Alfred Gough is one of today’s most successful screenwriters and producers with such films as “Showtime,” “Shanghai Noon,” “Shanghai Knights” “Spider Man 2” and “Lethal Weapon 4” to his credit. Some of his television shows include the highly successful “Smallville,” “Martial Law” and the pilot episode of “Aquaman.”
His next big screen film is “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” set to premiere on August 1, 2008 starring Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Luke Ford and Jet Li. Gough is currently working as the producer for “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”
Our reporter, Linda Craddock, caught up with Al while he was in Nashville working on the Hannah Montana set to talk with him about the upcoming Mummy flick and his other projects.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Hello, this is Linda Craddock and I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with Alfred Gough, writer of the upcoming release, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” Al welcome to Slice of SciFi.
Alfred Gough (AG): Well, thank you.
SoSF: So, this is your first Mummy film project.
AG: Yes, my writing partner, Miles Millar and I met with Steve Sommers, who wrote the first two films and Bob Ducsay his producer, about four years ago. They were talking about doing a third Mummy film, [but] Steve had other projects he was pursuing so it wasn’t something he was interested in writing. We sat down with them and had initially passed on the project several times before coming on board. But, we loved the idea that we were going to take the world in that film and expand it out of Egypt into China; that the first emperor and his terra cotta warriors makes him a great and perfect Mummy villain. Actually, bringing a terra cotta army to life was something we had tried to do for another film project, so we loved that idea.
Once we cracked kind of the family story, the idea that the son, who you saw in the second film where he was ten, was now grown up but he didn’t really have a relationship with Rick and Evie. It was post war, they thought he was away at college and they have sort of retired from the archaeology and the espionage game, which is what they were doing during the war. This is a film really about this family coming back together.
SoSF: Tell us a little about the location where the film was shot.
AG: Well, the film was shot — first let me say it takes place in China circa 1946; post war China which was a crazy time to be in China. It was before Mao came in and there were a lot of factions vying for power. We shot the big exteriors in Northwest China and that’s what you’ll see in the third act, the finale scene with the terra cotta army vs. this army of the undead, with sections of the Great Wall. Other shots were filmed in and around Shanghi. It’s quite an impressive production.
The interior sets were actually shot in Montreal.
SoSF: So, were you involved with the casting process, and if so, how did you approach with getting what you wanted to see for the project reflected with your actors on the screen?
AG: Rob Cohen, the director, when he came on board, which was in January 2007, was very collaborative. It’s probably the best sort of writer to director relationship that Miles and I have had on a film as screenwriters; and we were the only writers on this project before Rob came on and he kept us on through the entire process and wanted our opinion on things like casting and what not.
When they would screen test, especially for the role of the son, finding Luke Ford, who plays Alex O’Connell in the movie, finding that guy was very tough. We had a worldwide search. We looked at guys in England, obviously America and we found Luke in Australia. Rob invited us to the screen test and wanted our opinion on that, so yes, it was a very collaborative process all the way through, which is really nice.
SoSF: What were some of the challenges the director faced with creating the chemistry between Rick and Evelyn, now played by actress Maria Bello?
AG: Well, here is the good news — Brendan Fraser has chemistry with just about every one. S0, and by-the-way, we also screen tested all the new Evelyn candidates once we knew Rachel [Weisz] wasn’t going to do the movie because she had just had her baby, had other commitments, we had to start that search which was obviously very daunting.
Maria came in and just hit it out of the park and when we screened here with Brendan they clearly clicked.
Some of this stuff you see on film and you know it works. So, we are very happy and excited to have her in the movie and she does a great job.
SoSF: When you talk about the son, Luke’s character, when you were writing this sequel, were you writing the dialogue and setting the stage for scenes between these characters based on the previous cast by in-large?
AG: Do you mean in terms of the son?
SoSF: In terms of Rick’s character prior to knowing that Rachel wouldn’t be available. Did you target the old cast specifically?
