The French-Algerian-born dancer-turned-actress is no stranger to raising hell. She did that for a few years as one of Madonna's backup dancers and later as a double-amputee assassin in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Her latest role in The Mummy requires her to do what most people wish they could: Kick Tom Cruise's ass and then some.
1. She was director Alex Kurtzman’s first and only choice to play The Mummy.
“There was nobody else for me,” Kurtzman tells us. “I had seen her in Kingsman — which I love — and what she did as a dancer in the Nike ads, so I knew she obviously had the physicality to play this part. But what I really responded to is how she carries her soul in the eyes. We know that no matter how much CG we put on her face or change her look, as long as you see her eyes, you’d connect to her emotionally. Even though her pupils are split in the movie, it’s still her eyes.”
2. She initially said no to playing The Mummy.
Having just played Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond — where she was buried in tons of alien make-up — Boutella wasn’t keen to do another prosthetics-heavy role. “But Alex said he wanted to meet with me,” recalls Boutella “He explained his vision and how he wanted to honour the original movie, which I also love.” What sold her was how he imbued her character with humanity. “I liked that Alex never wanted to ‘monster-sise” her. Even though she is technically a monster, it was important to find her psychology and understand why she did and what she did in that time to survive. You begin to feel for her.”
3. Yes, the Mummy make-up process was a pain in the arse.
“The longest session lasted six hours and the shortest, four. We did 24 screen-tests for the look, which was hard but essential for The Mummy to work, because these images will stay forever. We needed the best way to honour the original movie, by finding a balance between being scary and terrifying, and elegant and beautiful. At first it was hard, but at the end of the day, I could not have played the character if it wasn’t for the make-up. I needed to feel that way; I needed people to look at me in a certain way.”
4. She never forgot the lessons she learnt from her 12 years as a dancer, including a stint as Madonna’s backup dancer during the singer’s Confessions tour.
“Being a dancer is almost like being in the army. You have to be disciplined, focused, and it’s super competitive, but you understand that this competition is within yourself. Physically, everything I did onscreen so far, I treated it like a choreography. Also, when I work on characters, again, because I’m a dancer, even in everyday life, I pay attention to how people walk and how they move. Very little things tell a lot. My eyes are easily drawn towards what people do to their body — the way you stand, the way you walk tells a story within itself. You don’t need to open your mouth. So I pay attention to that.”
5. Working with Tom Cruise is like going to film school.
“The best part is to be with him on set every day. I felt like I was in school around him. I’m still very young to this profession and he was always there to answer all my questions. He taught me a lot about everything. The first time I was on set with him, he was figuring out the frame, and I watched the way he worked and how he communicated with the crew. He then came up with something, ‘Hey, guys, this is a comedic frame…’ And I was like, ‘What is a comedic frame?’ That’s when I realised how much I did not know, which made me utterly quiet.”
The Mummy (PG13) is now in cinemas. (Main photo: Kevin Lynch)