though she’s pretending to everybody else that she’s being okay about the scene and she will know the same thing about me. It’s an odd place to be where she knows that if I say ‘yeah I got what I wanted’, whether or not that version is happy or if that version is ‘I just need to move on with the scene’. But I don’t know if there is a key. We do a lot of texting, honestly, on the set just to communicate which is actually kind of great and you don’t usually do with other actors. If I’m talking to Colin (everyone else on set) would just kind of get on with their work, they’re doing the lights and doing you know, whatever they need to do in between takes. But when you’re a husband and wife, everybody’s kind of looking in to see how does that work? You know, how does that work at home? So we have a lot of discussions just on text just to bypass a lot of that."

“We really enjoy working together and there’s a lot that I knew that Kate was capable of that has not really been seen before. People know her as a bad ass character but they’ve never really seen that kind of wit and fun and teasing behavior to where she’s a bit of a crazy bitch (in Total Recall). I knew she’d be able to have fun with it."

Total Recall is available on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Total Recall Director Interview: Len Wiseman On Remakes, Fan Expectations, And Action Scenes
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