Interview made by Anwar Brett, May 2001, SX-Magazine
South African Arnold Vosloo Returns to the popcorn blockbuster with a reprise of his role as Imhotep in "The Mummy Returns", by Anwar Brett.
Like it or not, Hollywood remains the centre of the filmmaking universe. Ambitious actors from every corner of the world are drawn there, either in the hope of finding fame, fortune or both. For some, it is simply for the chance to star in the kind of films that first whetted their appetite for the cinema many years before. This was certainly the case for Arnold Vosloo, on screen the malevolent high priest Imhotep in "The Mummy Returns", off screen a lanky, muscular but (thankfully) cheerful South African-born actor.
"My parents were both actors in South Africa," he explains, "but there was no money in it then. There was no television for most of my childhood, so they would do some theatre and then take jobs in between to live. At one point they ran a drive-in theatre in a place called Uitenhage, just outside Port Elizabeth. I can remember sitting in the projection booth watching these movies every night.
"My dad tells the story that when I was really little, five or six, I asked where they made these films. He told me it was in America and I said he had to send me there because I wanted to run around and do those things I could see the actors doing up there. I would watch them and try to re-enact them the next day, using a stick for a sword, as all kids do. And here I am now, in "The Mummy", playing with the biggest stick of all---ILM."
Thansk to the computer boffins at George Lucas groundbreaking Industrial Light and Magic special effects house, there are some bizarre sights to behold in "The Mummy Returns". There's the living, breathing skeleton of Imhotep stomping through 1933 London looking mighty miffed with his lot and wreaking all kinds of havoc among followers and foe alike.
Then there are the hordes of lethal dog soldiers summoned to fight the forces of good and the huge and deadly Scorpion King, played by WWF star, The Rock, with whom Imhotep does battle in the film's climax.
Brendan Fraser, all floppy hair, dimples and wisecracking charm, may be the ostensible hero of the piece as American adventurer Rick O'Connell--with lovely Rachel Weisz kicking baddie butt by his side--but it is Vosloo who catches the eye with every scene he is in. He was having fun in this adventure sequel to the surprise hit of 1999, and it shows.
"I really like the movie," he grins, "it's fun. Everybody knows it's a big popcorn movie and is not to be taken too seriously. It's funny going from that straight theatre stuff to something like this. It's a totally different world. My sister asked me about that recently, and I said that, at the end of the day, it's old fashioned acting, you've got to make believe whether it's Shakespeare or the Scorpion King in front of you. You've got to pretend your're there and your're scared or happy or angry, or whatever it is we do when we act."
As one of a surprisingley large, often unsuspected group of South African expats working in movies--including the likes of Anthony Sher, Charlize Theron and Embeth Davidtz--Vosloo retains a great deal of affection and much curiosity for his home. Living in Los Angeles now, he visits his family about once a year and is nurturing an ambition to work there again one day.
"There are so many great stories that should be told on film," he says, "but it hasn't happened yet. Hopefully something will go down. I hope to go to Cape Town soon and be working on a project there, on a German film I might be doing. That'll be good, because it will be the first time in 12 years that I'll have been back for an extended period of time. I'll be able to see what's happened, how things have changed, what's better and what's worse, so it'll be interesting."
Perhaps one of the problems for the working South African actors out there is that they seem to assimilate so easily into whatever culture they are in. Anthony Sher appears every inch your typical English theatre actor, while actresses Theron and Dvidtz have adapted as easily to American roles in Hollywood films. Vosloo has played the odd Afrikaaner villain--notably in "Hard Target"--but his best known role, ironically, has him speaking in cod, occasionally ad libbed Ancient Egyptian. But he is immensely proud of and grateful for his roots.
"I just regard myself as so lucky, and I'm really grateful for all the opportunities I've had," he says. "Being able to take it this far, it's been an amazing ride. But that's the thing, we do assimilate. There's just no market for South Africans I suppose, or it's just too small. For instance last year I read JM Coetzee's new novel, "Disgrace", and I remember reading that and wishing I was older, because there's this genius South African part in there and I want to play it so bad. It's a great book, and it certainly should be made into a film. Unfortunately I'm too young for the part. But there are definitely other stories out there, especially in these post-apartheid years.
