If you watched movies in the ’90s, especially Blockbuster ones, then you’ve seen Brendan Fraser’s cheerful mug. As a kid, I loved watching him in Encino Man over and over and over again. He was so cool that he somehow made Pauly Shore cool by association.
My older cousins and aunts didn’t mind it when I’d repeatedly watch George of the Jungle, The Mummy, and Airheads. Well, maybe Airheads because of a certain raunchy couch scene, but they all had a thing for Fraser, and it wasn’t until I recently saw the Blockbuster king of the ’90s rocking a loincloth that I realized just how jacked he was.
But like many stars who were once plastered all over movie posters for smash successes, Brendan seemed to fall off the radar several years ago. You’d be sitting around with your friends, flipping through the channels, and then, during that scene from School Ties where he’s screaming in the rain, you and your friends would all ask each other: “what happened to Brendan Fraser?”
Earlier in the year, GQ published an excellent interview with Brendan Fraser, where he gets very candid about how events in his personal life may have contributed to his retreat from the limelight.
Chief among these events was a 2003 interaction with Philip Berk of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Brendan alleges that Berk groped and assaulted him in a sexual nature and that the incident hurt his relationship with the HFPA. He hasn’t been invited to the Golden Globes since 2003.
Speaking about the incident further, Fraser said that it tainted “who I was and what I was doing” and several projects “withered on the vine for me.” He lauded Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, and Mira Sorvino for their involvement in the #MeToo movement, and takes it out on himself for not being more vocal about this experience earlier.
Although his career is punctuated with films that can easily become the butt of jokes (Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Adventure at the Center of the Earth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, to name a few), he was genuinely great in a lot of his films and even made some possible clunkers work, which is no easy task.
Here are some of the roles Fraser played throughout the years. Some of them well-known and some you forgot or never saw.
I mentioned this gem up top for good reason: the movie was great. That’s largely due to Brendan’s wonderful comedic performance. Zach Baron of GQ mentioned that Brendan had the perfect expressive face for “playing guys who were often new to the world” and his performance as an unfrozen caveman experiencing modern times is one such role.
The 1992 film was Brendan’s breakout role. Befriending two school losers in typical ’90s comedy fashion, Sean Astin and Pauly Shore, Brendan auditioned for the part by wrestling with a plant, and I’d like to think he did so with the same enthusiasm he gave to making cave drawings on a hockey rink glass with mustard and ketchup.
The only thing about the movie I didn’t like is when he gets punched by the bully and doesn’t absolutely obliterate him with caveman strength in response.
After Brendan proved he could rock physical comedy like no one’s business, School Ties made him stand out as a dramatic talent.
Brendan portrayed persecuted Jewish quarterback David Greene in the film, standing out in a cast that included Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris O’Donnell. Immediately following the film’s release, it was clear Brendan’s career had taken off the quickest. He was even nominated by the Chicago Film Critics Association for Most Promising Actor in 1993 after receiving praise for his work in School Ties and Encino Man.
I remember really, really, really wanting to see this film when it came out in 1994 on my birthday, because it featured my favorite caveman and the crazy guy from Goodfellas (Joe Pesci). It’s also another “university drama” that Brendan starred in and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Motion Picture Song.
Brendan plays an economics student whose honors thesis ends up in the hands of a homeless man played by Pesci who uses it to barter for food and shelter. The movie’s a little schlocky for sure, but Brendan and Joe give great performances as the uptight Ivy League student and the homeless man who ends up teaching him more about life than his Harvard mentor ever could.
Brendan was selected for his recurring role in The Affair for being able to play a by-the-book character who’s got some secrets. And even though in Baron’s GQ article he mentions that he plays a prison guard “who seemed to harbor some dark secrets”, I think that that isn’t something entirely new for Brendan.
Acting alongside Albert Brooks, Brendan plays a phenomenal baseball player with a troubled past who’s recruited by a scout looking for a, ahem, home-run of a player. Although Brendan’s happy-go-lucky and naive trademarks are at play here, he does a good job of showing an inner anger, too. At the end, when things work out and he’s crushing it on the big stage, I still remember the emotional big grin he gives the crowd. It’s a beaming smile few but Brendan can pull off.
