CS Interview: Marshall Bell On Playing Kuato in Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to speak with Total Recall star Marshall Bell on playing Kuato and George in director Paul Verhoeven’s Oscar-nominated 1990 sci-fi thriller which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will soon be released on 4K and Blu-ray on December 8! You can check out the interview below and pre-order your copy of the 30th Anniversary Edition here!
Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and Gary Oldman from a story by Shusett, O’Bannon, and Jon Povill, the classic sci-fi feature tells the story of a construction worker who suddenly finds himself embroiled in espionage on Mars and unable to determine if the experiences are real or the result of memory implants.
Inspired by the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick, the movie also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox.
Total Recall reportedly had a budget of $65 million, making it one of the most expensive movies made at the time of its release. The film earned $261.3 million at the box office following its debut on June 1, 1990.
ComingSoon.net: It’s so interesting because I was just thinking about this Orson Welles quote, where he was talking about his performance as Harry Lime in The Third Man. He’s like, oh, this is a Mr. Wu role. This is the role where everybody for the first act says, “Where’s Mr. Wu? You know, when’s Mr. Wu coming?” And then when he shows up, you’re just, ah, you’re just awestruck. And it occurred to me that that’s the same thing with Kuato.
Marshall Bell: Wow. That happens to be one of my most — when I think about it, that movie, as just a spy freak, that movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve actually seen it in Vienna.
CS: Oh wow.
Bell: Even on New Year’s Day. So and I remember that. That’s pretty great. I wouldn’t go that far. But thank you.
CS: Well, it is true, though.
Bell: I mean, I hadn’t thought of that, but now that I do think of it, it is kind of like that.
CS: Yeah. No other character in the picture —
Bell: They do kind of less of a build-up, but they do — when Kuato’s here, and then you wait for Kuato, and wait. Again, that’s true. George isn’t there very much, so he doesn’t have much time to say it, but yeah, you’re right.
CS: Yeah and there’s graffiti all over the movie and everybody’s talking about Kuato and Kuato this and Kuato that.
Bell: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CS: At the time, you were the go-to character guy. You popped up in this and that and you’re always great.
Bell: I have been around very long. Since the movie Twins increased my profile a little bit so that I seem to have popped up. Well, I mean, I was around. I was in Stand By Me and a few things. Yeah, you’re right. But I only started about three years before that, period.
Bell: I mean, there are five years, I started in 1984.
CS: That’s true. And you tended to play these kind of stern like, authority figure type of people. And here, you’re playing this kind of unassuming guy, and then it turns out you’re actually playing the big hero of the film.
Bell: Well, kind of. I mean, kind of. It’s totally a joint deal. We’ve really turned out — after the fact to be a fortunate thing is kind of Kuato and George. I mean, George’s real thing is he is kind of second fiddle to Kuato because he’s really Kuato’s carrier. And he defers to Kuato himself. I mean, I felt very much like Kuato was the deal. And it turns out when people mention his name, they don’t mention George, they mention Kuato. The fortunate thing was they say, “Did you play Kuato?” And I get to say, “Yes.” I actually auditioned for Kuato after the movie was in the can.
CS: Oh really?
Bell: Yeah. That voice was me. So when people say, “You’re Kuato,” I go, “Yes, I am.”
CS: Oh okay. I had no idea that they did some kind of digital thing to your voice?
Bell: No, I kind of made that up. I mean, I suppose, yeah, of course they did. But Paul and I, you know, Paul was my pal by then, and Paul and I dicked around in the recording room a little bit with that voice. But that was me.
CS: That’s interesting. Yeah.
Bell: I think they digitized it some, yeah.
CS: Yeah, so I guess you kind of had a little bit of an Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy kind of thing going.
Bell: You’re giving me all this new material. I like that. I’ll go with that. I don’t mind that at all, no. I’ll go there. But it’s not quite, because I wasn’t ventriloquiding or anything.
Bell: I don’t know if that’s a word.
CS: No, but I’m just learning now that you did this voice and to me, the voice was so powerful because it’s like, it’s not like Yoda. It’s not like some booming, powerful voice. It’s very kind of — it almost sounds like he’s like, struggling to talk and he’s very weak and it’s — yeah, it makes him very sympathetic.
Bell: Well, this is like when you go into an ADR room and it’s dark and you start recording. And usually, you’re just doing your own stuff over. But we just made this up, so there was Paul next to me. And so, it was a day’s work. We were creating that and we took a long time to create that. You know, and no, no, no, that’s horrible. No, you know, so but then, I mean, he actually liked my instincts, because he was very good to me actually, on that.