AG: Oh, of course. When you’re writing a sequel and you know that for a certain amount of the film’s characters you’re writing for existing actors. Absolutely. That’s one of the benefits of writing for a sequel is you have those characters and they’re set-up and you don’t have to spend a lot of time (laughter) filling-in back story, set-up and things like that.
SoSF: Tell us what you think will stand out in this installment of the franchise vs. the previous two movies from the stand point of special effects, the creatures, the undead – if you will.
AG: The Mummy franchise is actually a much-beloved franchise and that’s something, as we climbed into this project, Miles and I were obviously fans of the earlier films, particularly the first movie. I think at the time with Brendan and the mix of comedy, horror and adventure was really good and hats off to Steven Sommers for sort of setting the table for this franchise. Then he raised the bar with the second movie in terms of the action and visual effects, so coming into the third picture, and again, it’s been seven years since the last one, we knew we needed to honor the characters that the audience loved, but also take it to the next level, and not go back to Egypt and not tread on Imhotep for a third time because that story had truly been told.
With the first Emperor of China what you have is a fantastic villain and in real life this guy was a real leader in terms of what he accomplished but a really ruthless dictator. He built the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Army was found in his tomb made of actual terra cotta, not cursed souls as they are (laughter) in our movie. And, the thing we found out doing research is that he was obsessed with immortality and was looking for mastery over the five elements. So, there are certain things that we took from actual Chinese history and then incorporated them into the film.
What the film has is an amazing setting in China and you see all sides of it. Shanghi in the 40’s, the Himalayas, vistas of the Chinese desert and the Great Wall. I think you get a wonderful picture of that world.
In terms of creatures, if you’ve seen the trailer, there’s the Yeti, which is a part of Chinese mythology in the Himalayas. Also, this Mummy is able to shape-shift into different creatures once he becomes fully mortal. You have 3-headed dragons, Nihans (dragon dogs), so you do have a lot of creatures which adds to the fun, scope and adventure of the whole piece.
SoSF: What was it like working with Jet Li?
AG: (laughter) You know this is interesting. Our first film together was ‘Lethal Weapon 4,’ which was ten years ago.
When we turned in the script the studio said they really wanted to get Jet Li which we thought was a fantastic idea because the film is called ‘The Mummy’ and this would be the first time you’d have a movie STAR as The Mummy.
Jet is such a powerful presence, which when you’re playing a character like, The Mummy you need to be, cause there’s a lot of times when you’re not talking, you’re just present on screen and that presence is setting the stage and tone in telling the story. Jet is fantastic and you couldn’t have asked for a better actor to play Emperor Han and The Mummy.
SoSF: You wrote ‘Lethal Weapon 4’ correct?
AG: Yes, we had credit on that film. There were other writers, but yes, we did.
SoSF: Who approached you about writing for that franchise?
AG: That one we were actually doing some HBO films for Joel Silver and Richard Donner. They approached us at that time, oh late 1997, and said that they were going to do a fourth Lethal Weapon film and they had signed Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Rene Russo and wanted to start shooting in January 1998 for a summer release in 98. So it was an insanely fast project. It was like less than a year from when we got the job to when the film came out.
That was fun working with Joel and Dick. It’s always a blast and we really appreciated that opportunity because that’s really the first real big film we worked on.
SoSF: You are co-creator, writer and executive producer of ‘Smallville’. — Seven seasons.
AG: Seven seasons, yeah!
SoSF: Where did the idea for this series originate?
AG: We were approached in 2000 by Peter Roth of Warner Bros. Television who had acquired the rights from the Warner Features division to do basically a young Superman. He approached us about it and said, ‘I have this and I’d like to do it’. It was always his dream to do this sort of project, but we didn’t want to do Superboy, that wasn’t interesting to us.
We didn’t want to do him in the suit. We didn’t want him flying. Out pitch was puberty with super powers, and the idea of how do we really ground this character in a reality and bring a character the whole world knows a truly legitimate back story. That is where and how it all started.
SoSF: What do you think some of the factors are that have contributed to the success of this series?
