He tried to leave the theatre but that only intensified the rapturous applause.
It’s the kind of career apogee that The Mummy star probably wouldn’t have believed possible for much of the last 20 years.
Over the course of the last two decades, Fraser has been largely MIA, confined, as my colleague aptly put it, to a Google search: What ever happened to Brendan Fraser?
The answer now? He’s back.
Fraser was one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men in the 1990s and 2000s
Fraser’s vanishing act was no mean feat; at the beginning of the Noughties, he was at the height of his appeal, having starred in beloved family-friendly adventure movies like The Mummy, George of the Jungle and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
He was tanned, behemoth-jawed and blue-eyed with stone-carved abs and pecs. His past looks have been the subject of innumerable TikToks and photo montages crafted by fans begging for a “Brenaissance”.
“I look at myself then and I just see a walking steak,” Fraser said in a 2018 GQ profile.
He also showed he had acting chops in 1992’s School Ties, playing a Jewish scholarship football player at an anti-Semitic boarding school opposite Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris O’Donnell.
Around 2005, Fraser’s career began to shift.
The family-friendly studio movies he excelled in began to decline in popularity; Inkheart, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Furry Vengeance and a Mummy sequel all had lacklustre receptions.
The quality of the films he was starring in quickly declined, as did the size of his parts.
It’s easy to say that an actor “fell off” – some do – but further explanation of Fraser’s retreat finally came in the 2018 GQ profile.
Fraser claimed he was sexually assaulted in 2003
In the interview, Fraser alleged that, in 2003, he was sexually assaulted by Philip Berk, the former head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organising body behind the Golden Globes). Berk called Fraser’s allegation “a total fabrication”.
“I became depressed,” Fraser told GQ. “I was blaming myself and I was miserable, because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’ That summer wore on and I can’t remember what I went on to work on next.”
He added that the alleged incident made him “retreat” and “feel reclusive”, and he lost track of who he was. Acting, he said, “withered on the vine… Something had been taken away from me.”
Fraser suspected that the incident caused the HFPA to blacklist him, which Berk also denied, though he was rarely invited to the Golden Globes after 2003. “The phone does stop ringing in your career, and you start asking yourself why. There’s many reasons, but was this one of them? I think it was,” the actor said.
Around the same time, Fraser’s body began to deteriorate after years of stunt work. “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China [in 2008], I was put together with tape and ice,” he explained.
Fraser had to have multiple surgeries and an “exoskeleton” of ice packs in order to keep his body moving.
He famously revealed how far he was willing to push his body while filming The Mummy in 1999. In a scene where his character is hanged (but not killed), Fraser agreed to have the rope around his neck tightened for a realistic portrayal. The next thing he remembers is lying in the gravel with a medic crouched over him. “I did get fully choked out. It was scary,” the actor recalled to EW in 2019.
The ‘Brenaissance’ begins
Speaking to The Independent last year, Daniel Stephen, host of The Brendan Fraser Podcast, identified both the GQ article and 2017’s disastrous reboot of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, as triggers for the internet’s Fraser resurgence. “For people who either saw that movie or didn’t see it, it was a realisation that nobody wants a Mummy movie without Brendan Fraser,” he says. “I think that was kind of a wake-up call that we miss him.”
“Especially after his [alleged] assault came to light,” Andrew Ortiz, founder of film merchandise brand Super Yaki, added. “That gave people just all the more reason to want to root for him.
“I think when we see someone who’s been wronged, or taken advantage of in society, we want to then see them win. And I think in an absence of bigger wins, you bank a lot on these very public comeback stories.”
It helps that Fraser seems to be a genuinely lovely man – something that is not always a sure bet in the film industry. The GQ profile, for instance, begins with him talking about a horse he shipped from Mexico to his New York ranch because it was getting “beat up” by other horses.
Last year, footage of the actor went viral because of his emotional reaction to hearing about the internet’s support of him.
The Whale is Fraser’s first starring role in a film since 2013’s direct-to-DVD action movie Breakout. To call it a comeback would be an understatement. The part already has Fraser in serious contention for an Oscar next year.
If he gets it, it will be a story worthy of its own cinematic tale.
Read The Independent’s four-star review of The Whale here.