Wrapped in wom­anly fury

Sofia Boutella’s phys­i­cal­ity and fe­male wrath bring her ‘Mummy’ role to life.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Emily Zem­ler

LON­DON — Ac­tress Sofia Boutella em­bod­ies the tit­u­lar character in the lat­est ver­sion of “The Mummy,” a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the 1932 Boris Karloff film and a re­boot of Uni­ver­sal’s mon­ster fran­chise. It shouldn’t be no­table that Boutella’s fu­ri­ous an­cient Egyp­tian vil­lain is fe­male, but it is.

“Why aren’t mon­sters be­ing played by women?” Boutella muses, ly­ing on a couch dur­ing an in­ter­view. “If you piss off a woman, she’s far more bru­tal than a man. How come they didn’t think about that be­fore?”

Boutella, 35, has se­lected one of Dior’s “We Should All Be Fem­i­nists” shirts to wear while do­ing press for the movie, which opens Fri­day. She doesn’t mean it as a po-

lit­i­cal state­ment, but more as a gen­eral com­ment on why it’s im­por­tant to have equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in film. She’s just pleased to be part of one that doesn’t down­grade its fe­male char­ac­ters.

“Ah­manet is the ul­ti­mate fem­i­nist, I think,” Boutella says of her character, an Egyp­tian royal who is de­nied her shot at be­com­ing pharaoh be­cause she’s not a man, thus ig­nit­ing her wrath. “What hap­pened to her is some­thing that’s al­ways ex­isted and, weirdly, still does, be­ing pre­vented from ever be­com­ing pharaoh be­cause her fa­ther has a child and the child is a boy. She’s not OK with that. She doesn’t vic­tim­ize her­self. And the movie also does not vic­tim­ize her.”

Boutella had orig­i­nally turned down the role in di­rec­tor Alex Kurtz­man’s film; she didn’t want to play an an­gry mon­ster but a woman with real com­plex­ity and a back story.

“But as much as I said no to be­gin with, I’m so grate­ful I said yes,” Boutella says. “I feel lucky to be part of this film.”

“The Mummy” is the first in Uni­ver­sal’s re­cently an­nounced Dark Uni­verse se­ries, which will also in­clude 2019’s fe­male-led “Bride of Franken­stein.” It’s the lat­est in a long line of re­boots and se­quels of well-known ac­tion fran­chises. Its suc­cess is far from guar­an­teed; an open­ing week­end of $40 mil­lion or less is pre­dicted, a less-thanspec­tac­u­lar de­but for a big sum­mer flick.

The film stars Tom Cruise as a looter who pil­lages an­cient sites for pricey ar­ti­facts. It’s his character who un­cov­ers Ah­manet’s tomb and un­leashes her evil on mod­ern-day Lon­don.

As Ah­manet re­gen­er­ates, steal­ing power by suck­ing the life force out of po­lice of­fi­cers and other men, she grows stronger and stronger, shift­ing in form. Kurtz­man went through 24 screen tests with Boutella to find the fi­nal mummy look, and the ac­tress spent four to six hours a day in a makeup chair to pre­pare dur­ing the seven-month shoot. It all got to Boutella’s head.

“It was a long time to spend with Ah­manet,” she ad­mits. “I love her — I have a lot of em­pa­thy for her — but she was hard to hang around with. I don’t feel like that as a per­son. What hap­pened to her never hap­pened to me, so I don’t walk around like that. It was a lot to go home with. It took a while to shake it off.”

For Boutella, this process of act­ing re­mains some­what new. Her first big role was in 2015’s “Kings­man: The Se­cret Service,” in which she played a lethal fighter named Gazelle who has swords for legs. It took her two years of au­di­tion­ing to land the part, and be­fore it came along, Boutella was con­sid­er­ing tak­ing a job as a house­keeper to pay bills.

The ac­tress, who was born in Al­giers and raised in Paris, moved to Los An­ge­les at 24, in­tend­ing to pur­sue her ca­reer as a dancer. She’s toured with Madonna and ap­peared in mu­sic videos for artists such as Michael Jack­son and Ri­hanna.

