'The Mummy' Director on Dark Universe Plans and Most Surreal Moment on Set

Alex Kurtzman compares shooting a pivotal scene with Russell Crowe and Tom Cruise to his days as a production assistant on Michael Mann's 'Heat.'
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The Mummy is not only raising the dead, it's giving rise to a new shared universe.

The film from director Alex Kurtzman is launching Dark Universe, based on Universal's monsters. Universal has a number of films in the works, with Bride of Frankenstein up next in 2019. Stars attached to the universe include Tom Cruise (The Mummy's Nick Morton), Johnny Depp (The Invisible Man), Javier Bardem (Frankenstein’s Monster), and Russell Crowe, whose Dr. Jekyll is introduced in The Mummy and will be a linchpin to the universe.

The film has struggled with critics and is poised to come in at No. 2 at the U.S. box office this weekend, but it is headed to a huge international debut. Universal is banking on that international appeal, as well as a slate of projects that could include a mix of big-budget, medium-range, and even lower-budget monster movies, to make Dark Universe a success.

Kurtzman, the writer behind the Transformers and rebooted Star Trek film series, is a key architect of the universe as a producer, and also worked on the story for The Mummy

In a conversation with Heat Vision, Kurtzman discusses the future of the Dark Universe and the surprising way his first job as a production assistant on Heat came full circle while directing the film.

Part of the appeal of this universe is the big stars you've attached, and in The Mummy in particular, seeing Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe fight is a draw. How'd you approach that scene?

They did all of their own stunts. There's no question about it. You are talking about two guys who are, for me, legends and some of the greatest actors out there. There was a tremendous amount of expectation when you put those guys onscreen you are going to get something special out of it. They are also good friends who have been looking for a reason to work together for 20 years, and I was fortunate that this was the reason. ... One of my early jobs was as a PA on Michael Mann's Heat. The feeling that we had, that permeated the set when [Robert] De Niro and [Al] Pacino were actually together was huge. Everything got quiet. It's like everyone went to church all of a sudden. We did a lot of scenes separately, but when they were together, it was this incredible, focused intensity that emerged on set. I felt very similarly with Russell and Tom together. Just to have those two guys together echoed my early experiences of PAing, which was super-weird and also wonderful, and I felt a tremendous responsibility to the potential of it. 

How much do you think the reception to The Mummy will affect  plans going forward? The studio is said to be considering a range of budgets for the Dark Universe, so there's potentially a lot of variety there for these monsters movies.

I think that variety is going to be our good friend when it comes to the evolution of Dark Universe. You obviously want to set a somewhat consistent tone, so that people know what to expect when you see these movies, but it would be ideal for each movie to have its own identity, which is largely going to be dependent on who is directing the films and who is starring in the films. I'm really excited to see what Bill Condon does with Bride of Frankenstein.

Where are you with Bride of Frankenstein?

We have a great script by David Koepp. In many ways it's different from Mummy and in some ways it's similar. This is a guy who did Gods and Monsters, which is one of my favorite films ever. He uniquely understands James Whale and what those monsters represent and Frankenstein's Bride. I want it to feel like a Bill Condon movie. As an audience member that's what I would want, and I would apply that to all of our films.

Do you aspire to direct another Dark Universe movie, or do you plan on writing and producing?

The honest answer is that I'm open to anything. I'm open to whatever feels right, and I'd like to see how the world reacts to The Mummy. And I've just been on the tour, I've traveled all around the world and I've heard it play in different countries, and one of the most satisfying thing for me is hearing audiences reactions. That's what you make the movie for. To hear the gasps, to hear the laughter, to hear the jump scares, to hear all of those things playing. That's the moment it all comes together, it's the moment you go, "It was all worth it — for this sound." I look forward to that. If there's a great opportunity again that comes up where I feel connected to the character, I'll happily dive in.

The spoiler-filled second part of our conversation with Kurtzman is coming Sunday. 

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