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FRASER, BRENDAN: THE MUMMY RETURNS

FRASER AS SWASHBUCKLER
Jenny Cooney Carrillo meets Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy, Brendan Fraser, who can play dumb as well as dorky as well as a swashbuckling hero.

Brendan Fraser seems completely lacking in vanity. How else can you explain an actor who plays dumb in Encino Man, Airheads and George of the Jungle, virginal in Blast From the Past, dorky in Bedazzled and gets upstaged by a camel in The Mummy?

But not only is 32-year-old Fraser down-to-earth, he’s also just plain nice. Director Stephen Sommers, who worked with the star on the blockbuster, The Mummy, and its new high-action sequel, The Mummy Returns, says; “I knew with the first one, I was making a big pain-in-the-ass movie and I wanted to have fun so I only wanted to work with nice actors. I talked to a lot of directors and assistant directors who worked with Brendan before to get the real scoop and I found out he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Now we’ve done two movies together - and not easy ones when you’re shooting in the desert and doing action sequences that run the gamut - I can honestly say that not once did Brendan ever whine.”

Just wrapping up work in Australia in the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, directed by Phil Noyce, Fraser now heads to London where he’ll change gears again entirely and star in a West End production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Australian actress Frances O’Connor.

So how do you go from George of the Jungle and The Mummy Returns to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof?
I think it’s been my good fortune to have had roles that differ from one another as vastly as they have. But after all, I’m supposed to be an actor and I’ll play the parts that I get as long as it’s wildly diverse from the project I did just before. It’s also to keep myself and hopefully the audience interested in the different type of work that I’m being allowed to be a part of. It’s a pattern that I hope to continue and I’ve noticed that diversifying the production values or size of the picture allows for opportunities too. For instance, a large-budget movie like The Mummy Returns allows for me to do smaller projects like The Quiet American. The big ones offset the smaller ones.

What are the pros and cons of doing sequels to The Mummy and George of the Jungle?
With The Mummy, I had such a good time working on the first one. Everyone was deliciously happy and surprised with the success that it received. I suppose in Hollywood terms that spells sequel but you need to actually make it and be confident that what you’re doing really has an audience. I think with the second one we’ve been able to deliver what the audience liked so much about the first one but just turn it up a notch. As for George of the Jungle (for which Fraser has reportedly been offered US$12.5 million to do a sequel), at the moment I’m so in the middle of the decision-making process that I can’t see any further than February 2002 so you’ve caught me at a moment where I don’t have an answer.

What can you say about the mythology of this movie? It talks about reincarnation and being pre-ordained for something you were meant to do in life? How do you feel about all that?
I like the idea but you’re talking to a guy who has a baptism certificate so I can’t say that I’m a firm believer in reincarnation, although the notion of it is romantic and appealing. From the character’s standpoint, Rick O’Connell is not a believer by any measure. He spent the first film trying to get a different job. He’s the one who’s always called to clean up but this time around the rules have changed in the world of the next adventure he takes.

What was the coolest adventure you ever had aside from making a movie?
I had a lot of adventures growing up because I traveled a lot as a kid. If I can take you back to the year 1977, I was living in Holland and I remember feeling a great sense of accomplishment being able to navigate all through the village and town via rubber dinghy. I could do it faster than my brother could get to the soccer field on his bike. It was a pretty adventurous ride.

In the sequel, you are a dad. How did that affect your character?
I think Stephen was very wise to allow for these characters to grow up another ten years. Very often in sequels the hero and heroine that you saw in the first film are at odds with each other in the sequel and spend the whole second film trying to get back together again. We dispensed with that notion right away because we have a mummy movie to make, so Stephen’s take on it was that they’re married, they have a kid, they’re getting on very well together and Rick’s just about ready to admit it’s time to hang up his guns and settle down. The kid is played by Freddie Boath, who is terrific. He saw the first Mummy movie - I’m not going to lie to you - probably about 32 times his mother told me. And I can vouch for that fact because while the first film was pretty good, it had some holes in it but things that even stumped the filmmakers insofar as who’s reincarnated, what book allows what, and all that. But all you had to do was go to Freddie and ask him and he knew everything! He was like a little script supervisor. He and I got along really well. We would have razor scooter races in the hallway at Shepparton stages in London. They had these really long hallways and he’ll blame me for it, but a photograph of David Niven got broken and it was his fault! [laughs]

How much fun can you really have working in an effects-driven movie on location in the Moroccan desert?
There were more special effects in this movie than the first one and that’s probably because the technology that went into creating them is probably doubled or quadrupled its computing power. Whereas in the first film there were strict guidelines to what the actor could or couldn’t do regarding standing inside the box or the show won’t work, now it’s changed in a way that allows the actors to inform the technicians about what they do. I can give you an example. In the script there is a bus chase sequence where I’m being throttled by a soldier mummy and it says ‘Rick breaks free by poking him in the eyes’, which I did and I must have had too much coffee at lunch or something but I imagined there was gunk on my fingers and flipped it off and everybody cracked up laughing and I thought we’d have to go again. They said, ‘no that’s great - we’ll put goo on your fingers digitally’ and that bit is in the movie, which is quite rare to happen.

There are obvious similarities between your film and the Indiana Jones movies. Is that something you are aware of or discuss with the director?
That conversation never came up specifically but we would be remiss not to acknowledge that all the film-makers are big fans of that, myself included. I was like Freddie Boath with The Mummy. I must have seen Indiana Jones like 33 times and the source material for it is based on the serial films from the 30s and 40s from what I understand. I don’t think there is any replacing Indiana Jones and we wouldn’t attempt it. I’m a big fan.

You and Rachel Weisz are classically trained actors. Does this help on a movie like this?
There were days when we thought we were doing a bit too much! (laughs) We expressed those concerns, given that we were classically trained actors, and
Stephen gave us every assurance that actually it wasn’t enough and then we saw the film and realised that all that tonsil showing that we may have done actually made sense given that there was this fierce creature on the outside of the shot when it finally came out.

Published May 17, 2001

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