For the first time in its history, The Mummy will be played by a woman. Co-stars Sofia Boutella and Annabelle Wallis talk to Susan Griffin about breaking down stereotypes and working with Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise might headline the new action-horror movie The Mummy, but the superstar has said he's not the film's focus.

That honour falls to the two leading ladies, Annabelle Wallis, who portrays archaeologist Jenny, and Sofia Boutella, who plays the title character.

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It's the first time the iconic monster has been depicted by a woman and Boutella admits she did put pressure on herself.

"I thought Boris Karloff (the actor who appeared as the Mummy in the 1932 movie The Mummy) made that character iconic and the movie is iconic," said the Algerian dancer, 35, who has starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond.

"I was just super nervous but I worked super hard. I think that was the only thing that was going to get me through that."

Boutella plays ancient princess Ahmanet, whose destiny to become a pharaoh is snatched away when a brother is born.

Ridden with feelings of revenge, she makes a pact with Set, the god of death, before captors mummify her alive. Thousands of years later, she's awoken by Nick Morton (Cruise), a military man with a sideline in looting, and all hell breaks loose.

"Seeing her wrath and seeing what happens and how she feels is a good metaphor for how we all feel and for all these imbalances to have happened and existed for so long," remarked Boutella on the film's topicality. Wallis agrees.

"I think we're in an age when it's very exciting to be a woman in film and in all walks of life there are conversations being had that are very inspiring for a new generation," noted the 32-year-old who has appeared in Peaky Blinders and King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword.

"I think if you have an opportunity to honour women in the right way, like Universal has done in this film, then it's very smart.

"Audiences are thirsty for these female protagonists and also female anti-heroes that aren't black or white. They're flawed, they're complex, they're sexy, they're intelligent, they're equal to the man and it's very representative in this movie, in Ahmanet and Jenny. Nobody's falling into a stereotype you could say you've seen before. I just think we're forward-thinking in that sense."

It transpires Jenny and Nick enjoyed a brief encounter in Baghdad before he disappeared in the morning with secret information of hers.

No surprise things are a little frosty when they meet again in the desert but whether Jenny likes it or not, they're thrown together as Ahmanet's malevolence gains momentum.

The film's action sequences are full-on but given Cruise is a man who will hang off the side of a plane in the name of work, he's not interested in making compromises.

Fortunately Wallis needed no persuasion to get stuck in.

"He didn't have to push me. I was so excited to be in scenes with Tom Cruise and I was thinking how many times Id imagined that in my head and how impressive it would be when my brother saw the movie," she said, grinning.

"I was ready to go, I was so excited. And I really wanted to prove myself in that space. He was always better at everything than me but he was very kind to let me be in them with him."

Recounting her first meeting with the Top Gun star, she added: "I was so convinced of my desire to play this role and be part of this film that when I met him I was so gung-ho and strong.

"I think he looked at me and thought, 'Wow, this is a girl who has conviction and fire'. There were a lot of the elements of the way I went into meeting him that were like Jenny and then they wrote her very much like our first interaction and natural dynamic.

"But yes, you just can't help but look at him and have all the classic Tom lines coming through and just thinking of all the films you've watched. It's quite something when you meet him."

Boutella, who was actually cast before Cruise, enjoyed some memorable sequences with the actor too.

"He's so funny, we laughed so much," she said, recalling the scene in which she tickles the superstar as Ahmanet prepares to sacrifice Nick.

"I was checking him, basically that he's a healthy body, and then I had to lift his shirt. As a joke between takes I just grabbed him, because he couldn't move, and I started to tickle Tom and he was laughing and I wouldn't stop and he said, 'Do that, do that!'. And that's how it ended up in the movie, it's hilarious."

Laughter is an enduring memory of the shoot, which took place in the UK and Namibia, but it was far from easy.

"I was not allowed to complain when I danced, it's not something dancers do often," commented Boutella, who will next appear in Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron and Hotel Artemis with Jodie Foster.

"So that helped me go through what I needed to go through because to make this was pretty intense. It was six hours for the longest make-up [session] and four hours for the shortest."

Her dance background also helped her encapsulate the Mummy's body language.

"I wanted to capture her strength and power through her physicality because even if she never became pharaoh, she carries herself as one."

The Mummy marks the beginning of a new franchise beneath the Dark Universe banner, which will include an array of characters, including The Invisible Man and The Wolfman, and Wallis believes they're off to a strong start.

"I think the tone is perfect," offered the actress.

"It's a classic monster story so, yes, it does have to be steeped in a darkness, but the action sequences and the pace of it add this thrill that make you jump out of your seat. It's very awe-inspiring."

  • The Mummy opens in cinemas on Friday June 9