Kate Beckinsale on Her Total Recall Villainess and Other People’s Perceptions: It’s ‘The Road to Complete Madness’
At one point, Kate Beckinsale remembers, director Len Wiseman thought of tapping her for a cameo as a three-breasted hooker in his Total Recall remake. Luckily for the actress, Wiseman (who directed the British beauty in Underworld and Underworld: Evolution — and happens to be her husband in real life) instead cast Beckinsale in the much juicier role of Lori, the adoring wife of factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) whom Quaid discovers is actually an undercover agent hellbent on killing him. Consider that a divorce, indeed.
Expanded considerably by scribes Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback as an amalgam of Sharon Stone's duplicitous Lori and Michael Ironside's ruthless Richter from Paul Verhoeven's 1990 version, Beckinsale's Lori — her first onscreen villain — is baddie Cohaagen's (Bryan Cranston) loyal right-hand woman, embittered by the humiliating role she's been assigned, but relishing in her dogged pursuit of Farrell's Quaid with glee. (She also boasts unfailingly fantastic hair, in keeping with Beckinsale's action cinema filmography.)
Beckinsale sat for a chat with Movieline about Total Recall, Lori's inner psyche, how marriage lends insight to her working relationship with Wiseman, and how she resolves her "Kate Beckinsale" public image/action heroine reputation with her literary roots and lesser-seen work.
This version of Total Recall is quite different from the Verhoeven original in many ways, including its emphasis on a more geopolitical commentary. But the Lori character in particular, which is vastly expanded here, is a sharp, strong woman who literally rejects this domestic role that she’s been given, playing wife to Douglas Quaid at the behest of her employer.
I think she’s an extremely highly trained, highly intelligent, and very much at the top of her field operative, and the detail that she’s been given is actually quite degrading, if you think about it. For a police officer at that level to have to basically sleep in a bed, have sex with, make dinner for this person who appears to be a factory worker of no real note indefinitely, must be incredibly frustrating – and I think must feel like, “I have this because I’m a woman.” And there’s nothing more maddening than to feel like you’re being passed over or degraded or humiliated because of your gender.
Were these elements that were in the script originally, or did those shades come in as you worked on the character?
It was a little more sketched, and I know that Len wanted to feel like that about her, so it was quite early on when we were talking about the character. Because otherwise I think it’s peculiar; first of all, it’s a strange situation for someone to be undercover pretending to be somebody’s wife. What would that feel like, if you were that highly trained? And equally, there’s nothing more boring than a bad guy who’s just being a bad guy for no reason.
Mainstream audiences know you best from the Underworld movies and as this lithe, lethal action heroine, but your career began with very different kinds of roles; ironically, the character of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing was one of your first breakthrough parts. And even before that, some of your first awards came as a writer, for your poetry. Does it feel strange to you that so many moviegoers know you primarily for your action roles in the Underworld movies and the like?
I think that dwelling on other people’s perception of you is the road to complete madness, unfortunately. I try and resist that. You can’t help it a bit, because it is quite odd when other people are responsible for conveying your image or your words. That is quite a strange spot to be in, especially if things do come off unfamiliar. You can feel a bit gypped. But I suppose a part of you has to go, there is a kind of penalty for being so lucky to have this kind of a job that those things are going to happen. I do feel very fulfilled by the work that I’ve done, and often by the work that I’ve done that many people haven’t seen. So the bottom line is, I have actually done the work and I’ve had that experience, and it has been amazing. And yes, it would be nice if more people were aware of those, but at the end of the day it’s more important that I’ve actually had the experience.
Even on Google, the first items that pop up about you involve your “Sexiest Woman Alive” type honors, or quote you talking about nude scenes…
It’s maddening! And the thing is, a lot of the time you’ll do a whole long interview with somebody and then they’ll say, “By the way, have you thought about doing a nude scene?” and that’s the thing… so it’s quite skewed in terms of the balance of the interview where you’re talking about all sorts of things, but people tend to pull out the one that fits the image they have for you. And that can be a little bit annoying if it’s always about, you know, not having knickers on or being sexy or what beauty products are you using? I have no idea who that person is. It’s just odd when you kind of go, I’m coming off a bit as the sort of person who walks into a room and tries to tell everyone what I’m eating all day.
Len [Wiseman] said he wanted to cast you in the role of Lori because he saw aspects in the character that he thought you hadn’t had the chance to play onscreen before very much – even Lori’s guile, her complexity. She’s not a comedic character, but the film has a sense of humor about her. What’s your take on Lori as a role?
I think this is a really good part, and really great parts don’t come along every ten seconds. But I think the thing that’s great about her is she’s really intelligent – she’s obviously a bit unhinged, but she’s a very, very smart person, and people who are crazy and smart at the same time are usually the most dangerous people. I think he really wanted to get a sense of that, and I may have been in some rather not-very-intelligent looking photo shoots and/or movies, but my husband observes me in my natural habitat and knows that I’m quite a smart girl.
It’s nice that your offscreen relationship could help lend that sort of insight into your working relationship.
And it means he’s not just receiving the kind of Kate Beckinsale that’s out there.
The quote-unquote “Kate Beckinsale.”
There's a dichotomy and gender reversal as Lori reveals herself and attempts to kill Quaid: As she chases him through the city, it's clear that she’s highly lethal and the disoriented Quaid is rather clumsy and scared. Later you two have the most brutal hand-to-hand fight, but it remains on equal footing.
I really like the movie, for all of that. It’s a very fun ride, but it’s actually very thoughtful.
What deeper meaning could we draw from Len casting his own wife as the ultimate evil wife? And all the film’s many nods to their sham marriage, were those written in to begin with?
Some of them were, some of them we came up with. But we obviously don’t have that sort of relationship. Len is still walking around! [Laughs]
Total Recall is in theaters Friday. Read Movieline's review here.