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Interview: Alex Kurtzman On Directing ‘The Mummy’ and Building A Dark Universe
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The Mummy Director Alex Kurtzman and Star Russell Crowe

The Mummy is the first film of Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, a shared universe of rebooted versions of the studio’s classic monsters. Though it still has a long way to go to be as prominent as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, the studio already has plans to expand their world of gods and monsters with new versions of Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Dracula. And much more to come.

Directed by Alex Kurtzman, The Mummy follows Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) a modern-day treasure seeker who accidentally unearths a sarcophagus that was meant to seal away an ancient evil. Now that she is reawakened, she seeks to complete her malevolent ritual and terrors that will surely bring about the end of humankind.

We were fortunate enough to participate in a phone conference with our fellow journalists to talk to Kurtzman about what it means to him to bring these classic monsters to the big screen once more, the future of the shared universe, and what makes these monsters resonate with today’s audiences. For more on this plus a little bit on what to expect from the Bride of Frankenstein, click below.

Geeks of Doom: The Mummy has the perfect combination of A-listers and new up and comers. Tom Cruise takes the lead as the protagonist, while Sofia Boutella, who is a relative newcomer, plays the lead antagonist. Can you talk about what you look for in finding the perfect cast for a film?

Alex Kurtzman: There’s nothing more exciting than discovering somebody and giving them a part in a monster film into the public eye. I think we are by no means limited to anything. We all want great acting. From both the stars that I love and people who they’ve never seen before.

Geeks of Doom: Since this is the Dark Universe, there are obviously going to be Easter eggs that hint to the future of the franchise. Can you talk about finding the right place to put these Easter eggs and how much you put into one film?

Alex Kurtzman: The thing about Easter eggs is you have to do them in a way that feels organic to the story, you know? Just throwing them into the story will have a negative effect. The thing that I learned on Star Trek is everyone is expecting to be searching for them. So we were kind of looking for where is the moment where we will deliver the last one or where is the moment where it will be unexpected and a super satisfying. In the case of this film, the Easter eggs are tied into the subjective experience. We don’t really start with Easter eggs until Tom enters Prodigium, and sudden has his eyes look into the larger world. It was an appropriate thing to have in the story to understand why we would have it there. The key for me is that you never want any of those things for the larger Dark Universe to overwhelm your experience of having a satisfying mummy. First and foremost, you have to go in there and enjoy The Mummy. And in the context of that, we can open the door of the Dark Universe and close one chapter at the end of the film but open another, great, that’s great. That’s the way I want to do it. But I don’t like it when half the stuff is shown to me before I had a chance to process my feelings about the world or the story itself.

Geeks of Doom: Can we expect Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll to be the one to usher us into the next chapter?

Alex Kurtzman: Absolutely. When I started developing the script for The Mummy, Henry was not in the story, and neither was Prodigium. In looking for ways to tell a Mummy story in a new way, we came to the idea of “what if The Mummy was set in a world of gods and monsters, and she is perhaps the first, but certainly not the last.” That was the idea for Prodigium and that was the idea you begin his own experience and his experience with the mummy he realizes that there is a much larger world out there. There was a lot of debate whether to put Henry in this film. You’ll always look for story reasons to put it. So if I were to describe it for you, Henry’s story is about a man who has good and evil inside of him, who also wants those two things, who will have to make a decision about who he is. And now, you’re seeing Tom’s character and experiencing what he’s going through.

So I was able to articulate that Henry has been where Nick is going, and I suddenly had a story reason for him to be in there. So it got me excited. What’s cool is that now the audience has a little taste for Prodigium and what Henry is doing, we can also open the door. Keep in mind that you have a guy running an organization, who lives in a gray area and is becoming a monster at any time. It makes him somewhat of an unpredictable guy.

Geeks of Doom: This film has that monster feel but also feels very action-driven, will future films like Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man have their own subgenres?

Alex Kurtzman: I think the goal is to have a unified tone that allows you to know it is a recognizable Dark Universe movie. That being said, while delivering large-scale entertainment, what I love about the prospect of a Dark Universe is I want every director to come in and put their own stamp on their film.

Bill Condon is obviously doing Bride of Frankenstein and we have an awesome script from David Koepp and in many ways is different from The Mummy and in certain ways similar to The Mummy. I love that. I think I get most excited when there is a sense of consistency of tone to the films but the directors put their own stamp on that. That’s the way the universe works best for me. Obviously, we’ve only done one, but we want to empower Bill to make the movie he wants to make. You will see threads that The Mummy has set in motion. There will be a bunch of new stories for Bride, and that’s what’s cool to me about it.

Geeks of Doom: Can you tell us what resonates monsters with audiences?

Alex Kurtzman: I think they’re so enduring. I think that they reflect aspects of us that we all have inside of them. They are always human stories. They are always human character stories. You can pick any monster and look at their backstory and it would be something we can relate to whether it be a love story or a desire to connect to the world, and I think we’ve all felt at the core that there are moments in life where we don’t fit in. The beauty of the monsters is you fear them or for them. As long as you can sympathize those characters and creatures for their desire to connect to the world, a world that often rejects them. A world of chaos that’s in the story, not because they want to, but they know no other way. Every culture in the world has their monster, their own individual monsters, and it connects to the Universal monsters. So you take that aspect of it and what they have endured and add to it the public consciousness. The Bride of Frankenstein, and her hair, and Frankenstein with the bolts in his neck, the flattop head, and the green skin. Dracula with his fangs and dark cloak. The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Those are looks that are so iconic and branded into our minds that I think we need to protect them. We need to let them find new light and then start designing the dark universe that these monsters inhabit.

We have incredible artists who do character design, so we thought let’s go really far, let’s play around, let’s change things and change that. But what became immediately clear was that we were betraying the souls of these monsters. These looks are the looks people remember. If we are going to make changes, they have to be for story reasons, but we cannot do that. We absolutely cannot do that. I want to remember what I loved these movies when I was a kid. I want my son to love them for his own reasons. I want to honor the tradition of these films, and I think that’s why they’ve endured.

Geeks of Doom: Since the Dark Universe is a shared universe, will these films lead up to an ensemble feature?

Alex Kurtzman: People forget that the Universal Monsters were the first shared universe. Frankenstein meets Wolfman. They’ve made a bunch of Frankenstein films. They’ve made a bunch of Wolfman films. The audience has time to fall in love with these characters. To me, that’s the key. You’ve got to deliver the audience self-sustaining movies that are individual stories about those monsters. You’ve got to let them know about the monsters and come up with organic reasons to bring them together as we did with Henry Jekyll in The Mummy. Once story reasons and unifying character present itself, you’ve got to give the audience time. If we can get to a point where we’ve used these monsters films and audiences fall in love with each character then we will follow in the tradition of the original Monsters universe. But we’ve got to do it in a way that feels through and thought-through and driven only by story. I tend not to like universes were a bunch of stuff is thrown at me that I haven’t had time to fall in love with the characters. We will get there.

The Mummy opens in theaters on June 9, 2017. Click right here to find more on the movie including trailers.

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