How Phil Wrights Dance Moves Helped Him Play a 400-Year-Old Mummy in Under Wraps
Mummies may be par for the course on Halloween, but when the Disney Channel gets involved, the undead creatures take on a life of their own. Just on time for the holiday comes “Under Wraps,” a movie about a 400-year-old mummy named Harold (Phil Wright) who is brought back to life by three friends.
Since Harold speaks only through a series of grunts, Wright’s expertise as a dancer and choreographer were key as he uses physicality to help define the character. Writer and director Alex Zamm provided Wright with a personal reference when describing how he envisioned the role, recounting when his son was “a constipated toddler who would walk in this way, lumbering forward, teetering always off balance.”
Beyond Zamm’s son, physical comedians like Harpo Marx and Lucille Ball became touchstones of Harold’s development.
Apart from the broad strokes of physical comedy inspiration, Harold’s look was created by makeup effects designer Joel Echallier in a way that allowed Wright as much adaptability as possible. Echallier augmented Wright’s face with thin silicone where parts peeked through the mummy wraps of the costume. It was chosen, versus a thicker latex prosthetic, to allow for greater movement and expression to come through while Wright was acting. He also wore special teeth and color contacts for the role. All became essential components to humanizing Harold.
The body of the costume was designed to provide Wright with a full range of motion, a necessity during a big dance sequence. Partaking in a skill as common as dancing helped humanize Harold as well. It involved “music and dance and joy,” says Wright. “So, we had a great time developing that scene.”
While Harold dances to a known song — “Calling All the Monsters” by China Anne McCain — there were multiple re-mixed versions in the works during filming. The artist agreed to keep the tempo the same, key in ensuring the background actors could all commit to the same beat. “The worst,” says Zamm, “and I’ve been there, is suddenly you don’t have the music” and you wind up with everyone dancing in incongruent ways in the background of the same party. He notes that it can lead to a whole series of editing difficulties down the road in post-production.
Wright enjoyed utilizing his own expertise in bringing dance to the movie. “That scene was very special to me because I am a dancer, I’m a choreographer,” says Wright, “and it was just so fun to collaborate on that moment.”
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