The early to mid-90s featured hit after hit after hit for Brendan. In this film, he plays the frontman for a rock band alongside bassist Steve Buscemi and drummer Adam Sandler. They end up holding a rock radio station hostage to play their demo tape but, like every comedy ever, things don’t go according to plan.
Gods and Monsters
I’m a sucker for movies that feature young men who don’t know what they’re doing with their lives and end up coming across an older mentor. Bonus points if they’re washed-up/used to be a big deal in their youth. I know that seems like a very specific genre, but I swear it’s a thing.
In Gods and Monsters, Brendan acts opposite Sir Ian McKellan, who plays the director of Frankenstein. Fraser is his gardener, who ends up befriending the man whose interest in him may not be entirely platonic. It’s one of those dramas that’s just screaming, “for your consideration.” Often, those movies can be kind of tedious, but, I remember really enjoying this one. The 1998 film has a 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, if reviews are your sort of thing, with a lot of reviews remarking how good Brendan’s performance is, especially in a film that completely hinges on dialogue between him and a highly-regarded actor like Sir Ian.
Blast from the Past
In yet another fish-out-of-water story, Brendan plays a young man who lived in a nuclear fallout shelter for 35 years with his overreactive parents, played by Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek. He falls in love with Alicia Silverstone after many hijinks ensue.
The film’s a great reminder of just how likable Brendan is: he plays the naive, genuinely good guy to a tee. He plays it so well that, I would find myself getting genuinely upset when I watched it as a young teen.
The Mummy and The Mummy Returns
I don’t know how many times I watched the original Mummy movie but I really, really, really loved everything about it. What’s so great about the movie is that it was the penultimate example, at the time, of action movies that used CGI but didn’t entirely rely on it.
Since computer technology wasn’t so advanced that entire locations could be created out of them, the films manage to have more life than some of the more clinical-feeling action movies that have come out recently. It also doesn’t hurt that the movies are whimsical, legitimately hilarious, and has an awesome cast.
Sadly, a lot of the stunts Brendan performed in the franchise contributed to the overall deterioration of his health.
The Quiet American
This movie about the shady political undergoings of the CIA leading up to the Vietnam War was unfortunately done in by its post 9/11 release. No one wanted to watch movies that made the U.S. government look bad in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack.
In the 2002 film, Brendan plays a friendly-enough American “working” in Vietnam, but his character makes a startlingly dark turn later on the film that genuinely surprises audience members. Yes, the man who played Dudley Do-Right and a cute caveman actually does a heck of a job playing a slimy CIA operative willing to turn on his fellow man, or woman, to get his objective done. Brendan did a heck of a job in this rarely discussed commercial flop. If you need any convincing the man’s a fine actor, check this movie out.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action
This much-maligned half-animated, half live-action film starred Brendan in two roles: playing himself, and the stuntman who takes falls for the actor. After critically acclaimed hits, this one must’ve had people scratching their heads. I remember the feeling I had while watching it the first time was similar to when I saw Every Which Way But Loose the first time: “This movie is bananas! Why would someone at the top of their career do this?!”
Brendan revealed in that same GQ interview that what drew him to the film was his own self-loathing. “I think I wanted to knock myself out. I wanted to take the piss out of myself before someone else would, ’cause I had it in my head that I had it coming.”
After this bomb and the HFPA incident with Philip Berk, Brendan’s resume thins out a bit. He had a small role in Best Picture winner Crash, but the pictures he starred in the years following weren’t exactly commercial or critical successes. For instance, 2008’s The Air I Breathe has a 12 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I’ll bet you didn’t know he was even in that movie, or that it existed, until just now.
Most recently Brendan’s been lending his talents to the small screen. He’s currently starring in the DC Universe show Doom Patrol where he plays Robotman. He’s also had recurring roles in Condor, Trust, and The Affair.
Many megastars struggle to attain longevity in their careers. It takes more than good looks and knowing the right people. But Brendan Fraser’s a pretty darn good actor, and it’s interesting to see how his career has evolved from a bright-eyed, muscular All-American type to a man who’s obviously been through the ringer, only to come out the other side with something to say.
And honestly, I’m here for it.
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