Arnold Vosloo Interview
By Scott Michael Bosco
SMB - Have you seen THE MUMMY DVD?
AV - No I haven’t. Steve Sommers, the director, told me he’s really pleased with it.
SMB - Was it through Steve you got the part?
AV - I worked with Jim Jacks, one of the producers on a film called HARD TARGET directed by John Woo. I guess he remembered me from that so he had me come down when they were doing the casting. I met Steve Sommers and low and behold, I got to be the Mummy. I think part of the reasons I was very adamant early on during my meetings with Steve that if I got the part I was interested in playing - the “man” and not the monster. I wanted to bring some humanity to the mummy. They obviously bought that
and hired me.
SMB - Had you seen any of the script at that time?
AV - Yes, yes I had. I read the script.
SMB - Oh, so you were aware what direction the film would take.
AV - Oh, yeah. So I thought within all that running around, madness and chaos I could add some sort of sense of calm.
SMB - The prolog confirmed your character.
AV - Yes. I always thought the guy wasn’t just a monster for monster’s sake. Everything comes about for the sake of love and because of that the domino fall where they may.
SMB - Did the script have your lines in English with a notation they would be spoken in Egyptian?
AV - Yes, it was written in English and at the bottom there was a note that it would be translated into ancient Egyptian.
SMB - What was it like dealing with that?
AV - It was tough. We really had to make up this language because there’s not a recorded example of it. It’s not like current Egyptian by a long shot. These guys who can read hieroglyphs can phonetically conjure up some sort of version of what they thought it sounded like. Then it became my job to make it sound true when it came from my mouth. That was part of the challenge to not sound like some sort of comic book character but to infuse it with realism and make it authentic.
SMB - Do you speak another language?
AV - Yes, I’m bi-lingual.
SMB - Did that aid you in anyway?
AV - Not really because it's completely different to anything. It’s so, so, different. Of course sometimes what was in English translated to a full page monologue, so we had to sometime chop and change words in order to just fit it in to our time space.
SMB - So what’s translated on the bottom of the screen isn’t what’s being spoken.
AV - No. No one will ever really know because there’s nobody that speaks the language. It’s like comparing Latin and modern day Italian. They’re just not the same thing anymore. Although there are people who speak Latin we don’t really know how it sounded a long time ago. It’s an interesting dilemma but at the same time it’s kinda nice because you try to stay true to whatever the hieroglyphics point to, but then there comes a point where you literally can’t say all the words. Then there are times you say a word, like for instance, you might say the word “water"
and it sounds like “f**k” - you just can’t say that so you make up some other word. What we did certainly wasn’t the Discovery Channel version of life in Ancient Egypt, that’s for sure.
SMB - ... but interesting, never the less.
AV - Oh, it was. I worked with Dr. Stewart Smith from UCLA who has a PHD in Egyptology so it was very fascinating to get into that whole world and aspect. All that stuff I had to learn phonetically. They were terrible tongue twisters. I told Steve if we do MUMMY II just give me less stuff to say.
SMB - Or make him speak English?
AV - Actually that’s one of the cool things I liked, that I don’t speak English but just a physical presence with plenty of stuff to do.
SMB - So what is the talk about MUMMY II?
AV - Apparently its gonna happen. We don’t know when but last when I looked it grossed $350 million world-wide. It’s a huge hit and simply by virtue of that the studio will make a sequel. But obviously they’ve got to get a script first. It’s no secret that it’s been in the trades that Steve Sommers has been commissioned to write the sequel. I imagine early into 2000 they’ll start looking into when they can do it. Possibly towards the end of 2000 we’ll be shooting MUMMY II.
SMB - That great. Steve lends hints to it on the commentary.
AV - It is great. It was fun and it turned out very well. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.
SMB - Where you a fan of the past Mummy films?
AV - Only the original. I was told there have been 14 Mummy movies. I’ve seen 3 or 4 but the one I liked best is the original.
SMB - Why?
AV - Because of its simplicity, because of Karloff’s performance. A lot of people think it’s boring, but I really like the movie. It’s kinda of creepy and eerie in its stillness.
