Brendan Fraser Interview – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

     July 31, 2008

As most of you know, opening tomorrow is the 3rd chapter in “The Mummy” series and this time the gang has voyaged to China to fight Jet Li. Since the film is similar in tone and structure to the first two, you should all know what you’re getting into before you walk into a theater. Also,it makes writing this intro that much easier.

So to help promote the film, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with Brendan Fraser and he talked about making the newest entry in the franchise and about all the other projects he’s involved with.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download/listen to the audio by clicking here.

Finally, if you want to watch some movie clips from “The Mummy,” click here.

Brendan Fraser: Hi. Welcome to another addition of Groundhog Day. I’ll be your Groundhog.

Q: Was it fun, chasing mummies again?

Brendan: Yes. It’s what I do! Actually, they chase me. I’m like, “Leave me alone already, will you?”

Q: The last time you did this was 2001, so a lot of time has passed between then and now. Was it weird to get back into the role?

Brendan: No! I wanted to play Rick. I was missing it. I’ve been waiting for the call from the studio since then. I love it. You get to do so much fun stuff, as an actor. You get to go to great places. They strap you into harnesses and throw you around. You have to look like you really know how to take care of business and beat people up, when you’re actually really a wimp. They’re great fun movies. There’s real appeal. Every kid or pinstripe executive in an elevator asks me, “When’s the next Mummy movie?” I’m like, “I wanna know the same thing! I’m sitting around by the phone, waiting.” And so, I got the call and was like, “China? How are we going to do that? Oh, alright. Well, let’s think about this. It’s an archeologically rich nation. It makes sense. They might not have had burial practices that were mummification, per se, but to animate, or bring to life, the Tarakata Warriors of Xi’An is something that I haven’t seen before. You’ve seen way more films than I have, in the room here, but I don’t think it’s been done until now. Why did the Tarakata Warriors of Xi’An all have different features? Maybe because, for 40 years, people made them for some despotic emperor. I don’t know. But, it’s fun to imagine that maybe there’s a spooky curse that went along with it. So, we got Jet Li to play the heavy.

Q: Were you concerned about Stephen Sommers not coming back?

Brendan: No.

Q: What about with Rachel Weisz not coming back?

Brendan: I felt Rachel’s absence when I read the screenplay the first time, I will cop to that. We were partners, we were colleagues, we were friends, and I couldn’t read the screenplay and not think about hearing her say it this way or that way. We had that chemistry. Casting agents put actors together and it works like that. I didn’t lament it. I think she made the choice that was correct for her. I don’t know what the reason was. You’ll have to ask her at some other Groundhog Day junket. I quickly said to myself, “A role is a role. You step into it and, maybe in certain cases they’re indelible. There’s no replacing Indiana Jones, for instance. It’s Harrison Ford. Come on! And, in certain instances, you take another actress and put them in and let them play, and see what they’re going to do with it.” It’s been seven years. In broad strokes, you think, well, it’s been seven years. It’s a new Mummy movie. There’s practically a generation that’s come of age, seeing films. It’s not compulsory to see the first two to have a good time watching the third one. We got a new director, Rob Cohen, who does things differently — in the same spirit of it, just bigger and more. And, what Maria Bello brought to the role, through the casting process and the screen tests, was enthusiasm, sass and class, she’s sexy and she’s bad news with her Winchester rifle. She had a real good run at doing the dialect as best she could without acting an accent, which can so often happen, to varying degrees of success, when actors of other native-speaking tongues attempt to do that. She played the part, rather than let it play her. She made it her own. After the nod and the wink and the reveal, the answer that begs the question is that she’s a completely different person. Folks, it’s a movie. Relax. Brain cancer will not be cured during this hour and a half.

Q: Was there something in this that was way more challenging for you than in the first two films?

Brendan: Location work is always challenging. You have to physically pick yourself up and go for a couple months somewhere else. I enjoyed it, I did. But, it’s challenging. The most challenging aspect was actually getting to the set from the hotel, at 3 am in a mining community. The highways are mega-highways with 18-wheelers just parked, bumper to bumper, for miles. They just let a few of them in, in the morning, to the city, so they don’t completely clog it. You’ll see guys out there BBQ-ing and playing cards. That’s how things are done. So, we had to take all these rural routes and go through farms, and the drivers would get lost, and I’d get out and take a picture. That was an adventure.

Q: How did you feel when you found out that this movie would be coming out the same summer as Indiana Jones 4?

