The rise, fall and resurrection of American star Brendan Fraser has become the talk of Tinseltown in 2022 after the actor completed his career U-turn with the release of the much-celebrated Darren Aronofsky movie The Whale. Just like Matthew McConaughey and Robert Pattinson, Fraser has gone through a significant rebrand, emerging from the depths of industry obscurity to become one of the industry’s most pertinent talking points.
His initial rise to popularity came with the same swift fluidity as many contemporary acting prodigies, appearing in the 1992 movie School Ties with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon after only five minor credits to his name. Several supporting roles followed, the most notable of which being in 1994s Airheads, where he starred alongside Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi and Chris Farley and significantly built his star persona.
Success steadily grew, film after film, with 1997 being a monumental year in the actor’s rise to prominence, taking a starring role in the romantic comedy Still Breathing, as well as in the throwaway action adventure flick George of the Jungle. Both movies helped prove Fraser’s acting chops, comedy timing and sharp good looks, increasing his chances that a major studio might entrust him with a significant franchise.
Shortly before the turn of the new millennium, this became a reality when Universal Pictures cast Fraser in the globe-trotting adventure movie The Mummy, which would quickly become the actor’s flagship franchise. With Rachel Weisz and John Hannah, Fraser led the line with the perfect balance of grit, good looks and quick wit to make the series succeed for back-to-back movies in 1999 and 2001.
Though, despite the success of both movies, with The Mummy Returns making $435 million worldwide, Fraser’s career considerably slowed toward the end of the 2000s, with the critical failure and lack of commercial buzz around 2008s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor being a symptomatic example. Just two years later, the release of the dated family comedy Furry Vengeance would mark just how out of touch the actor had become, stuck in a formula from which he hadn’t escaped since the ’90s.
Trying to be the action star of old without evolving to play to his contemporary strengths, the actor struggled to keep pace, telling GQ: “I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive”.
Continuing, he added: “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China…I was put together with tape and ice—just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs. Screw-cap ice packs and downhill-mountain-biking pads, ’cause they’re small and light and they can fit under your clothes. I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily”.
Clinging onto this idea of him being an all-action Hollywood superstar bought Fraser physical harm, too, with years of laborious stunts causing wear and tear on his body. “I needed a laminectomy,” Fraser recalled, “And the lumbar didn’t take, so they had to do it again a year later,” he said, speaking of the various surgeries he needed to get back in front of the Hollywood cameras.
Failing to secure any further Mummy movies, Fraser also lost the starring role in the Journey to the Center of the Earth series, being replaced by the towering, muscular hero Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson in 2012s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. As a result, by the end of the 2010s, the actor was a shell of his former star persona, reduced to acting obscurity and menial supporting roles in random films from across the vast landscape of Hollywood.
As illuminated in the GQ interview, however, Fraser also felt discriminated against in the industry after he became the victim of sexual assault, the actor claiming to be assaulted by Philip Berk, the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Accusing the movie mogul at the time, the actor faced widespread backlash and believed he was blacklisted due to his comments. At the very same time, Fraser went through severe personal hardship, undergoing a divorce from his wife, Afton Smith, whilst also experiencing the death of his mother.
As a result, by the end of the 2010s, the actor was a shell of his former star persona, reduced to acting obscurity and menial supporting roles in random films from across the vast landscape of Hollywood.
Cometh 2021 cometh the ‘Brenaissance’. Jeremy Carver and HBO were the first to see the potential in the forgotten screen star, casting him alongside Diane Guerrero, Timothy Dalton and April Bowlby in the DC series Doom Patrol. This gave the actor the necessary coverage for the esteemed filmmaker Steven Soderbergh to reach out and cast him with Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, and Julia Fox in the crime drama No Sudden Move. Impressing alongside the bulky ensemble cast, Fraser’s popularity swelled as quickly as it did in the late 1990s, with the celebrated American director Darren Aronofsky choosing him to star in his 2022 drama, The Whale.
Playing a reclusive English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter whilst struggling with obesity, Fraser’s character is symbolic of the actor’s efforts to fight body confidence and get back to his best.
The movie’s success at film festivals around the world has led Fraser to be considered one of the major frontrunners in the race for Best Actor at the 2023 Academy Awards. Receiving a six-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival, Fraser has quickly warmed the hearts of cinephiles and critics across the globe with his humble return to the top of the industry.
Giving an emotional speech at the Toronto Film Festival, the actor stated: “Art is about taking a risk and you should know that they took a chance on me and I will be forever grateful to them.” He then added: “It’s the audience that gives cinema life. So I must thank you for keeping me in the job that I love, because it’s nice work if you can get it”.
But Fraser hasn’t forgotten his long road to career recovery and intends to hold the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to account for their discrimination against him in the past. Refusing to attend the upcoming 2022 Golden Globes, Fraser stated, “No, I will not participate. It’s because of the history that I have with them. And my mother didn’t raise a hypocrite. You can call me a lot of things, but not that”.
Staring down a potential Oscar-winning performance and a forthcoming collaboration with Martin Scorsese on Killers of the Flower Moon, Fraser’s comeback to the very forefront of contemporary cinema is precisely the sort of career resurrection that has long been embedded in the identity of Hollywood glitz and glamour. Fraser’s fight represents the American dream that Tinseltown was built on, fighting media adversity, personal tragedy, and a long-term battle with mental health.