In the film, Rekall is a futuristic company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Farrell), even though he’s got a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) who he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life – real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs.
But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate.
Q. What sort of man is your character, Douglas Quaid, in this version of Total Recall?
Colin Farrell: We were following Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” and in it Quaid is a working class member of the proletariat, a worker, who is living a life that seems to be mundane enough for him to be having fantasies about, in the short story, going to Mars. In our film it is not necessarily dreams about going to Mars, but he’s having a recurring dream and it has a great significance. So really he’s just a normal man; he’s just an everyman. That’s the construct of the character and in his own life he’s feeling a great disconnect to his wife, to his work, to his friends, and he decides to have a memory of an experience implanted. He goes into this place in the film [Rekall] just looking for something.
Q. Did you feel any pressure stepping into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoes?
Farrell: No, honestly, I didn’t feel any pressure. And I’m not trying to give a rehearsed answer, but it really felt like a different film. It really did. And I am a huge fan of the original Total Recall. I was a big fan of Arnie’s stuff as a kid, I’m talking Red Heat, Commando, obviously Terminator, and Predator is still to this day one of the best action films I think I have ever seen. I loved his stuff, and love his stuff, so thank God I didn’t feel pressure to fill those shoes or compete with that ability to throw out a one-liner. Maybe I could do Predator next (laughs)!
Q. Your vision of Total Recall is darker and more serious than Arnie’s, presumably?
Farrell: I wouldn’t like to say the original is cheesy, but it was a bit camp. You put a bullet in your wife’s head and you say [imitates Schwarzenegger]: ‘Consider that a divorce!’ I mean, that was good, that was very good. It’s camp, and it’s not camp because it’s outdated. It was camp at the time; it’s meant to be. It’s intended that way, it’s not an accident, but this film is tonally very different. I really approached it more as a drama, set against the backdrop of these magnificent cityscapes and these really elaborate action scenes.
Q. It’s not your first movie based on a story by Philip K. Dick…
Farrell: No, I did Minority Report. And with Minority Report and Total Recall, they’re not dissimilar visions of the future. They’re both inspired by Philip K. Dick’s work, and while his stories in literary form are open to interpretation and expansion, he inspired a certain world format. Sci-fi generally seems to be a fertile ground for drama. There’s a suspicion among all of us I think that the future is not so bright. Technology is making incredible leaps but what we are doing to ourselves as human beings is quite alarming. So while the vision of the future in Minority Report is not all that dark, it certainly is in Total Recall, Blade Runner, Pitch Black, Alien and the like.
Q. Total Recall looks a physical role so did you work out specifically for the film?
Farrell: I worked out consistently for three or four months, for five or six days a week, with weights. And I ran a lot. There’s a background to the character that is touched upon in the film where he might have had some military training, which I’d need to know about. I knew it was going to be a physical shoot so yes I worked out quite a bit.
Q. You seemed to move away from blockbusters for a while before taking on Total Recall. Was it a conscious decision to stay away from them?
Farrell: I had a few films that were big but that didn’t do so well, and I wasn’t getting offered that many big blockbusters either. Then this came along and I read the script. I was initially dubious when I heard that they were remaking Total Recall. I thought, ‘Is it worth it and what are they going to say about the original?’ But I read it and it was such an excellent script.
Q. Did it feel good then, returning to a huge movie like this?
Farrell: Actually Total Recall genuinely felt more intimate than some of the smaller films I’ve done. It just happens that way and it defies explanation. It was like 100 and whatever million dollars, but I worked really, really closely with [director] Len Wiseman, and with the other actors. The crew was really, really cool and I lived in Toronto for five months. We got to know each other quite well and it felt a lot more intimate than it had any right to feel. There were all these grand action sequences and these beautiful epic worlds, but on the day it was just a bunch of actors on set, trying to figure out what the other person was feeling and doing and thinking, and trying to figure out what you were feeling and doing and thinking. Ideally, I would mix it up, go from one genre to another. I’d love to do big films and small films for the rest of my life.
Q. Your next two films sound interesting as well…
Farrell: I’ve just finished a film, Seven Psychopaths, with Martin McDonagh. Martin’s stuff is always kind of absurd and dark and yet hopeful. This one was set in America and I’m the only Irish character in it. And then I’m just starting on Dead Man Down. It’s written by Joe Wyman and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. It’s about an Hungarian immigrant who loses his family and decides to infiltrate a gang that was responsible for the death of his daughter. That script really is dark.
Opening across the Philippines on August 22, “Total Recall” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.