AG: There’s a lot of things. With a television series there’s a certain amount of luck, timing, the fact that the concept at the time was very fresh and we approached it in a way people hadn’t seen before. We were really on that early wave of translating comic books to film and television. X-Men had just come out the summer of 2000 and Smallville premiered in the fall of 2001 and Spider Man was May 2002.
I remember in the early days of Smallville we would actually pull the X-Men movie and say ‘guys it’s going to be like this’ in terms of the several things we brought to the Superman mythology, one of which was the meteor shower which brought Clark to Earth because we wanted a violent entrance for him — where it killed Lana’s parents, caused Lex Luthor to be bald. Also the idea of there’s Kryptonite, because you’re in a small town, you have to figure out who is Clark going to battle each week? So, Kryptonite gave normal people super powers.
Of course, the network people couldn’t understand how those normal people could have super powers so we’d use X-Men as a reference point so they could understand that (laughter). That way he wasn’t fighting monsters, he was fighting other teenagers. In the early days the idea was ‘the power begat the sin’. For example — if you had a user boy who would sleep with girls and toss them aside, he had a power where he needed heat so he’d basically steal people’s body heat and throw them aside. We always look for a metaphor in the power. Certainly that was very true in the early seasons of the series.
That’s sort of the evolution. Also what is interesting is we premiered a month after 9/11 and at the time all the stories prior to the show’s release were ‘why do we need Superman?’ or ‘What is this?’ Then afterward it was America needs a hero. So there’s a lot of bizarre circumstances involved. I think any time a show hits, or you happen to become a cultural icon, there’s a certain amount that’s just dumb luck.
SoSF: Any teasers for your new projects? I know you’re working on “Hannah Montana” and “Family Bond.”
AG: Yes. We’re currently producing “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” I’m actually talking to you from Nashville. The film will be out in May of next year. It’s going extremely well. I think people will be pleasantly surprised by Miley Cyrus on screen as a gifted actress. I think this film will be the first in a long career for her. Peter Chelsom, who directed ‘Funny Bones,’ ‘Serendipity’ and ‘Shall We Dance’ is directing. It’s been a blast, Nashville is a wonderful town, the people have been terrific and they don’t really have films that shoot here that often. So, it’s not like you’re in Vancouver where everyone’s been to the party numerous times (laughter). They’re very excited to have a film here and couldn’t have been more accommodating. The locations are beautiful, which is nice because it will be a place that the audience hasn’t seen a lot of on film before.
SoSF: Perfect! Correct me if I’m wrong, but you had two other projects in development, ‘Jungle Cruise’ and ‘Wake-up Call’.
AG: ‘Jungle Cruise,’ yes we are, once we get back from Nashville, we’re going to launch a rewrite of that and Disney is very excited about it and wants it be be a big action-adventure franchise for them in the vein of National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean. So that’s exciting.
‘Wake-up Call’ is a project we have over at Fox written by a young writer named Justin Ware which I would describe as a cross between Groundhog Day and Wedding Crashers. It’s the story of a guy whi is a hot-shot magazine editor for a Maxim-type magazine who has a girl who wants to be more than a friend. He tells her that he’d rather wake up with a different woman every day rather than the same woman for the rest of his life. Lo and behold he gets hit with a curse and he starts waking up with different women but he doesn’t remember sleeping with them.
AG: So, (laughter) he must face all the consequences and none of the fun. That’s going very well and Fox is excited about the script.
SoSF: That sounds wonderful.
AG: Yeah! And ‘Family Bond,’ which we just set up over at Universal with Marc Platt who produced Legally Blond and who produced ‘Wicked’ on Broadway, called us and said ‘we’d love to produce this with you guys’. It’s written by a talented writer named Jeff Lowell, who wrote John Tucker Must Die and an upcoming film for DreamWorks called Hotel For Dogs. Before that he had a long and storied career in television.
Universal’s very excited and would like to get into production with it next year. So things are busy, which is nice.
SoSF: That’s always great. Yes. (laughter)
Al thank you for taking the time for this interview. I’m grateful, I know you’re very busy.
AG: No problem. It was my pleasure.