CS: That’s so cool.
Bell: And there were other people who auditioned for that, by the way. I had to audition for it.
CS: Oh wow. Do you remember who you were competing against?
Bell: Who I was competing with?
Bell: Well, the most famous name — I don’t know if I like — I’m such a fan and I got to eat lunch with him. I did a movie with him. But the most famous name that I heard was Don Ameche.
CS: Oh wow. That would’ve been different.
Bell: And I revered him. I’m a groupie for that era. I care about Brad Pitt because he’s a nice guy, but Brad Pitt or I could have dinner with Don Ameche, I’m going with Don Ameche.
CS: Oh of course. Yeah, and he’d been around forever. He’d been in freaking Love Boat and stuff.
Bell: I heard that name. And then there were others I didn’t hear. I was competing for that. I didn’t realize I was, but I was.
CS: Wow. And can you talk a little bit about, of course, the other big component of this performance is Rob Bottin’s amazing makeup work.
Bell: He became a very, very close friend of mine. I think he’s the kind of Rembrandt or better, the Leonardo da Vinci of prosthetics people. I’ve worked with him a lot more than one time. I’ve done commercials with him. He’s gotten me work on commercials. I mean, I think I’m qualified — he’s the best that there ever was.
CS: I’m sort of inclined to agree with you. Stan Winston was really good, Rick Baker was really good, but there was something about what Rob did that had just this extra layer of just super realism to it.
Bell: Hey man, you want a demon, just forget about it… Nobody gets [demons] like him.
CS: Yeah. And he’s sort of become the J.D. Salinger of makeup people now. Is he still working and stuff?
Bell: Yeah, no, totally. He won’t call me back.
CS: Oh wow.
Bell: But I mean, even speaking of demon, though I say that, even Kuato, what made him so kind of interesting was given any other kind of circumstance, that could’ve been a demon. But then, it was the opposite of that.
Bell: Well, if he just took that look, you could say — but it wasn’t. It was the opposite of a demon is what was so cool about that.
CS: Yeah, he kind of looked like an old Jewish guy you would see at a bathhouse or something.
Bell: You don’t know any of those, do you? I wish bathhouses were open, I want a sauna.
CS: I wanted to ask about one other film before we have to go just because I saw it again recently and it’s one of those movies, I’m sure you have some of these yourself, but it’s one of those movies where I want to love it so bad because it’s a great director, it’s a great idea for a movie, and it just didn’t really work. And I watched it like three times, and it’s never quite worked for me and that’s Innocent Blood.
Bell: Yeah. Oh, I just was going to — I have that DVD here and I was about to pull it out. And I will look at it again. I don’t agree with you, but then I’m in the tank for the director and I refuse to not say everything he does is the greatest movie ever made. That’s where I’m coming from on it. I got it, actually. I did not agree with that. I got it. But then, if you know the guy and you know where he’s coming from, it’s like when Paul did the Showgirls. Well, okay, everybody hated it, but I didn’t hate it because Paul made all those choices. In other words, he didn’t make a mistake. He chose that.
CS: Well, yeah.
Bell: And it didn’t work. And Landis, man, come on… To be in his movies is just a big deal.
CS: Right. Well, and you’re in Oscar, too which is a movie I actually think is really underappreciated.
Bell: Another guy said that. I agree with that, too.
CS: On Innocent Blood, do you remember the discussions about the tone of it? It’s a very kind of tricky tone he’s trying to do, because it’s a little bit comedic, it’s a little bit scary.
Bell: On working on Innocent Blood, well, look. He reached out, too. He took an actress that was a French star, but was iffy to go say, well, it’s going to work in America. And I got it and I loved her in it and I loved Anthony in it a lot. But you know, I liked it. But again, I’m not going to say I don’t like it because I like everything he does.
CS: Me too. I agree with you.
Bell: I just saw the remake of, there’s a new remake of “Thriller”. Come on, man. And it’s just ridiculous how good he is.
CS: Oh yeah, I love John. He’s great. I guess that’s it for us today. But it was a pleasure talking to you.
Bell: Yeah, it was fun.
CS: Hopefully we’ll get to chat again sometime.
Bell: I’m going to have to work with the comment about Kuato being an old Jewish guy in a bathhouse. I thank you for all those things.
CS: You’re welcome.
Bell: That line, what was the other one? You gave me a line.
CS: Oh I did? It was like Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
Bell: Yes, yeah, those three things, yeah.