John Hannah's a comic natural, even with a sister transplant – but get him on Scottish politics and there's a serious side. By LEE RANDALL
FANS OF SPECIAL EFFECTS AND non-stop rock-'em-sock-'em action are going to love The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. This third entry in the series sees the gang head to China on the trail of a resurrected evil emperor some thousands of years old who, along with his vast army, was transformed into a terracotta warrior by a sorceress he foolishly betrayed.
This film has everything (well, bar believable dialogue, but hey, we were never talking Chekhov): a radiant Michelle Yeoh in stunning costumes; Jet Li as a baddie whose face periodically crumbles off before being restored to solidity via molten heat; there's a massive avalanche; a battle between resurrected corpses in various states of decay and the aforementioned clay army; and some friendly yeti who prove invaluable to our heroes.
Chief of whom is Brendan Fraser, hunkier than ever, reprising the role of Rick O'Connell. Maria Bello steps into Rachel Weisz's period pumps as his wife, Evy, and they're joined by Australian Luke Ford, playing their grown son, Alex, whose machinations set off the chain of disasters in the first place, forcing him to team up with Mom and Pop to save the world. Along to help – it wouldn't be a Mummy movie without him – is John Hannah, as Evy's brother Jonathan.
A long time ago, Hannah expressed surprise that he'd been asked to join the cast, claiming he didn't see himself as funny. Having met him, I find this completely unbelievable. Though I'm the umpteenth journalist through the door, he's fresh and bouncy, unruffled (and damned sexy) in a loose white shirt and khaki shorts. Quick to laugh, Hannah's a dream date, happy to chat and full of genuine enthusiasm.
He tells me that despite the success of the franchise, no-one else offers him light-hearted roles. "Steve Sommers (the producer] is the only one who thinks I can do it. I tried my whole life and will continue to try not to be put in a little box but people seem very keen on doing that. I guess it makes their life easier because they know where something is.
"In this country the kind of scripts I get sent are those little detectivey, doctory, what's going on in your life kind of thing. I never get sent anything left field like this, you know? I suppose Sliding Doors was quite funny, but I'd done that before The Mummy."
He certainly paints with a broad brush in this role, though the whole movie's such campy good fun that his turn reminds me of an old-time comic foil of the sort played by Edward Everett Horton et al.
"I remember Steve talking about how big the screen was, how big the canvas was. You can't do small little introverted acting. We tend to think you have to do nothing, but it's hard to do nothing when there's an avalanche chasing you!
"Steve always said Jonathan's the most realistic human being, in that, if there's something terrifying coming at you, if there's an immortal person, buildings falling down or yetis or whatever, then Jonathan would have the realistic reaction, unlike the heroes."
Filming in Shanghai was a blast, he reports. It was his first time, and he was sorely disappointed when they decided not to hold the premiere in China, allowing a repeat visit.
"I thought it was fantastic. You forget, when you're standing in the centre of Shanghai, that it's Communist, but you also forget that they're still allowed only one child. And that you don't get many blond Chinese people; my son was like a rock star, blond, blue eyes, and two of them – twins." (Hannah and his actress wife Joanna Roth have a four-year-old boy and girl, Gabriel and Astrid.)
He found the Chinese talkative and open. "A lot of the younger people do speak English and are very keen to speak English because they've only learned it theoretically. They come up and say 'Hello, where are you from?' And you say Scotland, and they say, 'Ah, Glasgow and Edinburgh; five million people,' and reel off a load of facts they learned at school.
"Even the older people who you think might have been in some way victims of our own Cold War propaganda and might have been a little suspicious that we might look at them and think: oh, they're a bit weird, they killed all their doctors and murdered their fathers and (he gestures at me] anybody with glasses. But even if they could only say, 'Welcome to My Country', people would make that effort. I thought it was charming."
