Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Brendan Fraser's Complicated Journey From '90s Action Stud To Oscars Darling

Whenever you mention the name Brendan Fraser to someone, chances are you'll get a unique answer as to what movie they know him from. For some, it's "George of the Jungle" or "The Mummy" all the way, while other individuals who grew up in the 21st century will say that "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." Still others may think of his forays into adult dramas, like "Gods and Monsters" or the Best Picture-winning project "Crash," or comedies, like "Encino Man" and "Airheads." Though he dropped off the radar for a while, thanks to his eclectic body of work, Fraser has managed to headline several notable productions that hold special places in people's hearts for a multitude of reasons.

Despite his popularity, there's still so much about Brendan Fraser that isn't common knowledge to the general public. The production that first drew Fraser to Hollywood, for example, or how he managed to score a cameo in "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," are all just a few of the details about Fraser that are far more obscure than his most famous films. With Fraser in the middle of a major comeback thanks to movies like "No Sudden Move," there's no better time than now to look at the untold truth of Brendan Fraser. 

Brendan Fraser stayed in Hollywood for a TV pilot

In his time in Hollywood, Brendan Fraser has become famous thanks to his work in iconic films like "The Mummy." But the project that brought him out to Tinseltown in the first place didn't even rise to the level of obscurity; it simply went nowhere. Fraser's initial major foray as an actor was for a TV pilot that never got picked up to series.

This early setback was revealed in a profile of Fraser for USA Weekend, which didn't divulge details on the specific pilot Fraser appeared in nor what his role was. Even if that initial project went nowhere, Fraser had key talents that would set him up for a long career in the world of cinema. "I had the focus and drive, and I wanted to be a part of this business very much," Fraser said about his initial worldview in Hollywood. That attitude clearly paid off. It wasn't long after that initial pilot snafu that Fraser was headlining major blockbusters. "But before I even had the dream," Fraser aptly put it, "I was living it."

He loves oddball characters

Throughout Brendan Fraser's career, there have been some hallmarks of his most famous roles. Specifically, his characters in films like "George of the Jungle," "Blast from the Past," "Encino Man," and even "The Mummy" are all individuals who are way out of their depth in the central story of the movies they inhabit. They're usually as overwhelmed with everything as the viewer. This helps create memorably comical situations and instills a sense of relatability into larger-than-life individuals. Plus, Fraser plays these kinds of figures with such an endearing, wide-eyed quality that they're practically irresistible. 

It turns out that Fraser has always gravitated to these characters, a habit that dates back to the earliest days of his career. "I'm intrigued by characters who are naive, who need to find the road, who are essentially fish out of water," Fraser explained to The Independent in 1997. "Like George in the San Francisco scenes. He doesn't understand why everyone's running round like antelopes in the mating season, and it makes him want to go home. But at the same time he discovers things for the first time, and that's something that I love to play." Fraser enjoys inhabiting such roles almost as much as audiences enjoy watching him tackle these parts given that they've turned out to see these Fraser characters in droves.

Ian McKellen compelled him to do Gods and Monsters

The acclaimed drama "Gods and Monsters" is a good movie, so it's no surprise that an actor would want to be a part of that project. But for one of the film's leading men, Brendan Fraser, there was a specific reason he wanted to be a part of "Gods and Monsters" beyond the project's quality: Like so many people, Fraser was enamored with the talents of his "Gods and Monsters" co-lead, Ian McKellen.

"He's a favorite actor of mine, and an inspiration. He's one reason why I wanted to be part of the world of theatre and films, ever since I saw him acting Shakespeare on video cassette when I was a student 10 years ago," Fraser told The Independent before explaining the dynamic between his and McKellen's characters in "Gods and Monsters" as "quite seductive. Sometimes it's like mentor and student, sometimes executioner and victim, sometimes father and son. I wanted to do something that would go against the grain of what was expected of me after 'George of the Jungle,' and I very much wanted to work with Ian. He's a truly great actor." With these motivating factors, Fraser had no problem leaping into the project. 

Imagination was key to acting in Looney Tunes: Back in Action

How do you interact with nothing? That's the question facing any actor tasked with headlining a movie like "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," where your animated co-stars will be added in post-production. On-set, performers such as Fraser have to act naturally against thin air. It's not an easy situation by any stretch of the imagination, but it's one Fraser had navigated multiple times before he even took on the task of starring in a feature alongside Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Fraser manages to endure the challenges of acting in projects like "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" simply by relying on the power of imagination.

