Annabelle Wallis didn’t just audition for her part in The Mummy — she demanded it. She walked into the room, approached one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and said, in her own words, “Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you. Love your career. I’m right for this part.”
And she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. After all, anything Tom Cruise could do, she could do too. It’s that level of confidence that made her the perfect onscreen counterpart to Cruise’s jaunty playboy Nick Morton. “I seem to do projects that are me and a bunch of guys — alpha males — and they needed someone who could stand their ground,” Wallis remarked.
MTV News chatted with Wallis about working with Cruise, filming in zero gravity, how she influenced her character’s “cheeky” personality, and not wanting to be known as the actress who threw up on Tom Cruise.
MTV News: You have a great back-and-forth dynamic with Tom Cruise in this movie. Was that on the page, or was it your natural rapport?
Annabelle Wallis: Our natural rapport inspired the humorous elements. Tom and I naturally got on like that, and we created that kind of dynamic, and then they wrote it into the script. In a lot of the classic adventure films, like Romancing the Stone and even Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek to it all. We wanted to make sure you still were watching a big adventure film that paid homage to the greats.
Was there one turn of phrase, or something specifically that they wrote into the script?
Wallis: All of it! You know where I’m in the ambulance, and I’m kicking at him, and he was like, “That’s my face!” — that’s because I was literally kicking him in the face all the time by mistake. There were just so many. Whenever I was slightly annoyed with Tom, I’d go “To-om.” And they’d always want me to go, “Ni-ick!”
How much did your character, Jenny, change from the original script? This script in particular sounds like it changed quite a bit.
Wallis: It was clear that they wanted someone who could stand up to Nick, that character, and they wanted this well-rounded female. I also love playing females that are put into these pressure-cooker situations, but they’re real. I didn’t want her to be this kind of Lara Croft superwoman, because she’s a real woman. She’s intelligent, she’s dynamic — she’s kind of cheeky, she’s funny, she’s sexual. She’s a rogue in her own life, and I really like that element of making her like the women that I know and not trying to play this hero.
For any actor working opposite Tom Cruise it’s really a rite of passage to get to do all the stunts. But in reading about you, it sounds like you were really game from the start.
Wallis: I’m a tomboy. I ride motorcycles, I play polo. I was on a paintball team when I was younger. Endlessly.
And paintball is painful.
Wallis: It is painful! So I knew a wanted to segue at some point, if I was lucky, into action. Then it was with Tom Cruise, my first foray — I was like, “Oh, shit. I’ve got a lot to live up to here.” And I was game. I was like, “You know what? Whatever he can do, I can do. I’m gonna just go full-throttle.” So a lot of the sequences that were in the film were added on. The zero-g was added, the running scene, the underwater sequences. All added, because once they saw that I was physically capable and strong with Tom in that space, they were like — to my detriment — adding away.
Obviously there’s a lot to be said about that zero-g sequence, but the most incredible thing about it is that there were 64 takes. In my mind, I’m like, why the hell would you need 64 takes?
Wallis: You only have 30 seconds of weightlessness. Your plane goes to 20,000 feet, they pull the nose up, you go straight up to 40,000, and you launch forward to get back down. You basically do that, like, 64 times. The feeling of gravity on your body and then off your body is so traumatic. But incredible. We were just like, “Let’s do this, let’s have an adventure — let’s make something beautiful onscreen.” No wires. Let’s not cheat the audience.
But what does happen is you get sick. Tom and I were not sick, but the crew was very sick. It affects everybody, if you get motion sickness. So we were doing the tumbling, and we would catch glimpses of our crew being like [vomit noises].
Lucky for you.
Wallis: You just go in not knowing if your body can handle it or not. They were like, “You might get really bad motion sickness and have the worst time ever, or you’ll be fine.” I just didn’t want to be the actress that vomited on Tom Cruise. The vanity got me through.
I think the underwater sequence would have freaked me out more.
Wallis: It wasn’t fun. That was hard because you’re dealing with an element that you can’t control. For me, I was on a wire being pulled down, and there was a team of scuba divers at the bottom that would just bring me air. But to trust other people to keep you safe, it’s very difficult … But when Tom Cruise is there, you just expect that he’ll save you. I was like, “Tom. You’re Tom Cruise. It’s your job to save the day. And the day is me. You need to save it. If I panic, I expect you to be down there.”
He can hold his breath for six minutes, so, I think he can do it.
Wallis: He did. And he’s amazing. You can’t help but feel safe around him.
How long could you hold your breath?
Wallis: Oh god, I don’t even know. I kept going, “I don’t want to hold my breath! No!” I’m so confident in the water, so I was swimming around, and they were like, “Let’s make the sequence even harder.” From that point on I was like, “I am not going to show you how long I can hold my breath because I will not be testing myself like that. I want to live, thank you.”
The Mummy is kicking off Universal’s Dark Universe, and we learn that your character plays an interesting part in all of this. Have there been talks to do more?
Wallis: It’s left very open with that. She’s this person that, you wonder why she works for them, where does she come from, who is she, what has become of her on this journey that they’ve gone through? I’d like to think that the people have to be the judge. If they want her back, I’d like to think that she will come back. Wait and see.
Is that appealing to you as an actor? To be part of a franchise?
Wallis: If it’s something like this, that’s steeped in real passion and drive and the desire to make something great, then yes. I think all of us — everybody involved — just wanted it to be different, and to be honored the right way, and for it not to be lazy. Yes, of course. And it’s always nice to know that there might be something coming on. Actors, we never have secure anything. It’s a nice feeling, that you’re part of something that could potentially…
Job security is nice.
Wallis: Yes, job security is a nice feeling! We don’t often feel it.
I also feel like the state we’re in in Hollywood is like, you really have two lanes. You have these blockbuster franchises, and these smaller $10 million films.
Wallis: That’s where we’re at. All I ever hoped for was freedom of choice and to not have to just do work because I needed to pay the bills. If you can, weave your way into a studio in a situation where it’s supportive of the other work you wanna do. Also, there is caliber and weight in studio films, and I think the ideal is to get that balance right: Do a studio film, go away and do something that is smaller. I’m producing at the moment — not even things that I want to be a part of. If I’m able to work and make some money, then I’m going to use it to fulfill other passions.