After seven years of silence from the ensconced undead, Universal’s The Mummy franchise is finally being resurrected with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. With it also comes a new heir apparent to Brendan Fraser's dashing and dorky Rick O’Connell in Australian actor Luke Ford. Assuming the role of Alex O’Connell (created by child actor Freddie Boath in The Mummy Returns), Ford plays the 19-year progeny of Rick and Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello) who shows off his propensity for trouble when he awakens the ancient mummy of Emperor Han (Jet Li ).
Plucked from a worldwide, auditioning cattle call, The Mummy is Ford’s first major Hollywood film. Yet it’s a franchise the actor says he’s always loved.
“I was a big fan in my high school years - always a massive follower of The Mummy films,” Ford said in a call from Australia. “I was incredibly excited to get the role.”
Director Rob Cohen pushed The Mummy timeline forward by a decade so he could have Alex be a grown up on more equal footing with his adventurer parents. Ford says it was Cohen’s clear vision for Alex that helped him step into the role with more assurance.
“It was good to go in there and know exactly what he wanted me to do,” the actor explains. “He was so confident on where Alex went but I still put in my two cents creatively and emotionally about my character [too]. We were constantly working on the psychological aspects of Alex and getting the audience to like and appreciate Alex as the heart of the franchise and not just someone who is coming and going. Rob was very good with my character and did bring him life.”
Ford says he also gained immense on the job training just working next to Brendan Fraser. “I was very observant of Brendan,” he reveals. “He’s been in the industry for 20 years and I grew up watching a lot of his films from School Ties to Encino Man to The Mummy movies. What I really loved about Brendan was his true professionalism. He’s constantly working on how to make it easier to shoot and more accessible for the camera, as well as more entertaining for the audience. He’s incredibly good at that and it was brilliant to watch him go to work on that. The other thing about Brendan is that he has a great ability to sense emotions. Whenever I was kind of down he’d pick me up and tell me I was doing a great job and to keep working on it. There were times where it would be a big challenge for someone like me to be in a different country (China) for so long. I’ve never actually been in a hotel room for four months, being away from all my friends and family, because I grew up in a small community town in Australia, took a toll on me.”
“But don’t get me wrong,” he laughs, “I loved being in the movie but sometimes it was quite daunting. Brendan would make me feel a lot better.”
Interestingly enough, Fraser is actually one of the few returnees from the previous Mummy films. Cohen, Ford, Li, Michelle Yeoh (Zi Juan) and Maria Bello (taking over the role from Rachel Weisz) are all new to the franchise. Ford says Bello in particular impressed him with her fearless approach to the movie.
“Maria is one of those girls that have a real good instinct and spunk about her,” he chuckles. “The good thing too is that out of anyone on this film, poor Maria is going to get the worst of the backlash from the media because she’s replacing Rachael. But the thing about Maria is that she’s the best one in the whole film.
“And Maria in a fight would kick Rachel’s ass,” Ford laughs. “If it would come down to that - Rachel wouldn’t stand a chance. Maria would kill her. It makes you realize Maria’s in the right place. She’s in an action adventure film and she kicked my ass and gave Jet Li a run for his money. You know if the cards were on the table I think she might even take Michelle Yeoh.”
Ford says that they also bonded on finding the right tone in the light, action genre. “As an Australian actor, we don’t have this genre and it’s new to me. Both me and Maria kind of struggled sometimes to do a scene and Rob would go, “That’s great if you were in a serious film but this is an action adventure so we need to go back to being lighter.” Maria would wipe away the tears and cat scratches. We would clean ourselves off and Rob was right.”
The actor says Cohen was also spot-on about keeping Alex likeable – something a lot of audiences didn’t feel about the younger version in the previous film.
“It was a testament to Rob because he was constantly figuring out what to do to make sure the audience stays in love with Alex,” Ford explains. “He nurtured me through that process. For me with my character choices in the film, there was an element of reading in the script that Alex is the more serious character. Brendan has the incredible comedic timing and John Hannah is the incredibly funny brother of Evie. Also we have the great Irish actor Liam Cunningham (Mad Dog Maguire) who is so funny as the pilot. So I didn’t need to go down that path. Alex is a serious guy and wants to be taken seriously. I brought a certain serious mentality to it. I guess the part that’s not so serious is the relationship with the girl I fall in love with Lin, played by Isabella Leong. She’s the most beautiful woman in the world. She’s phenomenal. So I tried to keep Alex grand and determined and focused, balanced with a little ego. Rob made sure it all came into balance.”
And what about the thick, Aussie accent that is Ford’s natural lilt? Was he able to tame it like so many of his peers are doing for a host of U.S. film and television projects?
“I went a different way,” the actor intones. “It ends up being Indian. I’m joking!” he laughs. “Really the young boy in the second film had an English accent. For the American audiences, I think they wanted me to be an American. So I got them down to half American and half Australian. They worked around it saying during the war I flew to Australia. I have a very thick Australian accent because I grew up out west and I do have a little bit of that ocker [slang for speech] and I have to get rid of it. I have been but it still creeps into the American accent. It doesn’t sound right but primarily I’m speaking my version of American. It’s hysterical."
With the release of the film around the corner, Ford says he’s excited to see all his childhood fantasies come to life on the big screen in the finished product. “The opening scene of the film where I discover the Mummy, it’s a real ego pull,” he chuckles. “I loved it and it was all about me and going in and discovering. Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to do a Raiders of the Lost Ark type sequence with the ball rolling down and things flying. I got that chance and for me now I can die now happy. I always wanted to do something like that, dreamt about it and always pretended to be in it and now I got my chance. I think it’s the best opening sequence from the Mummy movies. I’m really happy to be part of that and hopefully some little punk like me when I was a kid thinks, “Man I want to do that too!”
And maybe Ford will get to do it again too depending on the success of this latest incarnation. Asked if he’s considered his future in the franchise, Ford muses, “I think I will be part of the series. I have a contract with them and I will live up to that. But generally it’s Brendan’s trilogy. He created it and built the character of Rick O’Connell who is incredibly witty and charming and people love. I would be surprised to see that I would be the one taking over. I would hope that it’s a family trilogy with us all doing it together. We’ll see what happens with the opening box office.”