Mummy is­sues

Live-wire Al­ge­rian-born Sofia Boutella – star of newre­lease ‘TheMummy’ – talk­sto Don­ald Clarke about danc­ing­with Madonna, chan­nelling Boris Karloff, and the dan­gers of driv­ing in Kerry

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

“Ire­land is beau­ti­ful. Though I sup­pose it rains all the time,” Sofia Boutella says. “I drove to Kerry on the wrong side of the road for the first time. I thought I was go­ing to have an ac­ci­dent with the sheeps. I was ter­ri­fied. Why the hell do sheeps go in the f***ing road like this? Aren’t they told?”

To­day’s younger movie stars tend to be well-schooled. They know what to say and how to say it. But you don’t meet that many who swell with char­ac­ter and ec­cen­tric­ity. Boutella looks to be an ex­cep­tion. Born in 1982, the Al­ge­rian ac­tor is, I sup­pose, not that young any more, but, af­ter an ini­tial ca­reer as a suc­cess­ful dancer, she is only now mak­ing louder noises in main­stream film. She was great as an alien scav­enger in Star Trek Be­yond. She was su­per in the re­cent Ir­ish three-han­der Tiger Raid. Now, op­po­site a breath­less Tom Cruise, she plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter in Univer­sal’s lat­est dis­in­ter­ment of The Mummy.

It’s a good role for an ex-dancer. There’s a lot of fe­line writhing and de­monic glow­er­ing. Those hours hoof­ing with Madonna on the Con­fes­sions tour didn’t go to waste.

“Thank you. Yes, it was phys­i­cal,” she says. “She’s never been pharaoh, but I think she’s car­ry­ing her­self with some sort of pride that I wanted to find. I re­searched an­cient mythol­ogy . . . ” And she’s off again.

Boutella talks as if speak­ing is about to be abol­ished and she must en­joy the chat­ter while she can. She went back and watched the 1932 ver­sion of The Mummy with Boris Karloff to get a few tips. She ini­tially turned down the role, but, af­ter de­vis­ing a more off­beat vil­lain, talked her-

self back into it.

She be­gins wrestling with her own body. One leg is curled up. Another is stretched.

“I have to move be­cause my knees are both­er­ing me so much,” she says. “When I danced, my body was fine, and then when I stopped they gave me trou­ble. I have to keep mov­ing or I have to sleep. But it’s hard for me to keep still.”


Boutella comes from a creative back­ground. She was born in Al­giers, the daugh­ter of the ver­sa­tile mu­si­cian Safy Boutella – com­poser of bril­liant scores such as that for Rachid Bouchareb’s Lit­tle Sene­gal – and of a busy ar­chi­tect. When the civil war be­gan in 1991, the fam­ily left Al­ge­ria to work and live in France. Sofia moved to Los An­ge­les many years ago, but I get the sense she’s never re­ally had a chance to set­tle in. She has danced here. She acted there. “Home” is a slip­pery con­cept.

“I live where the work is,” she agrees. “I guess LA is where I hang my hat. But I haven’t re­ally been there for two years. I was in Van­cou­ver do­ing Star Trek. I was in Bu­dapest for a while. The long­est I have stayed there in two years is a month and a half. I think I like the gypsy life. I get itchy feet.”

What does she miss most about be­ing away from home?

“That I don’t know where home is.”

Boutella main­tains that be­com­ing a per­former was not some­thing she yearned for from an early age. She has been danc­ing since she was five, but the drift to­wards the busi­ness was slow and steady. She doesn’t re­mem­ber any big break.

“I wanted to raise dol­phins but that is only be­cause I en­joyed the TV show Flip­per. Then I wanted to be join Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders be­cause I had a board game based on that. But I just stum­bled into be­ing a pro­fes­sional dancer.”

Around 10 years ago, she se­cured a job on a Nike com­mer­cial and found her­self kicked into the big time. Handy em­ploy­ment with Michael Jack­son and Madonna soon fol­lowed. Per­form­ers who work closely with Ms Cic­cone rarely have a bad word to say about her. She seems to be the right sort of taskmas­ter.

“It was phe­nom­e­nal,” Boutella says. “They were some of the best years of my life. I adore Madonna. She is so sup­port­ive. She is opin­ion­ated, which is won­der­ful. She cares about what she does. She is not half-hearted in any­thing she does. She doesn’t take this job for granted. You feel part of a fam­ily. She’s a woman’s woman.”


Boutella be­gan dat­ing our own Robert Shee­han around three years ago and they have done much im­pres­sive red-car­pet duty in the suc­ceed­ing years. This partly ex­plains her con­nec­tion with Ire­land, but she also feels an in­di­rect con­nec­tion through her own Al­ge­rian roots. Al­ge­ria’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with France mir­rors Ire­land’s with Bri­tain. They are both ex-colo­nial na­tions. They are both still in­ter­ro­gat­ing their own iden­ti­ties.

“Yeah, there are some sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the Ir­ish and the Al­ge­ri­ans,” she says. “They have both been oc­cu­pied. I no­ticed that in the peo­ple. They are to­tally dif­fer­ent cul­tures, but there are these sim­i­lar­i­ties. When some­thing like that hap­pens to pop­u­la­tions, you can feel it. I am very sen­si­tive.”

She barely pauses to de­liver a par­en­thet­i­cal aside: “You don’t need to put that on pa­per if you don’t want to talk about pol­i­tics. But if you don’t mind, then go ahead.”

She seems to have been buf­feted into an im­pres­sively in­ter­na­tional class of star. The pro­duc­ers of The Mummy were right to break with cul­tural im­pe­ri­al­ist tra­di­tions – Boris Karloff, who played The Mummy in 1932, was from Sur­rey; Arnold Vosloo, the 1999 in­car­na­tion, is an Afrikaner – and seek out a north African ac­tor for the ti­tle role. But Boutella gives the im­pres­sion she could take on al­most any na­tional iden­tity.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion I have been ask­ing my­self,” she says. “I left my coun­try at such a young age. I had to adapt to what France was. I feel I did the same thing in LA. I can go any­where. But I miss not hav­ing one place, be­cause I have never re­ally had that.”

Well, we man­aged to find an Ir­ish her­itage cer­tifi­cate for her costar Tom Cruise when he was last here.

“Yeah, all Amer­i­cans think they are Ir­ish. Right?” she laughs. “That’s sweet. I want mine.” The Mummy is out now and is re­viewed on page 10

I adore Madonna. She is so sup­port­ive. She is opin­ion­ated, which is won­der­ful. She cares about what she does. She is not half-hearted in any­thing she does

Sofia Boutella “I wanted to raise dol­phins but that is only be­cause I en­joyed the TV show Flip­per. Right: in Star Trey Be­yond, and on the red car­pet with Robert Shee­han

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