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"I wrote the character as a young swashbuckling Errol Flynn kind of hero," says Sommers. "And Brendan is just like that. He even looks the part. Physically, he's perfect for the role."

And not just physically. George made Fraser a big star among little moviegoers — he still gets swarmed at airports by autograph-hounding kids — which could help pull in a potentially problematic demographic. How do you sell a remake of a 67-year-old film to 12-year-olds who think the Mummy is the nice lady who bakes cookies and picks them up from soccer practice? For that matter, how do you market a PG-13-rated horror flick to older audiences — and to women — who generally don't line up for gunplay?

Simple: You turn it into a "sweeping desert epic"; cast a sexy but thoroughly modern leading lady (Swept From the Sea's Rachel Weisz) to go with your kid-friendly, charismatic star; then market it to death (starting with a teaser during the Super Bowl, where ad spots were reportedly going for $1.6 million a pop). Most of all, though, you don't make it "too fleshy."

''They gave me my first action figure," beams Fraser, steering his shiny black Volvo around L.A. a few days before jetting off to London with his new wife (he married actress Afton Smith last year) to promote The Mummy overseas. "He's got a stick of dynamite in his hand. And when you pull his arm down, it's supposed to make an explosion sound. Only they put the little speaker in his butt, so it sort of sounds like, you know, I'm passing gas."

For an up-and-coming Hollywood actor, that first action figure is always a seminal right of passage — even an action figure that should come packaged with a tiny bottle of Mylanta. It means you're playing in the town's biggest league — the Event Movie Club — where budgets are never more bloated, hype is never more overblown, and potential profits are never more obscene. A starring role in a successful Event Movie can have truly titanic effects on a career. Just ask Will Smith, Harrison Ford, or the skinny blond kid who went down with that big ship a few winters back.

For Fraser, the Mummy role couldn't have been more auspiciously timed if he'd planned it — and, in fact, maybe he did. "There's been a conscious strategy with my career," he says. "The plan has been about diversity. To do as many different types of movies as I could." Mission accomplished: Fraser may be the only actor who's worked with both Sir Ian McKellen (the Shakespearean star who won an Oscar nomination for his role opposite Fraser in last year's art-house hit Gods and Monsters) and Pauly Shore (the annoying MTV dork who costarred with Fraser in the 1992 teen comedy Encino Man).

His diverse acting portfolio includes everything from a serious film about anti-Semitism in the 1950s (1992's critically acclaimed School Ties) to a not-so-serious (and not-so-successful) movie about Cold War hysteria (the recent bomb Blast From the Past). But it wasn't until he took a turn as a cartoon character, playing a dumbed-down Tarzan who slams into trees and hangs with a chess-playing chimp, that the career strategizing really began to pay off. Disney's George of the Jungle was the surprise hit of 1997, grossing $105.3 million — an enormous windfall for what was supposed to be a cute kiddie flick. Suddenly, Fraser really was king of the jungle.

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