Crowley decides to take matter into his own hands, hunting down a promising researcher, played by Harrison Ford, and raising millions of dollars to develop a functioning enzyme treatment. Along the way, he has to deal with issues like "acceptable loss" and the increasingly crotchety researcher he's staked all his hopes on. A popcorn fantasy flick this is not. In his new film, 'Extraordinary Measures,' oft-Mummy-slayer Brendan Fraser plays John Crowley, an executive whose two children are facing a death sentence. They're afflicted with Pompe disease, a rare neuromuscular genetic disorder whose victims rarely live past the age of nine.
Crowley decides to take matter into his own hands, hunting down a promising researcher, played by Harrison Ford, and raising millions of dollars to develop a functioning enzyme treatment. Along the way, he has to deal with issues like "acceptable loss" and the increasingly crotchety researcher he's staked all his hopes on.
We talked to the 'Extraordinary' actor about playing a real-life character, working with his childhood idol and whether or not more 'Mummy' movies are on his agenda.
How were you affected when you first read the script?
Being the father of three myself, I could really identify with the Crowleys' story. What parent wouldn't do anything for the benefit of his children? So I could personalize it to that.
How did your approach to playing Crowley change after you met him?
I can say he is easily one of the most principled people I've had the pleasure of meeting. I wanted a challenge as an actor to take that on, to not play a caricature, just dig deep with who he was in the circumstances that he found himself. It's my job to try to embody the spirit of who is and what he's accomplished. I go on that journey where John had to ask himself and others some very thorny questions about mortality, morality concerning big pharmacy, the language of commerce in terms of exactly how much is a human life worth, in terms of acceptable loss or profitability? Maybe, in a way, twist the fluidity he has in the language of commerce -- he's a Harvard MBA -- to side with those who he know ultimately can be helpful to him, although he despises what they represent.
Did you get to know the children as well?
Yes, we met and stayed in touch through email. Megan is precocious and quite a pistol, too. This is true: It's before Christmas and I'm trying to plan my calendar year for 2010 and I can't get an answer from anyone [on when the film's release date is]. Stonewalled. And then, bing! In my inbox, there's email from 12-year-old Megan Crowley. It says, "Dear Movie Dad. Guess what? There's a release date for the movie. It's January 22, 2010." She found this website, it was a total spoiler site ... She signed it, "Megan, the Awesome," with, like, 19 exclamation points. This is a kid who's never felt sorry for herself, who always puts her kid brother ahead of her and she puts others ahead of her too ... I did this other movie about a year ago, 'Inkheart,' based on a fantasy novel. She'd read it and liked the book, so I invited John and his family down. I hadn't appreciated how fragile the kids really are until I met them. They're on life-support systems, basically. And they travel with nurses, they travel with special vehicles. Anyway, she saw the movie 'Inkheart' and in it, there's a reference to 'The Wizard of Oz,' there's flying monkeys in it. So I asked her how she liked the movie at the end of it and she's like, "I liked it a lot, but you know the flying monkeys have been done before." Thanks, Megs.
What would you say is the tone of the film?
It's not something that's mawkish or sentimental. It doesn't aim to elicit an emotional response from its audience that's unearned. Let me put it this way. The other night I saw it for the first time with an audience who weren't studio executives, this was in Philadelphia and I was with Crowley and his wife Aileen. There was a house full of 200, 300 people. I didn't realize how funny the movie actually played in moments. Talk about an unlikely pair: You've got Harrison -- the guy's a rock, his character's called Stonehill -- and he's being given this third-degree by a little girl who's eight years old and in a wheelchair. She's asking stuff like, "So, you married? What's the deal? Really? Why not?" Then she burns him in a wind sprint and goes "Nah nah na nah." It's just, well, funny. I think you can identify with the fact that this is a family ... Keri Russell's lovely in this [as Aileen Crowley]. John describes his wife as the one deserving of all the medals, to give you an indication of what kind of guy he is, and he really, firmly believes that's the truth.
What do the Crowleys think of the film?
[John] paid close attention to the way that the film was conceived of and directed. We wanted to make sure we didn't misrepresent that family, who've opened their hearts, the whole store -- here it is, take a look. Because to them, it's important. Not that they're being rewarded by having a film made about them. Knowing Crowley, that's interesting and fun and nice but he's not a film producer. But he does see this as a way to support the causes that he's near and dear to. This is a way and a tool of sorts to raise awareness. Films entertain and they can enlighten and occasionally they illuminate.
Had you ever met Harrison Ford before this?
Well, we met on the stage at an awards ceremony hosted by SPIKE TV, and it was my dubious obligation to present Mr. Ford with the "Brass Balls" award, which I did. He thanked me, thanked the audience. I later asked him what became of that award, was it a doorstop or what? And he said, "Oh, I sold it for scrap metal."
You've said you grew up being a huge fan of Ford. What it was like working with someone who'd been such an icon to you?
There's a lot of esteemed actors that I really admire -- Michael Caine, Lynn Redgrave, Ian McKellen -- and I learned a lot from them. He's no exception. Any 40-year-old male who won't admit to a fingernail bit of hero worship for Harrison is a liar! But you get to know him and that kind of went away. It dispels quickly. He's about the work. The guy's a meticulous actor, does extensive research, and he does what it takes to tell the story. And he does it without any curlicues or frivolity, which I really admire.
Do you see yourself doing more dramas?
I have a comedy coming up in April, it's called 'Furry Vengeance.' You may recall a guy called Ken Jeong who leapt from the trunk of a car wearing nothing but a crowbar in 'The Hangover' and maybe some shoes or boots. Other than that, I'm developing some things. Stay tuned.
Any more 'Mummy' movies in the works?
Not to my awareness, but they've got my number. It's down to the people.
And then you're doing a sequel to 'Journey to the Center of the Earth?'
I'd like to work in 3D with Eric Brevig, the guy who directed the first one. So that's a possibility, if it's not that, then we'll find something else.