Brendan Fraser’s star shone even brighter in the unexpected hit adventure The Mummy. Now he’s back in a megabucks Hollywood sequel that is already setting records at the US box office.
On its first weekend (May 6th and 7th) the Mummy Returns made an estimated $70.1million - $5.3million more than George Lucas prequel Star Wars - the Phantom Menace on its opening weekend.
It’s about 6.15 in the morning, Sydney time and Brendan Fraser is remarkably chirpy. Sitting in Sydney’s Inter-Continental Hotel with The Mummy Return poster appropriately draped in the background, the actor, who is in Australia filming Phillip Noyce’s screen version of The Quiet American, jokes around when asked what he’s been up to filming in Sydney.
“I went to Taronga Park Zoo yesterday and almost mated with an Emu. So a word of advice is not to get too close to THOSE animals.” Advice noted.
The new, more ambitious sequel is set in 1935, 10 years after the events of the first film. Rick O'Connell (Fraser) is now married to Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), and the couple have settled in London, where they are raising their 9-year-old son Alex (played by screen newcomer Freddie Boath).
A chain of events finds the corpse of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) resurrected in the British Museum, the mummy Imhotep walks the earth once more, determined to fulfil his quest for immortality. But another force has also been set loose in the world...one out of the darkest rituals of ancient Egyptian mysticism, and even more powerful than Imhotep.
When these two forces clash, the fate of the world will hang in the balance, sending the O'Connells on a desperate race to save the world from unspeakable evil, and rescue their son before it is too late.
Fraser says that he had no reservations in revisiting familiar cinematic ground. “We had already established, I think, a great and existing rapport with all the characters that managed to survive the first film, which was important when it came time to doing a sequel”, he explains. “I was also delighted to have the opportunity to do this, because I had such a great time working on the first one.”
In describing the sequel, Fraser feels “that it was wise for the story to pick up 10 years after we left off and thus dispenses with the kind of getting-to-know-you structure that was required in the first film.”
The sequel also affords his character to emerge as a father, and so was able to practice fatherhood at least on screen.
“It was a great opportunity to be a make-believe dad and Freddie Boath is an amazingly intuitive kid.” But as for HIS family plans, not quite yet “but hopefully one day.”
Of course, much of the pre-movie build-up has focused on the special effects - Mummy director Stephen Sommers devoted a large part of the announced $100million budget toward computer generated effects courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic.
“One of the appeals of doing a film like this is seeing how far we’ve come in terms of CGI. That was another reason why I wanted to be involved with the film, because they had the ability to really make the actors work even harder.”
One scene features an army of 32,000 computer generated warriors. Fraser himself cites a fun sequence set on a London bus, during which he is fighting an ancient Egyptian who is not there.
“There was a lot to react to and also a lot to play with, which turned out in the final edit. When I saw that scene put in via the computer, it was extraordinary. It allows one to really use one’s imagination, a powerful actor’s tool in a film like this. The continued technology has evolved since the first Mummy, and that’s pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, shooting a Hollywood blockbuster such as Mummy Returns enables the busy actor to work on smaller projects such as The Quiet American.
“I’m certainly gratified that my name helps a film like this get made, and it’s a film that Phillip has wanted to make for years, and selfishly I wanted to have the opportunity to travel to Vietnam and Sydney, and have the chance to work there.”
Based on the novel by Graham Greene, the film is set in 1952 Vietnam against the backdrop of the war of liberation from French colonial rule, and features Michael Caine as a jaded newspaper reporter who shares an ambivalent friendship - and the love of Phuong, a beautiful young Vietnamese woman - with an idealistic but naive American aid worker (Fraser).
He describes Aussie director Noyce “as like the Brigadier-General of directors. He’s a man with an absolute vision of this piece. I also think that he’s one of the leading politically minded and dramatic authorities of this period.”
Fraser was also a great fan of the Greene classic novel “which I recall was being sold as bootleg copies in Saigon. It’s an incredible work.”
Brendan has a bit more time to go on Quiet American, and with the threat of a looming actors’ strike, the actor will head to London's West End for Tony Award-winning director Anthony Page's revival of the Tennessee Williams classic Cat On A Hot Tin Roof . Fraser plays Brick, and “my Maggie will be [Australia’s] Frances O'Connor” who was also his unattainable love interest in the recent Bedazzled.
Fraser describes the Aussie actress as "striking and interesting and funny and serious and, to my eyes, a well-rounded actress”. He goes on to describe his theatre project as “my contingency plan for the strike”, but clearly it also means a return “to my first love, the theatre.”
Brendan’s other love is his wife, 33-year old former actress Afton Smith, who travels with him as much as possible on location. “She was with me in Vietnam and just left Sydney.”
"I have so much satisfaction in my life. I have a beautiful wife and the great stimulation of an interesting career. I'm the most happy fellow that I know."
Sounds like the perfect person to play a "quiet American".