In 2012, as she was re­hears­ing with Madonna for her Su­per Bowl half-time per­for­mance, Bou-tella re­al­ized she wanted to give act­ing a real shot. The last time she danced pro­fes­sion­ally was in the field dur­ing that Su­per Bowl show.

Since “Kings­man,” Boutella played an alien war­rior named Jay­lah in “Star Trek Be­yond” and ap­peared in sev­eral in­die films.

She’ll star op­po­site Char­l­ize Theron in “Atomic Blonde” later this year, an­other ac­tion movie that em­pha­sizes Boutella’s abil­ity to em­body a role with real phys­i­cal­ity. She may not dance any­more (ex­cept, she says, in the club when tipsy), but Boutella’s dance back­ground in­forms all of her per­for­mances, in­clud­ing that of Ah­manet.

“I wanted to find her strength and her power through the way she moves in space and the way she car­ries her­self like roy­alty,” Boutella says. “I wanted to find that rhythm. She doesn’t move very fast. I wanted her to be float­ing in space in­stead of run­ning. Boris Karloff did that — he looks like a mi­rage. He had that sort of majesty, and I wanted to find that same kind of fi­nesse and beauty. I thought it would be an in­ter­est­ing con­trast with the mon­ster.”

That sort of in­ten­sity and em­pha­sis on phys­i­cal­ity are what drew Kurtz­man to cast Boutella in the first place. Af­ter see­ing her in “Kings­man,” he knew she was right for the role.

“I [was] blown away, not just by her ob­vi­ous phys­i­cal abil­ity, which is ex­tra­or­di­nary, but by the fact she con­veyed so much with her eyes,” the di­rec­tor says. “To have the au­di­ence cred­i­bly be­lieve that she is a 5,000year-old princess who car­ries her­self with an air of roy­alty be­fit­ting a by­gone age, I needed some­one who could control her body and also honor what is es­sen­tial of the Uni­ver­sal mon­ster movies — I needed peo­ple to fear her as the mon­ster and needed them to sym­pa­thize with her.”

Boutella trained in­tensely to be­come Ah­manet, tak­ing up boxing and stick fight­ing in prepa­ra­tion. Most of her fight scenes are against Cruise, with whom Boutella quickly bonded. She talks about him con­stantly and has dozens of pho­tos of them to­gether on her phone, many of which she posts on In­sta­gram at his bid­ding. She learned a lot from his ded­i­ca­tion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism — but ad­mits she en­joyed get­ting to smack him around on set.

“It was such a joy,” she says, glee­fully. “I had a lot of plea­sure beat­ing him around. We had such a good laugh on set. He helped me and told me how to make it look like I’m hurt­ing him even more. I love when you get to work with peo­ple who care about the project as much as you do be­cause then you’re al­to­gether in. I feel like I’ve been lucky so far to have the chance to work with peo­ple who work that way. He’s def­i­nitely one of them. He doesn’t take it for granted.”

Next, Boutella flies back to L.A. to film “Ho­tel Artemis” along­side Jodie Fos­ter and Jeff Gold­blum. She is in­ter­ested in projects that deal with hu­man re­la­tion­ships and, whether she says it di­rectly or not, in strong fe­male roles. Still, she doesn’t feel like she’s yet in a po­si­tion to be overly picky.

“I’m so new to this job and I’m learn­ing so much that I feel like I need to do more,” Boutella says. “I need to ex­pe­ri­ence more char­ac­ters in or­der to be more spe­cific. Right now I’d play a cac­tus in a movie. I’m up for any­thing. I’m not af­ter hav­ing the lead or be­ing in a block­buster Hol­ly­wood film. I’m af­ter reading the ma­te­rial and lov­ing it. That’s all.”

‘I needed peo­ple to fear her as the mon­ster and needed them to sym­pa­thize with her.’ —Alex Kurtz­man, “The Mummy” di­rec­tor, on Sofia Boutella

Gary Coron­ado Los An­ge­les Times

“I LOVE HER — I have a lot of em­pa­thy for her — but she was hard to hang around with,” Sofia Boutella says of be­ing the film’s ti­tle character, Ah­manet.

Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures

“I WANTED to find her strength and her power through the way she moves,” Sofia Boutella says of Ah­manet.

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