I Can Punch You: Jessica Biel on Total Recall and The Wolverine
Jessica Biel looks mighty glamorous in person, but don't let that catch you off your guard. She can hurt you. The young star of Blade Trinity and The A-Team adds another action movie to her resume this week with Total Recall, Len Wiseman's remake of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven adaptation of Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I managed to brush aside my intimidation long enough to talk with her about whether the new film is all a dream, why some actresses just don't look like action stars and how close she came to playing Viper in James Mangold's The Wolverine, including her interpretation of the character from the upcoming superhero film.
CraveOnline: I had a thought while I was watching this movie. You are, in reality, every man’s dream girl, but, in this film, you’re the dream girl of the everyman.
Jessica Biel: Oh, I like that…
Yes. You can use that.
“The dream girl of the everyman.” Cool…!
Did you talk to Len Wiseman initially about whether the film is all a dream? Would that have affected your performance?
No, it wouldn’t affect [it], but I’d still prepare and create the character in the same way that you would whether she’s a figment of someone’s imagination or whether she was completely real.
If she’s a figment of his imagination though – here’s where I was coming from with that – does she not also have a responsibility to represent things about the character, or is it just that he’s imagining this person in a fully complete way?
That’s a good question. I think if you were a figment, you wouldn’t necessarily have to represent everything specifically, you could represent more from a larger sense. But I don’t think she’s a figment, and I don’t think Len thinks she’s a figment either. Obviously [we] leave it slightly vague.
Sure, sure, but your interpretation of the script, at least from your perspective, is that it has to be real.
Did you think that about the original film as well, that it was all real?
That one, I feel like it could have been more a dream. The tone of it felt like, “Oh! We gotcha…” It’s winking constantly at the audience, that movie, which is so great. I love that film.
I love watching you in action movies, because more so than a lot of female action stars, you look healthy.
A lot of them are model thin, and that’s a great look, but you look like you could run a marathon. You look like you could hit a guy and get some real force behind it. Is that just who you are? Are you focusing on action?
No, not totally focusing on it. It’s just one of the elements of the business that I love to tap into because I love action movies. As a viewer, I love them. And I love psychological thrillers, horror, those genres. Huge fan. This is naturally my shape. I am definitely not a model-skinny person. I am a muscular person. My mother and father have broad, big shoulders. They were athletes. My entire life I’ve been encouraged to be an athlete, and that’s just the way that it is for me. I feel very much responsible for continuing that kind of a body shape for these movies, because I agree with you. I sometimes watch women I respect in these kinds of genres, and I don’t believe that you can make it through that gauntlet of guys with, whatever, swords and guns, whatever the hell it is. I think it’s important to create someone who has the ability to… I can pick up that gun, and I can punch you, and I can get away, and you believe me.
I am terrified of you right now.
You balance all sorts of different kinds of movies. When you were offered Total Recall, did you say to yourself, “I love the original, I want to do the remake?” Did you say, “Here’s a great action movie?” or “Here’s a great psychological thriller?”
I said, “Here’s a really interesting female character.” She’s quite developed, she’s emotional, she’s a real woman, but she’s totally capable and totally able. She’s in this world that is an interesting theme, and interesting idea. What is identity, what is reality, what isn’t? Interesting things to discuss in a world where the director has an amazing vision for what he wants, which is totally different from [the] original, and in my opinion, not a remake. At all. It’s really a reimagining of the short story, of the source material, from [Philip K.] Dick’s short story. So all of those elements were quite interesting to me, and the fact that Colin Farrell was going to play this Arnold Schwarzenegger character. This is obviously a different kind of film. This is something so different. When you say Colin’s that main guy, I go “Oh! That’s different! Okay!”
Were you encouraged to go back and read the story?
I had not read it before, and I did read it before we started shooting. We would constantly look back at it and refer to it, especially when we were talking with Len and Colin, about how do we walk this fine line of what we want to tell the audience of how much do you know, and do you remember. All that trust. That was the conflict constantly on set.
I can imagine that. If you play a character who has a backstory with another character, you might want to work with them, talk about what you’ve been through. Here, the whole point is he doesn’t know. Did you keep your distance in that regard? Did you not go into detail and try to find it?
No, we did go into the details. It was important for all of us to understand what had we been through. I needed to know what I had been through. I needed to know how deep our relationship went so I could understand the depth of my emotions towards him and how I feel about this guy. You disappeared, and now you don’t even know who I am anymore and you’ve got this wife. What the hell is going on? How deep into it were we? How did he get on our side when he wasn’t originally? […] It’s all what turned him, and he needed to know that from me. How was I involved with him [realizing], “Oh, I’m working for the wrong side?” As much as we needed to stay away from that, we had to get in, because somehow it formulated ideas for him, for his character.
How much detail did you go into for that backstory? Did you write up a treatment, or just discuss the details…?
This was all of us discussing, writing notes. Nobody wrote up a treatment or anything. It was like, here are my ideas, Len’s, Colin’s ideas, mish-mashing it all together and coming up with what we each feel like maybe could have happened. How much in love, and even to the point of were they intimate with each other? Had they been intimate before?
I think we said yes. I think we said they had been. Not only was it an emotional connection, but it was a physical connection between these two people. And it’s even worse when you don’t remember.
There were a lot of rumors lately, you must get a lot of casting rumors…
Was there any truth to that story about you in The Wolverine?
Yeah, I was talking to them about it, hearing what it was about and everything. Yeah. It was not completely out of the realm of possibilities. We just couldn’t make it work.
Are you looking for more superhero stuff?
No, not necessarily for more superhero stuff. That particular character was really cool. She was this vivacious woman who is thrilled about her own immortality, and it was interesting, that kind of persona, I thought, for a quote-unquote “villain” character. And I was really interested in the director, so it was worth the conversation.
James Mangold is amazing.
He’s great. So talented.
What have you got coming up that you’re excited about?
I’m excited about The Tall Man, it’s coming out this fall. Hitchcock…
That is so cool, by the way.
It’s really cool.
That is so badass.
It’s pretty badass. The cast is outrageous, and that director is my favorite. I love that Sacha [Gervasi]. He’s so great. And I loved his Anvil.
I missed that one.
You’ve gotta see that! It’s the documentary he did about Anvil, the band?
I know of it, I just haven’t seen it.
You’ve gotta check it out. It’s amazing.
Has there been any talk about you reprising your character [from Hitchcock] in a movie about the making of Psycho II?