Brendan Fraser enjoyed a six-minute standing ovation at Venice Film Festival yesterday for playing the lead role in Darren Aronofsky’s new psychological thriller, The Whale.
For any actor, this would be a career-defining moment. But for 53-year-old Fraser, who was once one of Hollywood’s biggest stars before suffering a series of personal misfortunes, it also marked his triumphant return to the screen.
In a clip that has now garnered 17 million views, Fraser was visibly moved to tears as the crowds clapped at the premiere, all while making jokes and trying to downplay all of the attention.
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) September 4, 2022
The entirety of the internet, it seemed, subsequently turned out to support the actor.
“If you know anything about Brendan Fraser’s personal life and what happened to his career, then you should be cheering for this man. What a beautiful moment that’s well deserved. The beginning of something special,” tweeted one fan.
“I love the fact that the world as a whole has decided Brendan Fraser must be protected at all costs and deserves every bit of happiness. And if that includes being in films and shows again, then we’re in. If not, we’re still in. If he’s happy, we’re happy,” wrote another.
“Don’t know what you’re all talking about with a Brendan Fraser ‘comeback’. We’ve all been watching The Mummy twice a year since ‘99. The king never left,” joked another fan.
Fraser the megastar
For readers over the age of 30 in particular, Fraser’s name still holds particular star power. For a period in the late Nineties and early Noughties, he was one of the most sought-after actors working in Hollywood, starring in School Ties in 1992, Airheads in 1994, George of the Jungle in 1997, and then of course The Mummy in 1999.
He also had roles in Dudley Do-Right in 1990, Blast from the Past in 1999, Bedazzled in 2000 and in Monkeybone in 2001.
Fraser, who was born in Indianapolis to a sales counsellor mother and civil servant father, gained his first film credit from the 1991 film Dogfight but got his big break one year later in 1992’s Encino Man.
But the pressure of the back-to-back projects put an insurmountable strain on Fraser’s body. The actor would later require years of intrusive surgeries, including two laminectomies (removal of bones in the spine) a partial knee replacement, more back work (caused by clearing a felled tree after Hurricane Sandy) and vocal cord repair.
“By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China I was put together with tape and ice,” he said in an interview with GQ in 2018. “I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily.”
As well as these physical setbacks, Fraser had to endure a number of personal misfortunes, which caused the actor to suffer from depression.
For example, in 2016, Fraser’s mother died of cancer. Just days later he was interviewed as part of The Affair’s press tour and was noticeably sad and quiet, almost murmuring. Fans became deeply concerned about the actor who hadn’t been interviewed for years. The rumour mill started churning. Was it a very delayed reaction to Fraser and his wife Afton Smith’s 2007 divorce? Was it the consequence of a serious ailment or illness?
“I buried my mom,” Fraser explained to GQ. “I think I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what that meant.”
In the interview, Fraser also shared more details about his alleged sexual assault by Philip Berk in 2003, who was president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) at the time. Fraser accused Berk of molesting him. Berk denied the allegations.
“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,” said Fraser to GQ.
However, despite these setbacks Fraser continued to feature in several films and TV shows, such as in Journey to the Center of the Earth and Inkheart in 2008, Extraordinary Measures in 2010, in Hagai Levi’s The Affair in 2016–2017, in the 2015 series Texas Rising and in DC and HBO Max’s Doom Patrol.
In early August, Warner Bros’ DC superhero film, Batgirl, was completely cancelled. The decision left directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah “saddened and shocked”; £74 million had already been spent on the film. Michael Keaton was going to reprise his role as Batman, American singer-songwriter Leslie Grace was playing Batgirl and Fraser was going to play the sociopathic pyromaniac Firefly.
Fraser had only featured in four films since 2014 and the superhero project was, it seemed, poised to catapult him back into the limelight.
Now, following the standing ovation, one fan joked: “Wow, people really seem to love Brendan Fraser. If someone had recently bought a movie studio that had almost finished a movie with him in it, you would think now would be a great time to release it and not, you know, destroy all the footage.”
Darren Aronofsky’s latest film sees Fraser play a 600-pound (272 kg) middle-aged man who is trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter. The film has caused a stir at Venice: “The Whale is a perfect comeback role for Brendan Fraser,” said Vulture writer Bilge Ebiri, who added that his colleagues “all seemed surprised to have found themselves so devastated by the movie and, in particular, by Brendan Fraser’s performance”.
“Watching it, you feel grossly manipulated but the approach is undeniably effective,” wrote The Independent. The film also features Stranger Things’ star Sadie Sink, Hong Chau (Watchmen) and Samantha Morton (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
What is next for Fraser?
The actor has starred in two films that are currently in the works. The first is Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, a Western crime drama which will also star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, and which is set to premiere at Cannes next year.
The second is the forthcoming comedy, Brothers, where he will star alongside Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage and Josh Brolin.