"I think that to make a film about it, with these types of elements is really a matter of having an active imagination and to believe they are there," Fraser said to Comingsoon.net "As long as an actor believes that they exist, then the audience will too. Of course it's gonna be helped along the way with really slick computer-generated imagery...It's people and invisible elements that will be placed in later. Actors I think should be asked to use their imagination. When they do, good things happen." By leaning on the power of imagination, Fraser was able to deliver an effortless performance throughout "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" and has also managed to deliver consistently natural acting in his career playing opposite fantastical co-stars. It wasn't his first time using his imagination, either. Apparently his audition for "Encino Man" consisted of a silent tussle with a potted plant. 

Fraser got emotional reuniting with an elephant co-star

When you're working on a film with another performer, you'll inevitably develop a bond with them. After all, when you're working with somebody for months on end, you need to get along with them, or else the shoot is going to last for an eternity. For Fraser, one of his most memorable co-stars was with an elephant named Tai. Meeting on the set of "George of the Jungle," Fraser developed a friendship with the pachyderm that was eventually rekindled with an unexpected reunion on the set of "Looney Tunes: Back in Action."

"I knew there was going to be an elephant in it," Fraser explained to Comingsoon.net. "But I didn't know it would be Tai. Tai is a famous elephant in Hollywood, I mean Tai was in 'Dumbo Drop,' Tai was in 'George of the Jungle,' Tai showed up back in 'Looney Tunes.' Who knows, elephants never forget they say, but honestly, when that big ol' snout came out and blew a big ol' snotty kiss at me, I was with tears in my eye." Some bonds between actors truly run deep, such as the friendship between Fraser and this elephant. Fraser has a habit of making friends with animals on set; he also adopted a horse off the set of "Texas Rising." 

He provided input on the story for Journey to the Center of the Earth

Brendan Fraser does a lot in the 2008 family movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth," including outrunning a T-rex, scrambling to return to the Earth's surface, and trading witty retorts with Josh Hutcherson. But another impressive feat he managed to accomplish off the screen for "Center of the Earth" was provide useful advice for the feature's script.

Talking to Pop Entertainment, Fraser revealed that the original screenplay for "Journey to the Center of the Earth" had plenty of spectacle that intrigued him, but he found the characters lacking. The actor decided to suggest improvements to the screenplay that were inspired by the character dynamics in the film's source material penned by Jules Verne. "I gave [director Eric Brevig] ideas that were basically to change the relationships around a little bit," Fraser explained. "It's all writing. All the set pieces [in the original Journey...] were great; I don't know about that, but those can stay in place, those are the big ticket items, but in the end, between you, me, and the tape recorders, we wound up writing it ourselves." Taking this time and effort on fine-tuning the human beings in this film ensured that audiences would be dazzled by more than just 3D wizardry.

Fraser was insistent on getting a G.I. Joe cameo

In the middle of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," the film's main characters engage in a training montage to become the best possible G.I. Joe soldiers. In the middle of this rapid-fire delivery of stunts and fine-tuning of skills, Brendan Fraser drops by as the character Sgt. Stone. Arriving on a dirtbike, Fraser's Stone is around to just briefly comment on the newest recruits. It's a small part that doesn't extend beyond this montage, but apparently it's one that Fraser crusaded for.

Fraser's connections with "The Rise of Cobra" director Stephen Sommers, who previously directed Fraser in the first two "Mummy" movies, and producer Bob Ducsay helped clinch him the tiny part. "Bob's a pretty poker-faced kind of guy," Fraser recounted to Syfy. "But he's grinning, and he says, 'We just got the go on Joe—Paramount greenlit the movie.'" I'm like, 'Hey, man, that's cool—congratulations. You suck! Can I have a job, please? I will wash your car, I will walk your dog.'" Fraser's insistence paid off, as he managed to make it into a tiny part in the final cut of "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," all while strolling around on a dirtbike to boot.

How Fraser felt about Rachel Weisz sitting out The Mummy 3

For the third entry in the "Mummy" series, Brendan Fraser was back, but another one of the main performers sat the entry out. Rachel Weisz was no longer around to portray Evelyn O'Connell, with Maria Bello taking over the role. It was a sudden casting change that didn't sit well with some fans, though Fraser, in promoting "The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," tried to look at the matter with a glass-half-full look.

"I felt Rachel's absence when I read the screenplay the first time, I will cop to that," Fraser admitted to Collider. We were partners, we were colleagues, we were friends, and I couldn't read the screenplay and not think about hearing her say it this way or that way... I think she made the choice that was correct for her. I don't know what the reason was... It's been seven years. In broad strokes, you think, well, it's been seven years. It's a new 'Mummy' movie. There's practically a generation that's come of age, seeing films. It's not compulsory to see the first two to have a good time watching the third one... what Maria Bello brought to the role, through the casting process and the screen tests, was enthusiasm, sass and class, she's sexy and she's bad news with her Winchester rifle." 

Clearly, Fraser would have loved the continue working with Weisz but he also tried to be as welcoming as possible to Bello.

