VULTURE – “We constantly transform ourselves emotionally, so why not do it physically?” asks Sofia Boutella, who has been making a recent habit of blockbuster metamorphoses. After a big-screen breakthrough in 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, where she popped as a henchwoman with blades for legs, Boutella slathered herself in striking white makeup for last year’s Star Trek Beyond to play the curious alien Jaylah. She made herself over once again this week for the new big-screen reboot of The Mummy, where the 35-year-old Algerian actress has the title role opposite Tom Cruise. “It’s a part of the job, and I’m embracing it,” Boutella told Vulture. Here’s how she made her mummy come to undead life.
Look for the connection
When The Mummy director Alex Kurztman first sent Boutella the script for his reboot, she wasn’t convinced. “I remember reading it and I thought, Uh, no, I’m not doing this,” laughs Boutella. “The first script I read was a work in progress, a template just to start off preproduction, and I was afraid to just play a monster who walks around town scaring people.”
After Kurtzman sat down with Boutella to talk over the role, it started to expand. No longer just a mostly mute bogeywoman, this version of the mummy has royal lineage and a dark backstory: Born Princess Ahmanet in ancient Egypt, the character is supposed to inherit an entire kingdom until her father sires a son. Robbed of what she feels is her birthright, Ahmanet pacts with the god Set to kill her family and, once unleashed in the present day, rain down even more destruction.
“I had to empathize with her, and I wanted to humanize her,” says Boutella. “The beauty of the original monster movies is that you were able to relate to every single character, or even to treat their monstrosity as an emotional metaphor.” So even though Ahmanet chooses an evil path, Boutella sees those supernatural enhancements more like a protective shell: “It’s about closing yourself off from the people who were supposed to love you,” she says. “If you’ve ever been hurt to that extent, it’s hard to come back from.”
Move like a mummy
A former dancer, Boutella spends a lot of time pondering her character’s movement. “I think people can tell you a lot about themselves before they even start talking, just by how they sit or how they walk,” she says. “Finding the physicality with Ahmanet was very important. I want to show her strength and power through her body.”
So yes, Ahmanet may move with the same sort of stiff purpose you’d associate with other big-screen renditions of the mummy, but Boutella gives that deliberate pace a more regal bearing: “She carries herself as royalty, even more so after she’s been denied.”