When The Mummy opens on June 9th it will usher in the first installment of Universal’s attempt to create the “Dark Universe,” designed to bring together its classic horror monsters. It’s also the latest example of actress Sofia Boutella’s ascent in Hollywood.
In the film she portrays the Egyptian princess Ahmanet, who centuries ago had been raised to be a fearless warrior and heir to her father’s throne. Her destiny was to become the first female pharaoh, but she was all but forgotten when her father sired a son. Notes the official description, “Driven mad by betrayal, she was entombed for eternity by the very people who swore loyalty to her. Her fate? Erasure from history.”
In the present, she is inadvertently awoken by Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton, a soldier of fortune, and now, endowed with supernatural abilities, sets out to reclaim her stolen kingdom.
To fill the role of Ahmanet, filmmakers turned their attention to Boutella. Says director Alex Kurtzman, “What we are trying to create here is a texture and tone rooted in the Universal horror classic, while having one foot in the modern age. This serves as a nod to these classics, while also bringing these monsters to life in a whole new era for a global audience.”
“We knew that, in order to work, this film has to be scary,” he adds. “Very scary. Yet, we still want to be able to recognize that there is a human being inside these monsters, and empathize with them. One of the things that’s so important about the monsters is that we find a way to love them while we fear them.”
The solution came in the form of Sofia, who was actually involved with the film prior to Cruise. Explains Kurtzman, “I saw Sofia in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and then I stalked her until she said, ‘yes’ to this movie. She brings a real humanity to the princess, and audiences will feel for her. Even when she is doing horrifying things, you always feel that it is being done by someone who’s not that far from us...and who’s just crossed a line that maybe we wouldn’t.”
What follows is a look at highlights from Sofia’s career and the roles that have captured the imagination of filmgoers.
In looking at the character, she comments, “It would be too easy to just make it obvious that she’s just mean or hateable, and I liked that Alex never wanted to ‘monsterize’ Ahmanet. Even though she’s technically a monster, it was important for all of us to find the psychology of her character and understand why she did what she did in that time to survive. You begin to feel for her. I don’t see her as a monster; she’s a survivor.”
“Remember, Ahmanet came to this modern time with old habits from an ancient Egypt,” she elaborates. “She’s a princess who was promised to become pharaoh and worked very hard in her era. When Alex, Tom and I discussed the character, I often said, ‘I’m not going to go with the obvious.’ I absolutely loved being on set with them and their notes. Everywhere you can expect the scene to go, we would stretch it and bring completely the opposite. We would take dialogue that would make you think Ahmanet is aggressive or manipulative and change the way it was delivered. We discussed that she wanted to be respected for how hard she worked to earn her father’s respect. We also wanted to honor what she was about to become…and that it was taken away from her. Her back was put up against a wall, but she’s a survivor who has been trapped for 5,000 years. Everyone wants to live.”
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Gazelle, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
An attempt to energize the type of spy film that James Bond made famous, Kingsman: The Secret Service looks at a British organization that recruits a working class kid to be an agent. The sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, will be released this September (but since Sofia’s not in it, we’re not really concerned about that one at the moment).
While Samuel L. Jackson was the primary villain of the first Kingsman, his henchman was Gazelle, a brilliant double—amputee with deadly running blades where her legs had been. Bond fans’ closest references would likely be Oddjob’s razor-brimmed derby and Jaws’ teeth. Says Sofia, “She’s in total control of her legs. Gazelle wears prosthetics that, when she’s fighting, unleash razor sharp blades, which makes her very dangerous. They taught me Thai boxing, Taekwondo, and how to work with cables. Gazelle uses her legs to kill, so I had to learn different types of kicks. I’d never done anything like it before.”
“It was a trip,” she adds. “I used to dance, but I stopped two and a half years ago, and I’ve since done many auditions, with much waiting and struggling. To wake up one day and get this part—which just came out of nowhere—was mind-blowing to me. I feel blessed to be a part of the film.”
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Jaylah, Star Trek Beyond (2016)
In the third of the rebooted Star Trek films, the starship Enterprise is destroyed by an attacking alien force, the crew finding itself stranded on the surface and fighting to survive against that world’s ruler, Krall. Helping them to do so is Sofia’s character, Jaylah, an alien scavenger who had been stranded there years earlier.
“She’s been living on her own, by herself and had to learn to survive,” says Sofia. “It’s difficult to survive on your own, but Jaylah did it for a very long time and had to get by in a very solitary way. But she found things within [a crashed] ship that kept her going. She watched a lot of videos, and that’s how she learned the English language. She kept busy by putting her outfit together, and finding places to build her defenses and surviving. When she meets the Enterprise crew, I think there is hope for her at some point. At first she’s defensive and protective, and then there is hope for her to actually get out of there.”
She admits that before that, Star Trek had not been a part of her life. “I just remember it being a very obscure, sort of dark sci-fi that was a bit spooky to me at the time, but I never really watched it. I watched the new franchise, and I thought they were really entertaining and fun to watch.”
“When I came in, I knew they had done these films together and that they probably had tight bonds. I wondered where my place was going to be, but it took two seconds for us to be close and it remains. I was also given a character that was created from scratch, that you’ve never seen before, so in that sense I had a bit of freedom and was lucky that way. I didn’t have the responsibility of taking on board a character that’s been out for ages, which would have been something else. I would have been really nervous, I think.”
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Delphine, Atomic Blonde (2017)
Although Charlize Theron’s primary mission in this summer’s Atomic Blonde is to prevent World War III, one of the highlights of the film’s already intense trailer is the insanely edited love scene between her and Sofia’s character, Delphine, a French operative.
Charlize, who plays British operative Lorraine Broughton, told USA Today, “It’s not something we see enough of in cinemas, these kinds of relationships or exploration. It’s very real. And we’re so scared of it. And it’s beautiful in the film. It’s very sexy. The two of us talked a lot about how it’s about time women can own their sexuality the same way males get to in movies.”
“I was really nervous,” Sofia admitted at CinemaCon, “but Charlize made it so easy for me. Honestly, she made me so comfortable. She’s gorgeous, so that wasn’t too hard.”