SMB - Do you like horror films as a rule?
AV - I do. Yeah.
SMB - Any favorites?
AV - You know, I was just talking about this with my wife... There was this insane movie I keep telling journalists about but the title just goes out of my head - maybe you’ll know it. It’s from a director from New Zealand, what the hell was that movie called...?
SMB - DEAD ALIVE!
AV - DEAD ALIVE! That’s it! How can I keep forgetting that?!
SMB - It was also known under a different title. But, I sorry none of the journalist didn't know - then again most journalist aren't very knowledgeable.
AV - Is that what it is? But that’s the one I saw.
SMB - Remember the lawnmower scene?
AV - Oh yeah, that’s right. Oh, that’s just some film. It’s just fantastic.
SMB - That same director made THE FRIGHTENERS.
AV - That’s right. See I run the gambit with stuff like that and the old PSYCHO. You know the more conventional Hitchcock films - some people may argue that’s really a thriller, but com’on it’s a horror movie. You know, a movie I did just before THE MUMMY which was completely overlooked was PROGENY, I’m a big fan of that movie. I really like that film, I think it’s really creepy.
SMB - I spoke to the producer of that film. Jack Murphy.
AV - You did!
SMB - Yes, about the DVD release. What’s interesting is that PROGENY treads on ground that is first being done now with THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE.
AV - Yes. My friend is in that, Charlize Theron.
SMB - PROGENY was really packed with a talented cast.
AV - You know we made that film for only 2 or 3 million dollars.
SMB - It’s great if you can make a movie for millions and millions but it nicer to get when you get more out of less.
AV - Yes, exactly.
SMB - Truthfully the best thing I’ll always remember about PROGENY is the ending. To me that’s what sold the film to me. It’s so memorable and chilling.
AV - I really like the movie, it’s a good film and I think it’ll find its way on the video circuit. I’ve been told by some press people that they did like it and that they did recommend it, which is really nice.
SMB - Well you’ll be happy to know it’s presented in a nice package with bonus material the DVD. Do you have a DVD player?
AV - Yes, I just got one. A Panasonic. I bought 20 DVD’s, but I haven’t watched one. I’m till stuck with a regular 32 inch TV. I’m dying to get one of these new hi-tech ones but they’re so damn expensive. So I’ll just stay were I am now.
SMB - Do you have it hooked up with a SVHS input.
AV - Yes. Yes, I do. It’s so clear and perfect.
SMB - Well it sounds like you’re all set ... but back to the interview. (They both laugh.) On the DVD, as part of the Extras you’re shown wearing sensors that captured your movements so digital make-up could be placed over your face and neck There’s also another time where you had these sensors on you body so the Mummy would have your stride ...
AV - Yes.
SMB - Had you known that this was how you would be represented in certain parts of the film - incorporated into a digital image?
AV - Absolutely. I was walked through it at ILM. From step one I knew exactly what it was they were trying to do because, in a weird way, at the time they weren’t really sure how it would work out. They showed me on the storyboards and on the computer what they thought it would look like through animation. Then it was left up to their magic to make it all happen perfectly. It was tough, very tough and I think the biggest lesson I learned from THE MUMMY was patience. A lot of that stuff just took hours.
SMB - So those scenes were done twice - once with you on the set and another with you wired to capture your movements for the computer?
AV - Yes. I stayed for 2 weeks after everybody rapped to do the motion capture. It was kind of strange in a way because I had to go back and re-do everything had done on the set.
SMB - So it was a surprise for you to see the finished product.
AV - Pretty much. I had seen the animation and the live action of myself but then when you see the bug crawling up your face it’s a big deal. It was well worth all those hours of painstakingly trying to get it right.
SMB - So each time you did a motion capture session you had to remember how you moved and acted from weeks before.
AV - Well, we had video playback so I could go back and absolutely try and nail it but problem is you’re working with computers so you’re talking millimetres of movement. For instance, the scene with the bug in my face - that took 4 days to do of me standing there cocking my head and chewing the bug and swallowing it then walking off. A 4 or 5 second scene took 4 days. It becomes kind of mind numbing after a while.
