'It was important to me that this character had a backstory, you know?'
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Trained as a dancer with a long résumé in music videos, actress Sofia Boutella has exploded on to the blockbuster scene in the last few years with scene-stealing roles in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond. Boutella’s got a pair of high-profile roles this summer. In Atomic Blonde, she shares a steamy scene with Charlize Theron. Expect less steam, and much more immortal terror, in The Mummy, the Universal reboot of its iconic undead monster. Boutella plays Princess Ahmanet – the first time that the 85-year-old franchise has featured a female character in the title role. The actress talked to EW for our Summer Movie Preview about the roots of Ahmanet’s rage and the research that went into the role.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you tell us a little bit about your character’s backstory?
SOFIA BOUTELLA: I’m an Egyptian princess who is promised to become Pharaoh, and is deceived by her father. He removes that promise from her because he has a child, and the child is a son. Having nothing to lose, she summons the wrong god, in order to get what she wanted, that power that will give her what she was promised. She’s put aside for a very long time because she became dangerous. In modern times, she comes back, to go after what she was promised to receive, to begin with.
Given that motivation, her actions seem a little more justified than the typical monster-movie villain.
It was important to me that this character had a backstory, you know? It’s the first time that you see a female Mummy. She can’t be just a monster walking around scaring people. There needs to be something significant her shining through. To explore that psychology in her, what happened to her as a woman: Being deceived, because there’s a boy who comes into the picture all of a sudden.
So what’s it like to be buried in a coffin?
It felt very claustrophobic. I couldn’t move on my own. I had to be moved from the table where they were wrapping me to the coffin. I’d never felt like that before. It felt really real. It’s truly intimidating. It made me feel not that great, to be honest! [laughs] I couldn’t talk, too. Very oppressing!
What kind of research did you do for getting into the character? Did you watch the past Mummy movies?
I did watch the 1932 one. I’ve seen it in the past when I was little, but I wanted to see it again, to look at what Boris Karloff did. I researched a lot about Egyptian mythology and Egyptian civilization. I researched kings and queens: How they would carry themselves, how they were painted and portrayed. I needed to get inside of Ahmanet, and I needed to find that rhythm.
When you’re powerful like that, especially in the time, respect was approached differently. People used to respect royalty to an insane extent that doesn’t exist nowadays. These people never shouted. They never moved, really. Their effort was minimum. They were the most powerful people, but they were just calm.
The Mummy will introduce audiences to a new cinematic universe focused on the Universal monsters. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but would you want to explore this character further in another movie?
Yes, of course! I really love her. I enjoyed exploring every aspect of her. I think she’s a complex character. Her story, and where she comes from, is really interesting to play.
The Mummy is out June 9.