What attracted Brendan Fraser to No Sudden Move

An obvious reason for joining the cast of the 2021 crime movie "No Sudden Move" is the opportunity to work with Steven Soderbergh. The acclaimed auteur is famous for many reasons, but he's especially beloved for the great performances he gets out of actors. For Brendan Fraser, who portrayed the intimidating Doug Jones in the project, working with this man was what drew him aboard the feature. However, per Fraser himself, that wasn't the only reason "No Sudden Move" appealed to him as the script for the movie also had its separate charms.

"That it was gonna be directed by Steven Soderbergh, full stop," Fraser explained to ScreenRant about why he joined "No Sudden Move." "Beyond that, it's a great story in the genre film noir. I've always been a fan of Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick, and this is not far removed from the world — albeit now rendered in color. And with a world class director, who is at home and at the top of his game directing this type of movie." Sometimes, it really is the simplest reasons that attract actors to certain projects.

How Fraser chooses what TV projects to do

In the modern entertainment landscape, there is no shortage of prestige television programs to join if you're an actor. But choosing the right one? That can still be a hassle. With all those choices come potential opportunities to join a TV show that's a great big disaster rather than a beloved hit. For Brendan Fraser, going down that process has resulted in joining acclaimed projects as varied as "Trust," acclaimed drama "The Affair," and the wacky dark comedy "Doom Patrol." The drastic differences between the two shows reflect how Fraser chooses projects that intrigue him rather than embracing expected safe choices.

"I guess is it something that you want to watch? Is it interesting enough because of the preponderance of what's called content?" Fraser explained to Syfy about this process. "If there's anything I've learned about the new order, particularly from working on 'Trust,' is you better be good. You better put something up that the people would wanna watch... But the question's a fair one, how do you choose? Well, aside from [the fact] I've never met an actor who didn't want a job... But for my standards, I wanna find something that plays to my strengths and that is relevant. That has a new take on a regular idea." In being open to such fresh new concepts, Fraser has found a modern resurgence in the world of prestige television.

He had no trouble returning to his Mummy role for The Mummy 3

Sometimes, actors have a tough time returning to play famous characters after a prolonged absence. Once you step outside of a certain role, getting back into that mindset can be a challenge. But for Brendan Fraser, playing "The Mummy" protagonist Richard O'Connell again in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" was no problem at all despite a lengthy seven-year hiatus from him portraying the character.

"I wanted to play Rick," Fraser explained to Collider. "I was missing it. I've been waiting for the call from the studio since then. I love it. You get to do so much fun stuff, as an actor. You get to go to great places. They strap you into harnesses and throw you around. You have to look like you really know how to take care of business and beat people up, when you're actually really a wimp. They're great fun movies. There's real appeal. Every kid or pinstripe executive in an elevator asks me, 'When's the next Mummy movie?' I'm like, 'I wanna know the same thing! I'm sitting around by the phone, waiting.'" Fraser's commitment to these "Mummy" movies ensured that he wouldn't be sleepwalking through his first time playing Richard O'Connell in nearly a decade, even if by then all the stunt work had started to take a physical toll.

Fraser is concerned about the long-term impact of his movies

With nearly three decades worth of performances under his belt, Brendan Fraser has put together a sterling career that spans several genres and involves numerous famous filmmakers. There's been a lot to juggle in that time span, but Fraser's had his sights set on one concern above all others: What will his filmography look like in the long run?

"I am always thinking of the long run," Fraser explained to Cinema.com. "I am not interested in how hot my movies are at the moment, only whether they're any good. And I think my fans will let me have that kind of career. The people who liked 'The Mummy' will go to see 'The Mummy Returns' and the people who liked 'Gods and Monsters' will go to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." That's the sort of worldly perspective informing a career that just keeps going and going.

He's been injured a lot

When Fraser got started in the entertainment industry as a healthy young man, he was quickly thrown into the ringer as a stunt-heavy actor. Unfortunately, this led to him suffering countless on-set injuries throughout his career which began with his very first film (via People). According to an interview with GQ, his troubles immediately began after being cast in 1991's "Dogfight" as a rowdy sailor. He said, "I got my Screen Actors Guild card and an extra 50 bucks for the stunt adjustment, 'cause they threw me into a pinball machine."

From then on, Fraser continued to get battered and bruised throughout his very physical performances in future action-oriented projects. Production of his most famous movie, "The Mummy," seemed particularly cursed thanks to the numerous injuries he sustained throughout filming. During that same GQ interview, he discussed the self-care he had to undertake to continue filming despite being in serious pain. He said, "I was put together with tape and ice, I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily." Sadly, these injuries would go on to haunt Fraser as he would need several surgeries later on including a partial knee replacement, vocal cord repairs, and even a laminectomy (via Nicki Swift).

