[dl] Big Screen
“I’ve wanted to be an action star since I was a little girl,” says Maria Bello while reminiscing about growing up in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown. “I wanted to be Indiana Jones. It was always my dream.”
But two months before her 40th birthday, Bello gave up hope of ever being able to cross “become an action star” off her bucket list. “I said, ‘I’ve accomplished all my dreams, except for one: I didn’t get to do my action movie. And there aren’t many roles for action stars over 40.’ ”
At least, that’s what she thought. Then, director Rob Cohen called to offer her a part in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third installment of the popular Mummy adventure series. The role of rough-and-tumble leading lady Evelyn Carnahan O’Connell was up for grabs after actress Rachel Weisz chose not to reprise it. Some might have seen a creative obstacle in the situation, but Bello didn’t hesitate to accept the part.
“Rachel Weisz was so beautiful and brilliant in the first couple of movies, but this is 20 years later,” she explains. “Evelyn’s a different character now. She’s a little edgier, a little more tongue-in-cheek. If Rachel’s character was Audrey Hepburn, my character is Katharine Hepburn.”
In Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Bello and Brendan Fraser play Evelyn and Rick O’Connell, the parents of 20-year-old Alex, whose actions lead the family on another mummy hunt. To some (us, included), it seems impossible that Bello could be a parent to a college-age child -- perhaps because she’s arguably best known for her role as a sexy Las Vegas waitress in The Cooler, a part in which she earned her first Golden Globe nomination. But Bello begs to differ. “It’s so funny to me when people say I couldn’t have a 20-year-old son. Of course I could!” she says. “I really like playing my age. I’ve never been an ingenue; it’s not something that’s in my wheelhouse.”
If that’s true, ingenue may be the only thing that isn’t. Bello’s varied artistic arsenal has suited her well for taking movie roles in different genres. The beautiful blonde has done everything from family friendly (Flicka) to chick flick (Coyote Ugly) to satire (Thank You for Smoking) to drama (A History of Violence). She counts many of her coworkers among her favorite actors. “I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve worked with Oliver Stone, David Cronenberg, Viggo Mortensen, Bill Macy -- incredible men. I haven’t worked with many women. I’d love to work with Gena Rowlands and Ellen Burstyn.” Friend Carrie-Anne Moss (of The Matrix fame) is on her wish list as well. “We’ve been trying to work together for years,” Bello says.
She also heaps praise on her costars from The Mummy, who include Michelle Yeoh (“As soon as I met her, I had the biggest girl crush on her,” she says), Fraser (“He brought humor and life to the set and to everyone he touched”), and Luke Ford, the young actor who plays her son (“I think he’s going to be a big movie star”).
But for Bello, making Tomb of the Dragon Emperor wasn’t without challenges, and the chief among those was having to be away from her seven-year-old son, Jackson, while the cast and crew filmed in far-off locales. “In China, I was away from him for three weeks, and it was the longest ever,” she explains. When she’s not working, she and Jackson reside in Venice, California, where they spend time together cooking and playing basketball. “He dreams about playing for UCLA,” she says. Family is clearly something close to Bello’s heart: She and her father recently spent some quality time with each other -- at a tattoo parlor. “We took shots, drank beers, and got our first tattoos together,” she laughs. “Mine is of the Celtic symbol for possession. My dad got a Philadelphia Eagle on his arm. It was fun.”
Notwithstanding the bout of separation anxiety, Bello says playing the role of Evy has been one of her favorite experiences. She even learned how to sword fight, walk on wires, and shoot a gun -- a skill she “loves.” And now that she’s added “action star” to her résumé, there’s no telling what she’ll accomplish next.