In Len Wiseman‘s Total Recall, Colin Farrell isn’t the only one throwing punches. Co-stars Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel do the brunt of the work. They’re no strangers to action and have no problem flexing their muscle. Over the weekend, we spoke to the ladies about their alter egos Lori and Melina, and the depiction of women in film. Has it changed? Can they finally play with the boys?
It used to be taboo for women be so aggressive in film. Now, they’re just as tough as the guys. How do you feel about that shift?
Kate Beckinsale: I know people have been talking about the fact that Jessica and I fight each other [in the film]. I think that it was very much conceived as a fight that could have easily have been two men. It wasn’t one of those ones that you get in movies where some clothing gets ripped and it all happens in such a sexy way. It’s quite a vicious fight. I was fighting Jessica and Colin and there was a robot in there and it was a very small space. There are quite a few challenges involved, not least the fact that I had four days between movies [finishing Underworld: Awakening]. So I didn’t have my two months of farting about pretending to learn martial arts just to calm myself down. I didn’t have that.
Jessica, how did it feel being part of a knockdown, drag-out brawl with Kate?
Jessica Biel: It is good, isn’t it? I think so, especially being the girl who gets to do it. You don’t want to always be objectified and sexualized like that. Sometimes that’s OK, but when you’re doing something like this you want to feel like an equal. And you want to be choreographed like anybody, whether it’s Colin or Kate. The gender neutrality in this particular fight, because it just wasn’t about anything but two incredibly capable warrior women just beating the shit out of each other. That’s it.
We’ve gotten to a point where we can see a woman vs. man fight and be OK with it. Not only that, but we’re used to seeing the woman win. Are we finally moving away from the damsel in distress stereotype?
Kate Becksinsale: I really do think it’s come a really long way. I think a lot that type of thing has come from precisely this genre of movie. And I know that when I put my timid little action nose into the water on Underworld as my experiment to see if I could even do it, I was looking for references and there was really only a couple. It was Sigourney Weaver and then there was obviously the Sarah Connor character [in Terminator 2: Judgment Day]. It was kind of not much. And then you think that’s not that long ago in real terms. It’s quite a lot more now that legitimately do work, that’s not just a girl in tight pants. I think we’ll really have achieved something when we get to not wear tight pants and fight.
Both of you have appeared in multiple action movies and trained in martial arts. Does that make you feel tougher?
Jessica Biel: I think you sort of have an unrealistic view of your abilities. I think for sure I do… I think [I]could have some moves that maybe I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t done a couple of films like this. But I definitely have an unrealistic, warped view of facing off with a guy. Like, ‘Oh, I can take that guy. For sure.’ I think that. And then it would not go down that way. I’m sure.
Kate, do any of those skills carry over into your real life?
Kate Beckinsale: That’s the dangerous thing about actors. They teach you a fight, and everybody when you throw your fist falls on the floor. So you think, ‘I’m a badass!’ It’s always depressing when your husband gets you into a headlock or an arm thing and you go, ‘Ah, you are stronger than me!’ I feel so omnipotent most of the time. But [I] do think if the other person was good enough to follow the moves that I know, I’d kill it.
Have your fighting reflexes ever kicked in without you knowing it?
Jessica Biel: Not really. The problem with me is, I’m a super trusting person. A mugger could tap me on the shoulder, and I’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh. Hi! What do you need? Oh, you need a bus fare? Here.’ I’m more of that person and less of like, ‘[Gasp] Who’s that?!’
Your character Lori breaks her cover early in the film. Not only that, but she switches from American to your native British accent. Why the change?
Kate Beckinsale: We thought that was just a fun thing that we can do. But I do also think that it’s mandatory for English actors at some point to play a villain in an American movie. I’ve checked that one off the list. It wasn’t written that way. We just thought that it would be a nice signal of the deception. Make it even more shocking. It’s funny because somebody said, ‘Shouldn’t Colin say why are you talking in this English accent?’ I’m like, ‘Isn’t it more why are you shooting at me?’ [laughs] I think the accent kind of goes by.
What was the toughest action scene to shoot?
Jessica Biel: The zero gravity stuff where Colin and I are floating through the China Fall. That big system that takes us from one side of the world to the other side. To shoot that they turned the cameras upside down, hung us on wires in a harness — upside down. It was like the craziest thing. And you don’t believe it, but that’s exactly how we shot it. Upside down, going like this [waves arms], pretending to be right-side up. [It's] so uncomfortable. Neck straining, harness digging into your ribs giving you a wedgie, making you miserable. Blood rushing to your head. Looking like you have to go to the bathroom. It was bizarre and really physically the weirdest thing we had to do by far.
Kate, Len Wiseman is the director but also your husband. How is it working with him?
Kate Beckinsale: It is quite strange. Because normally he’s taking direction from me because he doesn’t know where anything is in the house. So it is a slight gear change. But I met him that way so it’s not terribly shocking and certainly for the kissing and sex scenes and all that stuff, I think it’s by far more awkward for the third party coming in. The second man has a harder time. I’m OK with it. I think it’s possible as a woman to be fairly enigmatic. We don’t have any movable parts. You can just sort of blank out and nobody can tell what you’re really thinking. I think it’s much harder for boys.
Total Recall opens in theaters August 3.