Courtney B. Vance on Making ‘The Mummy’ with Tom Cruise and Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’
In this all-new cinematic re-telling of the legend of The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman, military man turned thief Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner in crime Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), along with a British officer of Cultural Heritage named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), stumble upon a tomb buried beneath the desert of the Middle East that contains an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella) who is ready to reclaim her destiny in a way more terrifying than any human can imagine. And once she is set free, she will stop at nothing to reclaim her stolen kingdom and ascend to her rightful place as pharaoh.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Courtney B. Vance (who plays Colonel Greenway, a career military man tasked with keeping Nick and Vail in line) talked about what he enjoys about the film’s roller coaster ride, the impossible task of keeping Tom Cruise in line, what he admires about the movie star, what a female Mummy brings to this story, and why he didn’t watch monster movies as a kid. He also talked about the experience of working with director Wes Anderson, who he calls a perfectionist, on the animated feature Isle of Dogs, and whether he and his wife (Angela Bassett) might ever work together on a Ryan Murphy series (he played Johnnie Cochran in American Crime Story, and she has been in American Horror Story).
Collider: Is it fun to be the guy tasked with keeping Tom Cruise in line?
VANCE: You know that’s an impossible task! We take it with a grain of salt, and it’s tongue in cheek. As I get off the helicopter, I say, “You’re supposed to be a hundred clicks from here! What are you doing here?! What are you guys doing here?!” I know the obligatory line of bull he’s going to give me about what happened. As we’re walking and talking for 300 yards, he’s giving me these lines and I’m like, “Yeah, right! Let me give you another scenario.” But you can tell, with he and I and with Jake Johnson’s character, we’ve been down this road before and I’ve heard these stories. It’s like, “What are you telling me? You’re telling me another lie?!” And then, before you know it, we get slapped and here comes the real story. You love it! You know what’s happening and you know that some action is going to come. It’s beautiful. I love the conceit. I love the homage to the previous Mummy movies. But this is a Tom Cruise reboot, so you know it’s something special!
When the possibility of being a part of The Mummy and helping to kick off the Dark Universe for Universal came your way, what was your immediate reaction? Was it something you were game for, from the beginning, or did you need to read the script and see just where they were going with this first?
VANCE: All I needed to hear was that it was Tom. I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan! I’ve watched all his movies, from Risky Business on. I saw his journey into these franchises that he does, and he does them better than anybody else. You know what you’re going to get. Not that the movies aren’t different, but you know that whatever he attacks and whatever he takes on, he’s going to become a master at it and of it. You know that if it’s a Mission: Impossible movie, you’re not going to see the same thing as before, but you know that he’s got to top himself in whatever the world is. With whatever is going on, you know it’s going to be an absolutely amazing action flick. The thing that is most amazing about [The Mummy] is that he and Alex Kurtzman, the director, and the whole team have added on to the story, and it’s so layered and deep now. On top of the action, you want to go back and see it again because when you’re talking about it with somebody, they mention something and I go, “Oh, I missed that! I didn’t get that! Really, that happened?! When did that happen?!” You’re all comparing notes about what you remember, and then you’ve got to go back and see it again and watch it closely. I saw it for the first time by myself, with the publicist, and we were sitting in a small screening room in London, watching it in 3D, and it was like I was in the movie theater with 100 people. It’s thrilling! It’s like a roller coaster ride. I was so glad I wasn’t in the Zero G scene with the plane because they did that 64 times, up and down and up and down. That’s his face, as the plane is going to the ground. I was like, “How did they do that?!” It’s just amazing!
Because there are going to be many more monster movies to come, in this Dark Universe, do you have one that you’re most excited to see? Do you have a favorite of the monsters?
VANCE: You know, I wasn’t into the monster thing. And our parents didn’t let us watch a lot of television growing up. We had Disney on Sunday nights, and at 8:30, they were like, “Turn it off! Go to bed!” When we were going to school in third grade, our friends were talking about that and we’d pretend and be like, “Oh, we saw that! It was great!” But, we didn’t see nothin’! I’m going to catch up now! I remember Boris Karloff and all of those kinds of movies, but we weren’t allowed to watch them.
One of the biggest differences with this film is the fact that we get to see a female Mummy. What do you think that offers the film and what do you most enjoy about what Sofia Boutella brought to it?
VANCE: I go back to the story and the whole idea that she was groomed to rule, but at the last minute, she was thrown aside. That’s like Fatal Attraction. “You can’t just throw me aside! I won’t be ignored!” You see her and her daddy and the blood on her face. She went to the dark side. But then, you start cheering for her to get her way because you can’t treat a woman like that. That’s a sista! You can’t mess with her! I was cheering for her to win. When she was going to stab her man and take him into eternity, we were like, “Yes!” And then, when she started to go after Tom, we were like, “Yes!” Because the story is so good, everything adds up. You want her to win. You know what the stakes are and you know what’s going on, so you, as an audience member, are not just sitting back. You’re involved in it. They set it up for us to know that she’s mad. She’s a mad woman! She’s a mad sista from Egypt who did not get her way and, deservedly so, she’s upset. She was supposed to rule. Now what does she do?! What is she supposed to do? She’s supposed to just sit around and watch this little baby become king now? She’s not having that! She’s a warrior! You know what she’s going to do. She’s going to use her powers. And when it was happening, I was like, “She’s gonna take over. I wanna see this!” And then, they put her in a tomb. Fast forward to silly Tom stumbling on this.
Your name is listed among the incredible cast for Isle of Dogs. How did you find the experience of being directed by Wes Anderson, especially in that capacity?
VANCE: Wes Anderson is a perfectionist, so you have to just be ready to try it this way, try it this way, try it that way, and then try it this way. And then, once you think you’ve got it all and it’s done, then you’re going to be called back in two or three months, so you can try it that way and try it this way. You’ve got to give him all of it. But ultimately, just like with Tom, who’s a perfectionist that likes to do it until he gets it done, the proof is in it when you see it and it’s just gorgeous. Every moment is so full of layers. You know that’s what you have to do because that’s just your process. So, you go, “Okay, all right, I’ll be there. Just let me know when, and I’ll be good.”
Did you voice a dog for the film?
VANCE: You know, I can’t recall. I may have been the narrator. It was awhile ago. I just know that he’s been trying to get in touch about coming back to start again.
Both you and your wife have been in equally excellent but separate Ryan Murphy TV series. Would you ever consider being in the same Ryan Murphy series and actually work together in one of his crazy worlds?
VANCE: We go where Ryan leads. The only caveat is that it’s hard when we’re both doing the same thing, at the same time. We’d have to arrange it because we have twins who are 11 and we just want to make sure that we’re available for them. If it ends up that we’re both in something together, than we would definitely have to get our schedules coordinated. That’s the main thing, just coordinating schedules. So, I don’t know.
The Mummy opens in theaters on June 9th.