By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Colin Farrell may look menacingly manly with dark beard stubble and a black T-shirt that shows off tattoos on both arms during a recent interview. But when it came to starring in a redo of 1990’s “Total Recall,” the charmingly likable Irishman had to ignore his inner 10-year-old, who wanted the serious-minded remake to retain more elements from the tongue-in-cheek and zinger-filled original.
“He’s a nice guy and stuff, but he’s 10, ” Farrell explains about the action-movie fan inside him. “I say that without any judgment, but I didn’t want him to be making the creative decisions in the film.”
“Total Recall” marks Farrell’s second appearance in a movie based on a short story by late science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. He costarred with Tom Cruise 10 years ago in director Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.”
An example of something that initially frustrated Farrell about the re-imagined “Total Recall” is the fact that his character Doug Quaid never goes to Mars, as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Quaid did in the 1990 version. Quaid is a near-future blue-collar nobody who becomes convinced he is an undercover secret agent after a memory-implant procedure goes wrong.
“I was annoyed as a film fan that there was no Mars in the third act. I was like, ‘oh, no Mars, no mutants, no little person with a fully automatic machine gun on the bar shooting people…but that was the fan in me.”
He finally realized he had to trust that this was a new and different vision of the material. Discussing Dick’s 1966 story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” that inspired both versions of “Total Recall,” Farrell says he marveled at its levels of complexity, and the sense of uncertainty it conveys about what’s real and what isn’t.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was brilliant — and nothing like either of the films,” he says. While the original story includes the memory-implant concept that is at the heart of both movies, it also features trippier unfilmed elements such as mind-reading spies and earth-invading aliens who resemble mice. It also has a different ending than either movie.
“I’ve read ‘this film goes back to the short story,'” Farrell says, “and I was like ‘no it doesn’t, that’s bogus.’ But I think on reflection that maybe it’s a little bit closer to the short story, just because there is slightly more attention paid to the psychological journey and the existential crisis that Quaid finds himself in.”
Farrell deadpans that he watched the Schwarzenegger version again before filming started, “but for no other reason than just boldness…probably more to annoy myself and give myself a dose of the nerves, really. And to see if I could instill myself with any premature regret, because I only looked at the film again after I’d signed on to do it.
“I’d probably seen the original four or five times in my life, and loved it,” he adds. “I wasn’t weaned on Arnie’s stuff, but I remember all of his films growing up, from ‘Commando’ to ‘Red Heat’ to the ‘Terminator’s, ‘Running Man’ and ‘Predator,’ which still stands to this day as one of the great action films.
“So I had an idea what I was getting into. I also knew there was a corner of the film fanatical society of the world that really, really loved that film, and would probably feel strongly against anyone revisiting the material.” He was reassured by the fact that the remake would be different in tone even though many of the story’s plot points remain the same.
Screen beauty Kate Beckinsale, who is married to “Total Recall” director Len Wiseman, plays Quaid’s wife in the film. The characters have what could be described as a rather extreme love-hate relationship. Farrell jokes that kissing her was one of the most uncomfortable situations he’s experienced during his 15 years in the business, and that “Len wasn’t even polite enough to leave the room.”
Acknowledging that “Total Recall” is “first and foremost a big action film,” Farrell says it also offered an opportunity for “plenty of existential questioning that I could afford myself as an actor approaching the material, about the nature of personality and character, and the relevance of history and background.”
Waxing philosophical about a potential benefit of his character having no memory of his previous life, Farrell says, “To be okay with being uncertain about your past would be kind of a nice state of grace to be in. Because we’re all sort of uncertain about our past, and we remember through the prism of time gone by.”
As for the potential downside of the movie’s virtual-vacation memory implants, Farrell says, “There’s usually some catch inherent in something like that, whether it’s booze or drugs. Maybe the catch is that anything that exceeds moderation can get a bit messier.”
Asked what kind of fantasy he would choose to have implanted in his own head, Farrell says he would love to drive down through Central America and South America and take a boat from Cape Horn to Antarctica. Then he points out that he actually would like to do that for real.
Career-wise, Farrell says, “I personally just want to do as many different things as I can do, when I get the chance to, whether it’s comedy, drama, science fiction, horror…because it’s fun.” Noting that “Total Recall” is the second remake in which he has appeared, following last year’s “Fright Night,” he says he doesn’t think he would do a third. He jokingly adds “cut to next year” and mimics himself in an interview promoting a hypothetical remake of “The Goonies.”
Among Farrell’s real upcoming films is “Seven Psychopaths,” which reteams him with writer/director Martin McDonagh. Farrell won the Best Actor Golden Globe award for his work in McDonagh’s 2008 “In Bruges.” Farrell is currently shooting “Dead Man Down,” which costars Noomi Rapace from “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “Prometheus.”