‘The Mummy’ at 25: Director on the Enduring Hit, Brendan Fraser’s Mishap and the Tom Cruise Reboot (2024)

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The Mummy director is unwrapping his memories of the popular action film that starred Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as it hits its 25th anniversary.

Universal Pictures released the movie May 7, 1999, and it collected $409 million at the global box office ($767 million today) and spawned two sequels, along with the 2002 Dwayne Johnson-led spinoff The Scorpion King. Fraser, who was previously known for leading Encino Man (1992) and George of the Jungle (1997), starred in The Mummy as explorer Rick O’Connell, while the project marked a breakout part for Weisz as romantic lead Evelyn Carnahan, with the two characters battling the mummified corpse of an Egyptian priest.

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In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, director Stephen Sommers recalls Fraser’s health scare during a stunt mishap, the effort to cast James Earl Jones, the Super Bowl spot that changed the movie’s fate, why he skipped the third movie and his feelings about the Tom Cruise-led reboot, released in 2017.

How does it feel to hit 25 years of The Mummy?

It’s so funny how it just never went away. It’s always on TV somewhere. And I know, especially because the residual checks are great. I hate to say it, but somehow it’s endeared itself to a lot of people.

How did you get involved with the film?

When I was 8 years old, I first saw the Boris Karloff Mummy movie [from 1932], and I loved it. Universal had been trying to remake the Karloff movie for nine years when I got on, and it was going to be a low-budget horror movie set in modern-day. I had my agents call the producers Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel, and they were so sick of The Mummy that they didn’t even hear my pitch and just brought me straight into Universal. When we left, Sean — who’s the good cop of the pair — turned to me and said, “Steve, I thought you did a very good job.” He patted me on the shoulder, and I think they thought they’d never see me again. But I got home about an hour later, and an agent called me up and said, “The studio wants to go for it.”

Did you have any actors in mind while you were writing it?

I never do. My editor Bobby [Ducsay] is my main critic, and even before I finished the script, Bob was like, “Oh, this is Brendan Fraser.” I don’t think I’d even seen George of the Jungle at that point. We knew that the hero had to be a tough guy but with a heart. Recently, I read an article saying that we went out to Tom Cruise and then Brad Pitt. I’m like, “No, we only went to Brendan.” Brendan loved it right away. The studio had a list of actresses like Ashley Judd and other young American actresses. I said, “They’re all American. She should be English.” So Rachel was the gal, and off we went.

On the Amazon rental version of the movie, there is a trivia pop-up claiming that Sylvester Stallone was initially offered the role.

You’ve got to be kidding. (Laughs.) In the ’90s, Stallone was a huge star. Before I got on it, the studio was trying to do it for $15 million. I guarantee you, no one went out to Stallone. He was never mentioned to me.

Does anything else stand out from the casting process?

When I wrote the character of Ardeth Bay, I was trying to get James Earl Jones or Roscoe Lee Browne. He was written as a 70-year-old Black man, but I’m always up for changing things. After James and Roscoe were busy with other projects, they brought in this 23-year-old Israeli guy, Oded Fehr, and he was fantastic.

How did your team deal with the heat?

It was pretty harsh, but it’s a dry heat. We would always get hit by sandstorms, but they’re not hurricanes or anything like that. The ADs would run around and give everybody earplugs and goggles. You couldn’t see six inches in front of your face, but it would only last maybe 10 minutes.

‘The Mummy’ at 25: Director on the Enduring Hit, Brendan Fraser’s Mishap and the Tom Cruise Reboot (4)

I believe Brendan has talked about taking B12 shots in the butt during the shoot.

Love the B12 shots. Brendan really put his body out there. On the second one, when he is running from all the pygmy mummies, I could see Brendan limping.

Brendan has talked about doing some of his own stunts, during which he endured some bumps and scrapes.

We had a great stunt team, but Brendan is a big, tough guy, and he was younger back then. We kind of beat the crap out of him. Everybody talks about the scene when he gets hung. Usually when somebody gets hung, it’s a dummy, and that’s why they put bags over people’s heads. Brendan was always gung-ho, and he was like, “Make the noose really tight on me.” Then he decided to let his knees sag a little bit. But what he forgot is that the minute you put that much pressure on your carotid arteries, it knocks you out. We all looked, and he’s completely unconscious. It was fine, and he recovered in 10 seconds. But he woke up like, “What happened?”

Did you have a sense while you were making the film that it would be such a hit?

We had no idea. I remember around Christmastime in the editing room, going, “For 40 years, people have been making fun of The Mummy.” I suddenly had a panic attack. I’m thinking, “I love mummies and ancient Egypt, but maybe no one else will.” And then the 30-second Super Bowl spot came out. It went from nobody having any interest in seeing a Mummy movie to everybody like, “Holy sh*t. That was really cool.”

What do you remember about the opening weekend?

I didn’t want to get too excited and was thinking, “If it could maybe open to $20 million, that would be huge.” A producer friend of mine said, “If it does $15 million, you should be over the moon.” At 6:30 on Saturday morning, my phone rings in the kitchen, and no one calls you at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday to tell you bad news. It was [then Universal president] Ron Meyer: “Steve, are you sitting down? The movie’s going to open to $45 million.” That was a big high. That night, a whole bunch of the actors, some of the crew and myself, we all met for steaks at Dan Tana’s.

You went on to direct 2001’s The Mummy Returns. Did you consider directing the third movie that came out in 2008?

I didn’t want to do the third movie because I just felt like the first two really came together. I’m really proud of both of them. Third ones are just very hard. So I knew right off, I didn’t want to direct it, and Rachel wasn’t going to be in it. We always kind of joke that the third one is called The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, but it really doesn’t have a mummy in it. That’s when NBC bought Universal, and NBC was doing the Olympics in China. They’re like, “Is there any way you could do a Mummy movie in China?” And I had nothing to do with the Tom Cruise one, obviously.

Were you consulted for the Tom Cruise film?

No. Actually, I was kind of insulted because the writers and director [Alex Kurtzman] of that Tom Cruise one, no one ever contacted me. I contact people if I was going to take over somebody’s thing. The third one, which Rob [Cohen] directed, it’s kind of my baby. I didn’t want to step on his toes, so I helped produce it. But I had nothing to do with the Tom Cruise one. They never contacted me or called me. I was doing other things, and it’s not like I sat crying. I just think it’s common courtesy.

Brendan has mentioned that he would be game to reprise his role. Has there been any talk of that?

Not that I know. All the people at Universal are new after I left. I don’t really know them, and they haven’t got a hold of me, so I don’t know what’s in their heads. At the same time, it would have to be something really special. Of course, I would work with all of those actors again.

With The Mummy Returns, you helped make The Rock a star.

He was great. I had never heard of the guy, but then they sent me some footage of him, and he was just perfect. I had to shoot so fast with him because he flew into Marrakesh on Wednesday, and he had to be in Detroit for a WWE thing on Saturday. But boy, was he a trooper. As soon as the studio saw the dailies, the president of Universal was calling me up and saying, “You got to write a movie for him.” Somehow over the next week or so, I came up with this idea that became the Scorpion King movie.

‘The Mummy’ at 25: Director on the Enduring Hit, Brendan Fraser’s Mishap and the Tom Cruise Reboot (2024)
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