Making a movie like Total Recall takes a lot of work, dedication and, in some cases, a healthy dose of sleepless nights. Actor Marshall Bell can attest to that last factor, as his dual role as George and Kuato put him through a rewarding, but still challenging ringer. Initially unaware of the duality of his character, as he would play both the human host and the mutant being embedded in his stomach, Bell was already surprised from the beginning of his Total Recall experience. What would follow was a pattern of sleepless excitement and hard work that would create a memorable sci-fi character for the ages.
During our conversation on behalf of the 30th anniversary re-release of Total Recall on 4K Blu-ray, I talked with Marshall Bell about his rigorous experiences getting into his character. With an amazing prosthetic that made up the Kuato half of his character, the effects work that went into this particular scene still hold up to this day. And as he told CinemaBlend about what went into that total package, Bell fondly remembered the effects team and the work that went into bringing it all to life, saying:
The first day I was in the makeup chair for nine hours … I hadn’t had any sleep the night before, because I was really anxious about it, and all that stuff. And so that started a week of me not getting any sleep for the whole week, that was over. Sleep was over. And then, you don’t know if you’re gonna, you wonder if you’re gonna live; you get sleep deprived. But later on, we figured out shortcuts and things to do to make it not take so long to put on. You know, it was all about that neck fitting into that big apparatus. But it took a long time, let’s put it that way. And these people were extremely skilled people, from Rob Bottin to everybody who was dealing with it. … He’s done so many things. I’ve worked with him a lot, and he’s a friend. He’s just a very, very talented man.
Whether it’s prosthetic work like Marshall Bell’s experience during Total Recall, or even the extensive makeup work scenario that Jennifer Lawrence saw herself a part of during the X-Men prequel saga, transforming an actor into a character with a very unique look can be exhausting. But eventually, the process can find itself simplified and eventually refined to the point where nine hours turns into a potential seven or six-hour day of prep. Which, of course, is on top of whatever the strenuous shooting schedule is going to be like once you’ve gotten into character.
However, the results can’t be argued with, because even when cleaned up to the modern standard of 4K UHD, the effects by Rob Bottin and his team are absolutely sterling. Watching Total Recall thirty years later is just as rewarding an experience as it was visiting it when it first came out. Director Paul Verhoeven presents a Mars that’s described by Marshall Bell himself as “funky,” in a sort of imperfect and very human sort of place. In any other version of this story, Kuato could have been a simple makeup effect, or even just another actor entirely.
But in the world of Rob Bottin’s special effects and Verhoeven’s eye for dystopian fiction and fantastical visions, it’s not hard to see why there was no other choice to bring Kuato to life. This was, after all, almost the movie where three breasts on a Martian sex worker just wasn’t enough. People still remember that image clearly, even if they haven’t seen the film in years; with the words “open your mind” opening a door to those memories. Though it’s hard not to imagine that Marshall Bell’s sleepless nights didn’t lend to a bit of method acting.
When embodying the Kuato character, George staggers around as if he’s being controlled by his mutant alter-ego, who just happens to be delivering key background to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Douglas Quaid. But if you look closely at Bell’s face during those scenes, you can definitely see the sleepless nights he described above taking their toll. It makes the fact that he’s walking around, with a bulky prosthetic attached to his stomach, even more impressive, because one could imagine the wrong sort of fall or one false bump into a wall ruining the rig.
Total Recall is a sci-fi classic for a reason, as well an action staple of cinema from the ‘80s and ‘90s era of blockbusters. A movie where the makeup and prosthetics could have been less elaborate, with a potentially more subdued performance from Patrick Swayze, still could have been a blockbuster. That alternate history would have been robbed of a movie that not only helped establish Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor who could do more than just blow things up with a one-liner and a rocket launcher, but also showed just how amazing sci-fi could look and feel with the right artists in the workshop.
It’s a result that’s as much of a symbol of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven’s collaboration as it was the efforts put into the film by Rob Bottin and Marshall Bell. So while Mr. Bell lost quite a bit of sleep in his Total Recall experience, the results that made their way to the screen are absolutely timeless. Not to mention, Bell totally earned the privilege to nap whenever the hell he wants, with such work making up his endearing and impressive resume.
You can see it all for yourself, whether it’s the first or fifth time, as Total Recall is now available in the 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo pack that’s been released into stores in time for the holidays. Whether you or someone you know is a sci-fi aficionado, and the owner of a 4K home theater rig, it’s an investment that’s sure to pay off.