And what about his co-stars? Was it weird turning up and finding he'd had a sister transplant? Hannah laughs. "Yeah, that was a pretty Hollywood moment. I couldn't really figure out how Jonathan would be in it if Rachel wasn't – it never occurred to me that they'd just recast it. 'Rachel doesn't wanna be in it? F*** it, we'll get somebody else to do it!' " Surely not, I protest halfheartedly.
"You don't think?" he shoots back, telling me that initially Weisz was on board for this instalment, the script of which he first read three years ago. Filming was even delayed when she had a baby, but something changed and the role wound up going to Bello.
As for Michelle Yeoh – what a goddess, I enthuse. Judging by the loving way she's shot and costumed, the makers of Mummy must agree. "She's lovely and one of the nicest people, as well," says Hannah. "I was out to dinner with Liam Cunningham (who plays Maguire] in Montreal – an Irishman and a Scotsman sitting in some bar, got the wine on, and she comes in. We're like, should we say anything? You go, no you go! We introduced ourselves and she joined us and she was a right hoot, dead nice.
"But my experience of Jet Li was some guy in a green suit with buttons on (for the special effects]. I never had a scene with him so I never met him. I never had a scene with The Rock, either, but I was more excited about – well, never mind!"
Did he flip to the last page of the script to see if he was still talking at the end? Laughing, he nods. They shot two endings, but went with the original, which neatly lays the groundwork for the next Mummy entry, to be set in Peru. "We've now got our ending and we've set up for a sequel. I quite fancy South America."
I can't leave without asking Hannah, a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, what he thinks about threatened budget cuts.
He utters a massive sigh. "I did actually send support to the campaign online. It's just so British isn't it? I was talking to my agent this morning about the BBC cutting 50 million from their drama budget next year. There's no foresight in terms of what we're trying to produce culturally here. We're talking about creating actors who have the ability to construct a character in the classics, to define ourselves with a culture that we can be proud of and that reflects the greater aspects of what we're trying to achieve as a civilisation.
"It's just so typically f***ing British. One might argue that Scotland has a greater reputation for further education, and that might be true, but not if we're destroying that kind of environment.
"It seems to me we're paying a heavy price for another level of bureaucracy. And I don't really see the point of a Scottish parliament, to be honest."
What a nice, unexpected segue to my next question: Independence, yes or no?
"No! Why would you do that? I've stayed out of the argument because I don't live in Scotland, but since you ask, I'll tell you my opinion: whenever I've seen what they're discussing, it seems like minor councillors justifying their own situation, discussing really small things and justifying their position by having this trivial discussion.
"It seems to me there are a lot more important things – the money that the parliament building cost and that MSPs and their staffs are getting, and the whole East Lothian question, as well, still hasn't been resolved ... I'd be (curious], looking 20 years ahead, whether that parliament will still be effective or whether it'll be turned into some conference centre.
"I think the idea of the money that was wasted on it … when you look at some of the social and economic destitution that people are living in.
"I'm from East Kilbride, and I have been up there a few times in the last month. Over the past 20 years I think it has deteriorated beyond recognition. The streets are poor and shoddy looking. They might have been dream houses in the 1950s, but now they just look like another housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow.
"Culturally there's not really that much going on. It seems to me there's not much for young people to do but drink. I just think, did we really need another level of bureaucracy?
"Rabbie Burns wrote a great poem about politicians: 'Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!' It's not changed. Whether they're Scottish or whether they're in Westminster, they're all wearing the same grey suits and they're all promoting themselves. What it seems to me they're doing is actually protecting their own careers rather than doing any good."
Having set the world to rights, there's just time to ask what's next for Hannah. "I just accepted a play this morning, called Riflemind, by Andrew Upton. We start rehearsing in August for September. It's about a band getting back together after 20 years or so."
Will he be singing? "No, thankfully, no. I wouldn't subject anybody to that."
So which band member is he, then? He grins. "The singer!"
Calling all casting directors – you're overlooking a natural comedy heart-throb sat right here under your noses. Get cracking with those scripts!
• The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is released on 6 August.