Brendan: They’re both in the action adventure genre . . .

Q: With an archeologist hero . . .

Brendan: I don’t know if Rick is the archeologist. Evie is the archeologist. He’s more of an expeditionist, if you think about it. He’s just there because he was in love with the girl, in the first one. He was up to some dodgy business in the first movie. In the second one, she made an honest guy out of him. He wanted to make sure everything was cool. In the third one, they’re bored. Their life has become so unsedentary. He’s taken up fly fishing, for God’s sake. He’s got a whole closet full of failed hobbies. She’s a very successful author and he supports her. What a modern father and husband he is. But, they won’t admit to each other that they kind of want to get back into the game. So, I think that they realize that they need to get back into the field to make their relationship work better and, certainly, get back in touch with their kid, who’s up to no good, in their eyes. He’s gone off and tried to be a chip off the old block, only he’s more of a railroad tie. He’s unearthed the Tarakata Warriors, and there’s a megalomaniac on the loose and he’s going to rule the world with big, clay pot soldiers.

Q: Did you do most of your own stunts in the film?

Brendan: As many as I was allowed to do. And, the ones that were really dangerous, we saved those for the last week.

Q: Did you enjoy doing that?

Brendan: I don’t like the part where it goes, “Bang!,” and hurts. But, the part in between, “Action!,” and then, “Cut!,” I like.

Q: Any bad injuries?

Brendan: No, none! Actually, none! Yes! It took me three films. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to limp across the finish line.

Q: Were you disappointed that you didn’t get to fight more with Jet Li?

Brendan: I didn’t really get to fight, fight with him. We just duked it out. He’s a natural artist at it. He’s known for it. Rob was like, “You’re going to a Krav Maga center in Los Angeles,” and I was like, “What is that?” It’s about finishing moves, basically. So, it toughened me up a bit. I know I needed it.

Q: Did you meet Luke Ford and have any bonding time before you started filming?

Brendan: They do screen tests and, for the right reasons, they find who they need. Luke got the gig. Sure, there was a rehearsal period. We didn’t know each other, so we went and talked a bit. Everything you need to know should be on the page, if you’re paying attention. And then, you just surrender yourself to where you are and the environment, and just live it. I’m not really big on finding a way to fabricate something when it’s easier to just act it.

Q: As the person who was the continuity between the first two films and this one, were you the keeper of the flame, or was Rob just doing his own thing?

Brendan: Bob Ducey produced the first two. He actually edited the first one. He was Stephen’s friend and partner for years, when they were at film school. So now, Bob functioned in the capacity as an executive producer. We had to go back and watch the other two movies to remember what the storyline was, and how it could factor into this one, and he was kind of the anthology of that. But, they gave liberty to Rob to do what he does, which is move big, honking set pieces around really well. He makes XXX and Stealth and The Fast and the Furious. He knows how to do that. That’s what he does. Stephen also does that. Steve is a Minnesota boy, son of a pediatrician, family man, great guy. He’ll set up the world’s biggest crash course, and then stick actors in it and go, “Ready! And, don’t suck! Action!” You get to the end of it and you’re like, “There’s film in the camera, right?,” and he’s like, “No.” So, we had a good time making them. With Rob, he’s quite outspoken and he has a real particular voice. He’s a unique individual. I thought it was very interesting that, as a young man, he was at Harvard, studying archeology with an interest in Chinese history. So, this brings to the fold everything that he’s good at and passionate about.

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Q: Did you have any input into the story, and did you like the idea of having a son?

Brendan: It was important because then you’ve got that dynamic of a father-son relationship, when they collide. I was the fourth of four sons. It happens. You lock horns. Old bull, young bull. Mom has to walk in and dump a bucket of water on both of them, send them to separate corners and say, “Go sort this out, so we can go and vanquish the undead and be a family again!” You have to give the audience something to identify with.

Q: What’s going on with Inkheart?

Brendan: I’ll tell you what I know: There’s a to be determined released date, which will probably be December or January — the first quarter or the end of this year. Inkheart is this fantasy picture that was adapted from a children’s novelist, called Cordelia Funke. She wrote a novel about a bookbinder who has an unusual ability. When he reads aloud, elements of whatever he’s reading arrive somehow, mercurially. And, unfortunately, things disappear too. In the case of the story, it was his wife, so he and his daughter — who doesn’t know where mom went — have been looking for a copy of this book that’s out of print. He can’t find one, and he finally gets his hands on a copy, and he encounters some rather unsavory characters, along the way. The cast is rounded out by the amazing Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany and Helen Mirren. She’s good. She let everybody stand out in the parking lot with her Oscar. The drivers were out there with their cell phones, getting their pictures taken with her Oscar. She said, “Oh, just put it back when you’re done.” She’s sexy. The answer is stay tuned, it will come out. Someone way up the food chain can answer the question about the whole strategy of release dates.