Refused to attend Golden Globes

Fans of Fraser will know that he's had a troubling history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group which runs the Golden Globe award ceremony each year. In 2018, Fraser bravely spoke out about his experience of being sexually assaulted in 2003 by a member (and former president) of the association, Philip Berk. According to The Guardian, he spoke openly about how the incident has affected his career ever since: "I was blaming myself and I was miserable — because I was saying, 'This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.' It made me feel reclusive."

Shockingly, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did little to mitigate harm regarding the allegations against one of their members (via Parade). Following an internal investigation into the matter, they concluded that the incident was only a "joke" on the part of Berk and therefore refused to take any disciplinary action against him, although they did eventually expel him for a racist email he wrote.

It's no surprise that Fraser, now nominated for his role in "The Whale," has outright refused to attend the Golden Globes because of this. According to GQ, he put it bluntly by saying, "I have more history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than I have respect for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association." Frasier added, "No, I will not participate."

First ever Oscar nomination

It's no secret that people love Fraser, and rightfully so. He's become somewhat of an underdog in recent years after disappearing from the public spotlight after a host of personal and professional issues, but he's retained the goodwill of an adoring fan base since his leading man days. His appearances in films like "Encino Man," "George of the Jungle," and "The Mummy" franchise have permanently endeared Fraser to audiences around the world who are thrilled to see his comeback unfolding in real-time. That's why the internet has been buzzing with the news that Fraser received his first-ever Academy Award nomination for his role as Charlie in Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale" in January 2023 — and his response to it has us all choked up.

"The Whale" is a significant departure for Fraser, who made his bones doing exciting action and charming adventure films. The film is a psychological character study focused on an obese English teacher who tries to repair his estranged relationship with his teenage daughter while suffering serious health issues. Reviews on the film itself have been mixed, but Fraser has received near-universal acclaim for his role as a thoughtful, meditative performance that brings much-needed nuance to the character. Following the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Fraser received a nearly 8-minute standing ovation which brought tears to his eyes on stage. If that's not a comeback, we don't know what is.

Supposed to portray DC's Firefly

One of the biggest disappointments of 2022 was the baffling cancellation of "Batgirl" by HBO Max who, against all odds, refused to release the nearly completed film to audiences. This proved to be yet another loss for Fraser who was cast as one of the film's primary villains: Firefly. Comic books fans will know that the character is a villain plucked from Batman's extensive rogues gallery, and is traditionally a psychotic pyromaniac obsessed with burning everything in his path.

As reported by Gamerant, Fraser was interviewed prior to the film's cancellation where he discussed what made his incarnation of Firefly different from previous versions. He said, "It's a new character, it's a new day. He's quite cross, he's a veteran whose benefits have been cut, so he wants to burn Gotham to the ground. And Batman and Batgirl are there to stop him. Or are they?" Sadly, the world may never see this more sympathetic portrayal of an iconic comic book villain until "Batgirl" is finally released to streaming (or Fraser's character is brought into a different DC property).

He's really into photography

Fraser isn't just an actor; he's also gained a reputation as an amateur photographer along the way. According to Techrader, Fraser is a genuine fan of lo-fi photography and has been involved in the scene for years. Interestingly, there have been notable times when his acting and photography passions have collided on-screen such as his character in the sitcom, "Scrubs."

In "Scrubs," Fraser appeared in a notable cameo role as Ben Sullivan, a photographer who gets diagnosed with leukemia. Ben has a small but important role in "Scrubs" as the brother-in-law and best friend of Dr. Cox (played by John C. McGinley) and his eventual death is considered by fans as the saddest death in the show. It's clear that the character's interest in photography stems from Fraser himself, who is known to take photos behind the scenes while filming. Interestingly, he even earned a dedication in the book, "Collector's Guide to Instant Cameras" (via Techradar).

He nearly died during The Mummy

It's already been discussed how frequently and seriously Fraser got injured during his career, but there was one incident in particular that goes beyond just getting hurt. Thanks to an insanely dangerous stunt that didn't have necessary safety precautions during the production of "The Mummy," Fraser nearly died for real (via LAD Bible).

"The Mummy" franchise is known for its light-hearted characters, exciting stunts, and adventurous spirit which was spearheaded by the charms of  Fraser's character: Rick O'Connell. Despite how fun he is to watch on screen, one particular scene has been tainted by what happened to Fraser as a result. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Fraser revealed that he was choked into unconsciousness during the hanging scene in "The Mummy."

He said, "I remember seeing the camera start to pan around, and then it was like a black iris at the end of a silent film. It was like turning down the volume switch on your home stereo, like the Death Star powering down. I regained consciousness and one of the EMTs was saying my name. There was gravel in my ear and s*** really hurt." We're all just lucky  Fraser made it through that near-death experience in one piece.