Maria BELLO cuts such a memorable swath through such independent films as "A History of Violence" and "The Cooler" that it's surprising to find her in Universal's "The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor," which opens Friday. Surprising to anyone but her, that is.
Sitting down to lunch at a Beverly Hills restaurant, the blond, brown-eyed actress launches into an account of her lifelong love for adventure stories, almost as if she feels the need to prove that her intentions are honorable. "Since I was 7 years old, I was addicted to romance novels," she begins. "The young girl dressed like a man who sneaks aboard the pirate ship and is a sword fighter and shoots guns and fights, and the captain falls in love with her, I always wanted to be that." When "Raiders of the Lost Ark" came out, she told her father she wanted to be Indiana Jones. He was confused. She wanted to be the girl in the movie? No. She wanted to be in a movie?
No. She wanted to be Indy.
But as it turns out, she did want to be in a movie, she just didn't know it yet. Growing up in a blue-collar family in Philadelphia, Bello had no idea acting was an option. She was a pre-law major in college, when someone suggested she try an acting class. Bye-bye, poli-sci. "And my biggest motivation, I'm not kidding you, was to do an action movie," she says. As a struggling actress in New York she used to write affirmations: "One day, I intend to be in an action movie."
It didn't work out quite that way. Early on, she landed a recurring role on "ER," as Dr. Anna Del Amico. She was nominated for Golden Globes for her gritty cocktail waitress in "Cooler" and her loyal wife in "Violence," and she killed as an alcohol lobbyist in "Thank You for Smoking." Considered a dramatic actress, people would ask her what role she really wanted, "expecting I would say Medea," she says, laughing. The answer was still Indy.
That role was taken, however. And over the years she started to think her swashbuckling dreams were unattainable. Last year, about a month before her 40th birthday, she was driving in her car. "I was at Cloverfield and Olympic, I'll never forget it," she recalls. "I thought, 'Wow, I've got everything I've ever wanted; I've done these amazing roles with these incredible people; I've got this amazing son and friends and family and a personal life, the only thing I never got to do was my action movie. And I sort of let it go, I said that's OK, maybe that just wasn't supposed to be in my path."
Two weeks later, Rob Cohen called her for "Mummy."
This third installment of the series finds Bello playing an adventure novelist opposite archaeologist husband Brendan Fraser; they're a risk-loving couple who have settled into uneasy comfort on a British estate. Unbeknownst to them, their son has dropped out of college to go on a dangerous dig in China. Through a series of plot twists, the family unites and becomes embroiled in a series of wild exploits in the Far East. Mummies are involved.
After a life of fantasizing about such a part, Bello says playing it was a breeze. And the kid in her had a ball training with guns and swords and wirework. She estimates that she did about 90% of her stunts. "But I also had an amazing stunt double, Karine Lemieux, who made me look much cooler than I actually am," Bello notes. "She was the one jumping out of a moving truck, things I couldn't possibly do."
One stunt was all hers though: taking over a role that had been assayed by Rachel Weisz in the previous two "Mummy" outings. "I could never fill her shoes, she was so brilliant and beautiful, and an ingenue in those films," Bello says. "But I loved the fact that this was a 20-year-old marriage now," with the complications that family life brings.
"Mummy" was shot in Montreal and China and is loaded with outrageous computer-generated action sequences. Bello sees it as the beginning of a new franchise. "I love the other two 'Mummy' movies, but this film is on such a bigger scale, it's so gigantic; the special effects are incredible," she says, adding that at the same time, the comedy and action come from realistic relationships.
That sentiment could also describe her favorite memory of the shoot -- watching her son, Jack, play soccer with 15 stuntmen dressed like mummies in the middle of a Chinese desert. A close second was eating scorpions on a stick with her son and her father at a night market in Beijing. "My boy is so brave, he'll do anything," says the proud mother.
What she appreciates about the "Mummy" and "Indiana Jones" movies is seeing real people in extraordinary circumstances, rather than superheroes. "I consider myself a really bumbling, stumbling human being," she says. "Sometimes I do it right, sometimes I do it wrong, but I'm sort of going along and that's the sort of action hero I want to see."