Q: Have you seen a rough cut of it yet?

Brendan: I’ve seen it. It’s a very inventive film. It’s very interesting. Iain Softley directed it. He’s created this world, using retro technology with way cool cars, and setting it in a medieval graffiti world. It’s like nothing you’ve really seen. We shot in Italy on locations, and stayed really open and loose.

Q: As an actor, you’ll do a project and then it will take a long time to get to the screen. Do you remove that from your head and say, “I’ll think about that when it comes out,” or do you chomp at the bit because you want people to see it? How does that work for you?

Brendan: Journey 3D, for instance, was two years ago. That had a lot of post-production. I won’t lie, there’s some politics behind that. There always is. And then, when it comes out, if it does well, it all just melts away, like so much sugar in the rain. The central issue was that the technology was so innovative, and because it’s the first out of the gate. It’s the guinea pig to use 3D in that capacity, for a high-def, feature-length, narrative-driven, action adventure with dramatic elements, based on a classic science fiction tale written by the godfather of the genre (Jules Verne). That’s a tall order, in many ways, but at the same time, how are you going to get it to the people, the way it was supposed to be shown, in 3D, as it was always conceived to be, by one of the world’s pre-eminent visifects guys. We had to play the waiting game. I had to go to ShoWest. They gave me a nice award for a Decade in Film Achievement. It took me 20 years to get it, but there were 10 good years in there.

Q: That’s two decades.

Brendan: I just held it in both hands. And, I put 3D glasses on and spoke to a bunch of exhibitors in this massive room, all eating their fillet mignons. I was like, “Get your theaters converted to 3D. Do you like the sound cha-ching or not? Thanks for the award, very much. Peace out!” Anyway, the cool thing is — and this is not bragging here — it performed three to one on 3D screens. What does that tell you? That tells us a lot. They’ve got to get with the game. So, you’ve got to wait. It depends on the elements of the film, in that case.

Q: It’s not frustrating for you, when it takes a long time for a film to come out?

Brendan: Maybe it was six years ago, when I was young and dumb. Now that I’m old and smart, it’s not a problem.

Q: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

Brendan: I’m going to Disneyland! No, I don’t, aside from Inkheart. That’s pretty much it. I’m going to Disneyland! I’ll find something to do.

Q: Do you want to do more Mummy movies?

Brendan: Well, they kind of have a way of building in that, “We might do another one,” at the end of the movie, when John [Hannah] goes, “I’m going to Peru. They don’t have any mummies there.” Can we just talk about John Hannah? He came back! Kiss him on the lips. John Hannah!
I love the John Hannah.

Q: What’s a Rob Cohen set like? Is it fun?

Brendan: It’s a big picture. Up until the day before yesterday, he was dubbing for 18 hours a day. Those poor guys are falling asleep at stop lights. And, on top of that, his wife bore him triplets. Talk about when it rains, it pours. And, he still finds time to go surfing in the morning. I don’t know how he does it. He’s a remarkable individual. He’s a damn good director, too. I learned from Ian McKellan — and I’m not just dropping names, but I’m totally awestruck that I ever got to work with him — a good director will say, “Hey, it’s over there,” and directs you. And, Rob will tell you how to get there, which train to catch, what time to arrive, what to wear — you know, like that — if you want to know. Otherwise, he’ll stand back and let his actors do what they do, and let them trust their intuitions about it, and then shape it or mold it, if it isn’t right. And, if it’s just flat-out wrong, he’ll just go, “No! Go again!”

Q: Do you feel any need to protect the character, since you’ve played it twice before, and Rob’s coming into this on the third film?

Brendan: I don’t know because it’s been seven years in story terms also. He’s a revamped version of who he was. I just have to say that I loved playing the part in the first two. Did we know the first one was going to be a big success? No. But, no one sets up to make a turkey. With the second one, they were like, “Quick, do another Mummy movie!” We were like, “Okay, let’s remake the first one.” With the third one, we tried something new.

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