by Ed Symkus

Things have certainly changed for Rick O'Connell, the swashbuckling hero played by Brendan Fraser in The Mummy. In The Mummy Returns, the sequel to that 1999 hit, the O'Connell character has kind of settled down; he's left the wild legionnaire life, married Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), the woman he met in the first adventure, and moved to London where they're raising a son.

But blissful family life is not what's in store for long. Soon it's back to the desert, fighting for his life, his son's life and pretty much the world. The ancient mummy is back, as is a new, more powerful villain called the Scorpion King (played by Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock). Life for O'Connell is once again in turmoil.

And Fraser, usually quite shy during the interview process, a man whose eyes rarely look up to meet those of anyone throwing questions his way, is quite excited about the whole thing. Despite the fact that his recent film Monkeybone deservedly slipped through the cracks and vanished, he's chuckling, even laughing energetically, about working on The Mummy Returns.

"This one will be better than The Mummy," he says. "Because I think they figured out what made the film what it was the first time around -- exciting and adventurous and hooray hooray. They were able to take that idea and make another film like that."

Yet this time the folks in the special effects department have pulled out more stops than Fraser knew they had. One of the film's big climactic scenes involves a furious fight between him and the Rock's malevolent Scorpion King.

"He's half-scorpion, half-man," says Fraser. "A World Wrestling Federation throw-down man with pincers. And I did a big fight with him. But I've yet to meet him."

Fraser is told that last statement doesn't make much sense.

"Oh, they scanned him in," he says, turning slightly sheepish. "We started the movie in Morocco, and he was there for about two weeks before I arrived and then he split. So I was like throwing myself around in empty space, imagining that Dwayne Johnson was gonna clobber me."

But these circumstances, which certainly sound difficult, didn't seem to even faze Fraser.

"I feel like I'm in my element when I'm asked to work with 'invisible forces' in a film because that's what I was asked to do when I went into training as an actor anyway," he says. "You have to use your imagination. So it's kind of like a fusion of organic-artistic with high-tech and computer-driven images. We were working with John Berton, who does all the stuff for ILM. And more and more, those guys rely on the performers to inform them about what they do. So it's like a partnership. Very often I'd say, 'Can I roll around here? Can I react to this 'explosion?' And he'd say, 'If you do that, we'll put it in, if you want that.' Because they get their ideas from the actors, and vice versa. Whereas a few years ago, when I was doing George of the Jungle, I distinctly remember that morning, when they brought the elephant on, they had little orange cones all over his head that were reference points. But they don't do that any more. The technology has redoubled itself maybe four or five times."

As that technology keeps getting more and more complex, so too does Fraser find himself doing all kinds of stretching to further his career. He recently starred as a nerdy dreamer in Bedazzled, he's been cluelessly goofy in Dudley Do-Right, sweet and gentle in the little seen Blast From the Past, quite romantic in the even less-seen Still Breathing and in top dramatic form in the art house hit Gods and Monsters.

A trained stage actor -- although it's been five years since he worked in John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone -- this summer he'll be opposite his Bedazzled co-star Frances O'Connor (Mansfield Park) in a London West End production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He's currently in the midst of continuing the serious side of his film work in an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel The Quiet American, co-starring Michael Caine and directed by Phillip Noyce.

"I've always sought to make as many diverse choices as I can," he says. "I think selfishly I owe it to myself to keep as interested in doing something new every time, and hoping that an audience will feel the same way. And I find myself coming to expect that of the actors I go to see in films. I want to see the same actor all the way through their career, but I still want to see them push and pull themselves in other directions, and take the risk of doing something they might fall on their face for, or really learn something from -- spread their wings and fly."

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