Brendan Fraser was the star back in the 1990s, putting out film after film throughout the decade. His name was on every poster, and everybody new who he was. Until around 2003, when he began to disappear from the public eye. It happened so slowly that it took people years to realize they weren’t seeing Fraser on the screen as much as they used to.
Then he returned over a decade later, shocking his fans by how much he had changed. But it wasn’t just physical. He seemed to have lost that lively sparkle and goofiness that he was known for.
And in February 2018, Fraser finally broke the silence and opened up to GQ about his absence and the reasons behind it. But there was one reason in particular that started the avalanche of struggles for him. It took him fifteen years to finally find the courage to talk about it… And it turned out to be the perfect time.
Here’s the full story…
Now, Brendan Fraser started out as a major film success.
Being tall, hunky, and handsome, he often played the leading parts in action movies.
We all know his back catalog.
Some of his most profitable titles, earning hundreds of millions of dollars, included Airheads, George of the Jungle, The Mummy, and Bedazzled.
But then, he disappeared and returned as a completely different man.
His eyes were less bright and less wide. He had lost his George of the Jungle physique, receiving a lot of unwanted attention from the media.
During his first interview in years, which he did with AOL BUILD to promote his new show The Affair, Fraser looked extremely sad and uncomfortable.
Turns out, the early 21st century was one the most difficult times in Fraser’s personal and professional life.
In 2008, his family with three kids fell apart, when he got divorced from his partner of 10 years, Afton Smith.
In 2016, just a few days before the AOL BUILD interview, his mother had died of cancer.
“I think I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what that meant,” Fraser told GQ.
Even though his comedies, such as Encino Man and Young and Younger did well, he noticed that it was the movies in which he was shirtless most of the time that gained him the most success.
So he started intense workouts and even did his own stunts.
But this is when things took a turn for Fraser.
In the early 2000s, he had a huge break with Bedazzled, The Mummy sequel, and Looney Tunes.
“I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive,” he continued to GQ. But success quickly became addictive to the star.
“By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China, […] I was put together with tape and 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.”
Repeated laminectomy (removing the back of vertebrae to reduce pressure on the nerves), partial knee replacement, more work on his back, vocal chord repairment…
“I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work.
Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him …”
“I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild shit that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not,” he told GQ.
Such frequent trips to the hospital meant he couldn’t take up as many movies as he used to.
Despite the significant stress that his body was being put through, this was not what had the most impact on the bad turn his career took.
For fifteen years, Fraser thought he didn’t have “the courage to speak up for risk of humiliation, or damage to [his] career.”
But inspired by the Me Too movement, he finally spoke up.
At the HFPA luncheon in 2003, Fraser was approached by the former HFPA president Philip Berk to shake his hand.
According to Berk, what followed was him giving a friendly pinch on Fraser’s butt, as a joke.
“His left-hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.”
The incident left Fraser with panic and fear: “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry,” he told GQ.
He managed to remove Berk’s hand, and rushed out of the building, “past a police officer he couldn’t quite bring himself to confess to.”
But the incident still haunts Fraser.
After being pressed for a written apology, Berk wrote a letter to Fraser, apologizing for the incident and saying he never intended to upset him.
He started to believe he deserved what happened.
”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.”
Afterwards, Fraser told GQ he rarely got invited to the Golden Globes (organized by HFPA), and he wondered if it was because of the incident.
Berk, once again, denied it all.
“I watched this wonderful movement, these people with the courage to say what I didn’t have the courage to say.”
Even after fifteen years he is still affected by the incident.
“Am I still frightened? Absolutely.”
“Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to, many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely. And maybe I am over-reacting in terms of what the instance was. I just know what my truth is. And it’s what I just spoke to you.”
Fraser was later considered for the role of Superman. The director of the film at the time, Brett Ratner, invited him to his house one day to talk about the role.
He asked Fraser to take a photo with him in this old photo booth. Even though Ratner let him know the photo was for a book he was working on, he never explained what it was about or asked for Fraser’s consent to publish it. Because he wanted the role, Fraser agreed.
Fraser didn’t get to be Superman and that “pretty much broke his heart,” GQ said.
He felt like it was his fault and he thought he didn’t get the part because he wasn’t good enough, and he kept seeing it as a failure.
Even to this day Fraser, believes it was his fault.
“You feel like: I didn’t measure up. Oh, I failed. And the truth is, you didn’t. […] You didn’t fail. […] But even […] as I sit here and say that to you right now, I feel like, Well, no, no, the proof’s right there.”
He went on to film Looney Tunes: Back In Action, a comedy about a Brendan Fraser’s ‘stuntman’, who eventually gets to punch Brendan Fraser.
“The reason I was adamant about wanting to do that, even if I didn’t realize it until much, much later, is that at that time 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.”
He thought he didn’t deserve the shining career he had worked so hard to achieve for over a decade. He thought that because he didn’t have the ‘thick skin’ that being an actor required, he didn’t deserve to be one.
And there are so many fans out there who would fight to DEATH to prove Fraser that he’s wrong.
Over the past few years, Fraser worked on the third season of The Affair, the drama series Trust, and Condor, traveling back and forth between Toronto and London.
It makes us feel so incredibly happy and inspired to see him finally smiling after all the terrible things he’s had to go through.
“Something good came out of something that was bad,” Fraser told GQ.
“Sometimes it takes a while for that to happen.”