In 1999, Universal Pictures released The Mummy, an action-adventure picture from director Stephen Sommers. The movie – a remake of the 1932 horror film of the same name – starred Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell, Rachel Weisz as Evelyn Carnahan, and John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan.

Thanks to its mix of action and humour, with a touch of horror, The Mummy was a hit with audiences and was financially successful enough to spawn two sequels. The first sequel was The Mummy Returns (2001), while the second was The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).

All the Mummy movies revolved around three core characters: Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan. These characters became the focus of the franchise, and audiences got to watch them grow and develop over the course of the series.

But while Brendan Fraser and John Hannah played their respective characters throughout the entirety of The Mummy trilogy, Rachel Weisz only appeared in two of the movies: The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. For the third film, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Weisz did not return to the franchise, and was instead replaced by Maria Bello.

But the big question is, why? Why did Maria Bello replace Rachel Weisz in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor?

Image: ©Universal Pictures
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At the time of production, rumours began to circulate that Rachel Weisz quit the third Mummy movie because she was unhappy with the quality of the script. It was also suggested she took issue with a key element of the series– the franchise’s habit of ageing up the characters.

Each entry in The Mummy series takes place a number of years apart from the last, rapidly ageing the characters in the process. The suggestion was that Weisz was uncomfortable with the idea of her character ageing so quickly, going from a single woman in the first movie, to the mother of a ten-year-old in the second, and the mother of a 21-year-old in the third.

The Mummy movies were produced across a nine-year period, yet the characters aged 21-22 years in this time frame, which is a considerable time jump. Now, while that might not matter to the average audience, it might have mattered to Weisz who was only 37 at the time of filming.  

With the movie business being the way it is, and aging actresses getting less roles than their male counterparts, Weisz might not have wanted to play an older character. Once you start playing older, there is a possibility that casting agents and audiences will associate you with older roles, and that might limit your opportunities in the future.

Image: ©Universal Pictures

But is this truly the reason why Weisz left the role?

According to director Rob Cohen it is. When he spoke to Heat (via Digital Spy) back in 2008, he said: “I got a very angry phone call from (Weisz’s) agent, saying she’ll never play the mother of a 21-year-old. I said ‘OK, good, fine, bye.”

Thing is, Cohen’s comment doesn’t match up with Rachel Weisz’s take on the situation. During an interview, also in 2008, the actress cited scheduling conflicts as to why she didn’t return, as she had recently been filming another movie, so it would have been difficult to fit in the third Mummy film.

Weisz also said she never had chance to read the script for Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, commenting, “I never even read the script because it was going to be, I think, five months in China, and it was just out of the question that I could do it straight after shooting my new film The Brothers Bloom.”

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So, was Cohen correct that Weisz was unhappy with playing an older part, or was it merely a scheduling problem and she was telling the truth that she had never read the script?

Well, in 2008 Collider interviewed Brendan Fraser, asking him if he was concerned that Rachel Weisz wasn’t back for the third movie. He said: “I felt Rachel’s absence when I read the screenplay the first time, I will cop to that. We were partners, we were colleagues, we were friends, and I couldn’t read the screenplay and not think about hearing her say it this way or that way. We had that chemistry.”

The key thing here is that Fraser said he felt Rachel’s absence when he read the screenplay “the first time.” Now, as it is fair to assume that all of the core actors received the script at the same time, it would appear that Weisz left the project before the script landed on anyone’s desk.

Image: ©Universal Pictures

So, it’s possible that Weisz didn’t read the script prior to quitting the project. However, that doesn’t mean she also wasn’t made aware that her character had been aged up – this could have been conveyed to her separately, and this could have helped shape her decision.

But ultimately, regardless of what Cohen said or whether Weisz read the script or not, the official reason Rachel Weisz didn’t take part in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was because of scheduling conflicts – too many films, too little time. And until the actress says differently, this is the reason she wasn’t in the third Mummy movie.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this post about Rachel Weisz and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. For more movie-related posts, or nostalgia-inducing content, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.

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