SMB - So after it was all done did you see yourself in this digital bandaged rotting mummy?
AV - Surprisingly so. You know, first I said to them, (ILM) “Why don’t you get a dancer or a mime artist, or somebody who is able to express emotion with their body because it’s not my thing. But they said no, they wanted me to do it because
they wanted people to believe that this thing would walk like me. The audience
may not recognized it but they assured me a least my mom would recognize me within that skeleton and bandages. (Laughs) Sure enough, when I watched it they were right. It moved like me.
SMB - That’s weird.
AV - I know it’s bizarre. It even turns its head like me.
SMB - When you read for the part did you know you would have to shave off your hair?
AV - No. When I went in originally I had hair. We spoke about it, Steve Sommers and myself, because he asked me, “What does your head look like?” He wanted to know if I had bullet wounds, you know - what’s the deal? (Laughs) So I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never had it completely shaved. I had it real short for HARD TARGET but never shaved. So he shaved it off and said it looks all right lets go with that. The alternative was to go with a long black Egyptian wig. But I think in retrospect it turned out very well. It really worked for the character.
SMB - Also it kept your features and facial expressions more visible. I think long hair would have detracted.
AV - Yes. Exactly. It’s the old Yul Brynner trick. Apparently it’s my understanding he worked when he was a younger man. He was losing his hair, but just didn’t get any work. Then finally he shaved all his hair off and of course those fantastic eyes just jumped out - the rest is history. You know, Steve likes to joke with me he says, “You look all right with the hair but shave your head and you’ll become a movie star! He was always telling me that shit. (Both laugh) He’s very funny. My wife likes me with hair, but Steve may be right. Who knows, we’ll see what happens. I might be remembered as badly... we’ll see.
SMB - Would you do another DARKMAN?
AV - I would. But you know the problem with DARKMAN was we were kinda rushed. One of these days I’m gonna run into Sam Rami and tell him that I get all these letters from people saying they want to see more of the DARKMAN. It’s the kind thing that may work well for HBO or SHOWTIME. Maybe do one episode movie every two or three months so it almost becomes a serial. That might work, that would be fun. It is a fun kind of Gothic character and I wouldn’t mind doing it.
SMB - Now unlike the digital make-up transposed over your face, DARKMAN was regular prosthetic make-up. What was it like dealing with that?
AV - Oh, that was brutal. It was hard. This computerized stuff is pleasure compared to the old-fashioned rubber and latex 3 hour make-up job - a condom over your head kind of thing. It’s just horrible, just horrible.
SMB - So you didn’t really use any prosthetics for THE MUMMY.
AV - No. Maybe 3 days of prosthetic. But that was really those black things they had on my face, then in the middle of that were those disc they used for tracking with the computer. But is was just a portion unlike the DARKMAN thing was just like putting a giant condom over your head every morning.
SMB - Did you get a claustrophobic feeling from it?
AV - Not really it wasn’t that, it’s just that you sweat under the thing. It’s fine for 5 minutes but a 5- or ten-hour shoot ....
SMB - Did you go on location for MUMMY?
AV - Yeah, Morocco. Then we went to London. We shot all the interiors at Shepperton in London and all the exteriors in Morocco. That was great I had a real good time. Morocco helped me in a way. I think deserts are very spiritual places. Not all the religions, but some of the major religions of the world sprouted out of the desert. I think part of the reason for that is that it’s so vast and open. There’s just so much sky ...
SMB - ... it makes you turn your thoughts inward.
AV - Yeah, you start looking inward as opposed to a jungle where there’s a lot of foliage, flora and fauna that’s vying for your attention. In the dessert you tend to look and stillness and come up with .... a messiah. It kinda helped me in a way because THE MUMMY after all is a priest, was a spiritual man who falls from grace by falling in love with this woman and betrays the Pharaoh. It was a unique experience ... you just knew you weren’t in Kansas.