"I have cousins back home who, when I talk to them about living and working in America, and the fact that--as you say--I've crossed over and assimilated into the culture, they can't comprehend that. They're Africans and they regard themselves as African, they want nothing to do with the rest of the world and they don't want to be anywhere else. They want to be there, come hell or high water. It's interesting, but hopefully someday, somewhere, it would be a dream to have all this work out somehow and go back and do something authentic, where you can really use yourself and play something close to your own skin."
Crossing over is one thing, earning a living in a foreign land, paying their taxes, talking their talk and even following a version of the American Dream. Some fundamental qualities never change though, and come next rugby world cup there is no doubt who Arnold Vosloo will be cheering for.
"If South Africa played the United States?," he asks, eyebrows raised. "Of course, I hope the Springboks wipe the floor with them."
Interview made by Abbie Bernstein, July 2001, Dreamwatch-Magazine
In the universe of "The Mummy", time is relative. On screen, nine years have passed since the original, when in reality, it's only been two years between the release of the 1999 box office hit and its sequel. According to Arnold Vosloo, who plays the undead title character Imhotep in both films, it felt even shorter when he showed up on the set: "There was Brendan (Fraser) in his white shirt and there was Rachel (Weisz) with the long hair and big eyes. Two years had passed, but it felt like we'd never stopped."
The prospect of a sequel solidified as soon as "The Mummy" opened, Vosloo says. "Especially after that insane opening box office weekend, I pretty much knew they were going to do a second one. I heard that Rachel and I were contractually obliged to do a second one."
No legal compulsion was needed: "Steve (Sommers) said that he was difinitely going to write and direct it. I said, 'Fine'. He's really the guy who drives this whole movie. It all comes own to Steve."
The new film lives up to Vosloo's hopes. "(Sommers) is such a Mummy freak," the actor laughs, "you just have to put him in a room with a typewriter and he'll come up with something insane. I think it worked out perfectly, how (Sommers) integrated all the different stories with the characters and how he tied (them) into the ancient Egyptian thing."
Vosloo likes playing the villain. "It's always more fun to play the bad guy. If you look at movies, the heroes always stand there and listen. Everybody around them talks, "oh, there's a fire down the street, go put it out!' They cut to the hero and he nods and then you cut to the hero running. The bad guys get to do all the really cool stuff--especially this bad guy. What's been really great is that Steve has allowed me to play the guy in such a way that you don't feel sorry for him, bu you understand that he does what he does because of amore."
The romantic scenes with Patricia Velasquez as the Mummy's eternal love were a high point of the sequel, Vosloo relates, although he admits to some social discomfort. A shot in which the lady kisses the rotting Imhotep, who would be added in via CGI (Vosloo takes over when the Mummy regains human form), required Vosloo's participation. "Steve said, 'You must kiss her, so we know where her head is (in rlation to the CGI Mummy),' So then I was kissing Patricia for the first time. And Steve goes, 'Move the camera--all right, we're going to have to do that three or four more times.' 'Oh, no, don't do this to me--I just got married!' "
One of Vosloo's least favourite things on "The Mummy Returns" was a gruelling battle with Brendan Fraser's hero. "I'd rehearsed the fight with the stunt guys and I think (the rehearsal weapon) was a fairly lighweight stick, so they had me do all these cheerleader things with an axe above my head. Then we get on set and they hand me the real weapon that can take a blow when Brendan hits back. I swear to God, this thing must have weighed 50 pounds. It was way heavier than the other one. So whereas before, I would pick it up and do (the moves) really fast, suddenly it was like molasses. 'Whoa, this thing is heavy!' After two or three days of that, I just felt like my arms were coming out of their sockets.
"Brendan is a big guy, he outweighs me by at least 40 pounds and he's really strong. Because of my wardrobe, which is nonexistent, I can't wear pads. There's no elbow or knee pads or back pads or rib pads, so I was battered and bruised."
Vosloo has enjoyed watching "The Mummy Returns" with an audience. "You think, 'Ah, we were in Morocco and it was 110 degrees,' or 'I had to starve myself to get my ass in that G-string loincloth.' And then you see the movie and you hear the people have a good time. It's really great to be a part of it."