Universal Pictures’ “The Mummy” wasn’t always about a woman. Early drafts of the screenplay featured a male monster, as did the three installments of the previous franchise starring Brendan Fraser, but when “Rachel Getting Married” writer Jenny Lumet and director Alex Kurtzman teamed up to revise the script, they changed the character to a female without telling the studio.
Fortunately, Universal liked the idea, and the character remained intact through many more revisions and three more writers.
The first installment of Universal’s Dark Universe, “The Mummy” tells the story of an ancient princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who’s awakened from her crypt beneath the desert after being betrayed by her father, imprisoned and murdered 5,000 years earlier. Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson star as treasure hunters who stumble upon the ancient prison-tomb.
Needless to say, it wasn’t an obvious fit for Lumet. How did the writer of Jonathan Demme’s critically acclaimed 2008 drama “Rachel Getting Married” wind up co-writing a monster movie for Universal?
Lumet said Kurtzman was a fan of the script for “Rachel Getting Married” and approached her about collaborating as writers shortly after the film was released. The pair share a story credit on “The Mummy” with “Passengers” writer Jon Spaihts.
For Lumet, it was important that the female monster at the film’s center be driven by her human backstory rather than evil for the sake of evil. “As the daughter of a pharaoh, you pretty much get married off to some guy nations away, so for me she was very much fighting for her life and coming from this intense betrayal by family,” Lumet said. “She wasn’t doing it for a guy.”
The daughter of late filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the only female writer on the project, Lumet credits Universal for being open to her and Kurtzman’s fresh take on the character. “It’s really brave and supportive of them that they were willing to go there,” she said. “It opened up the story in a completely different way.”
Though writers Dylan Kussman, Christopher McQuarrin and David Koepp made significant changes to the screenplay after Lumet’s writing contract ended, she said her most significant contributions to the story wound up in the final film. “I was thrilled beyond measure that Ahmanet remained female, that her backstory that we designed for her remained in tact, and that she was not pining away for some lost love,” she said.
Lumet has been working steadily as a film and television screenwriter since writing “Rachel Getting Married,” but “The Mummy” is only her second produced project.
“Kind of tragically, for a woman screenwriter, you get produced every 10 years. That’s pretty much the average,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky in the sense that I’ve been employed since 2007, just not getting produced.” Lumet is currently working on writing a series with Kurtzman and is in negotiations on another series with a female director.
Early reviews of “The Mummy” have labeled it a misfire, and the film faces steep competition from “Wonder Woman” when it premieres this weekend. However, Lumet noted that 2017 does stand out for having two blockbuster films built around strong female characters. “This summer looks different already,” she said. “I think that’s awesome.”