He was one of the hottest stars in the early to late 90s but disappeared from the spotlight in 2008. Now that he’s making a triumphant return to the screen, you might be wondering what happened to Brendan Fraser.
Most millennials will have seen a movie starring this 6′ 2″ Canadian-American. He got his big break in 1992 with the movie School Ties opposite Matt Damon and Chris O’Donnell. Then, The Mummy franchise, beginning in 1999, would make him a bona fide action star. But in the mid-aughts, Fraser mysteriously disappeared. Some two decades later, he returned to Hollywood in Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, The Whale, which was released in cinemas on December 9, 2022. The film has generated plenty of awards season buzz, particularly for Fraser’s performance as the lead character, Charlie.
While speaking with StyleCaster at the New York premiere of The Whale in late November 2022, Fraser said he felt “affirmed” by the fact that all of Hollywood was rallying around the Brenaissance. “I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin than I once was 20 years ago, but I don’t know a single actor alive who isn’t just grateful to have a job, so I hope I never lose sight of that,” he said. “I really want to work on projects that I feel I could still learn something from the people that I’m working with.”
What happened to Brendan Fraser?
What happened to Brendan Fraser? It’s believed Fraser was blacklisted by Hollywood because he claimed he’d been sexually abused by the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), Phillip Berk. In his memoir, With Signs and Wonders, Berk recounted he’d pinched Fraser’s ass, but in a GQ article from 2018, Fraser recalled it was much more than that. “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,” he described, having never spoken about the incident publicly until then “for risk of humiliation, or damage to” his career. Eventually, he was able to remove Berk’s hand. “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 said.
Fraser’s reps asked the HFPA for a written apology, but Berk “admitted no wrongdoing” and said Fraser’s account was a “complete fabrication.” The actor told GQ the incident made him “retreat” and “feel reclusive”. He became “depressed” and wondered if the HFPA had blacklisted him. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening,” he said, adding that he was rarely invited back to the Golden Globes after 2003. His career deteriorated, his marriage broke down and Fraser faded into obscurity.
That is until director Darren Aronofsky resurrected his career with The Whale, which is based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter of the same name. Although he said in an interview with Variety, Fraser wasn’t exactly his first choice because. Because the character of Charlie is a 600 lbs. man, the Requiem for a Dream director initially researched actors with obesity. “There was a chapter in the making of this film where we tried to research actors with obesity,” says Aronofsky. “Outside of not being able to find an actor who could pull off the emotions of the role, it just becomes a crazy chase. Like, if you can’t find a 600-pound actor, is a 300-pound actor or 400-pound actor enough?”
But after seeing Fraser in a trailer for a “low-budget Brazilian movie” the acclaimed director had the idea of meeting with him for the role and their chemistry was almost instantaneous. “As soon as he left my office after our first meeting, I felt it,” Aronofsky told Variety. “I knew he could play someone who most people would start off by dismissing, but within five minutes they’d start to feel something for him. Then, within 20 minutes, they’re starting to fall in love with the character, because there’s just something about Brendan. Pretty soon, he starts to break your heart.”
When the film screened at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022, Fraser received a six-minute standing ovation which left him visibly emotional. He quickly generated Oscar’s buzz for his sensitive portrayal of Charlie—a gay man who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter while suffering a myriad of health problems due to his morbid obesity.
The film is sensitive to the challenges facing people with obesity but admittedly uncomfortable to watch at times, as Fraser, transformed by up to 300 lbs. of prosthetics, labors to perform the simplest of tasks like getting up off the sofa. “We felt an obligation to ensure that it was cumbersome. It was accurate, that was what we strived for,” he said at the New York premiere.
After the 2018 article ran in GQ, the HFPA issued a statement in response, posting to Twitter at the time: “The HFPA stands firmly against sexual harassment and the type of behavior described in this article,” the HFPA said in a statement published on Twitter. “Over the years we’ve continued a positive working relationship with Brendan, which includes announcing Golden Globe nominees, attending the ceremony and participating in press conferences. This report includes alleged information that the HFPA was previously unaware of and at this time we are investigating further details surrounding the incident.”
For all the 2023 awards season buzz, Fraser announced he would not be attending the Golden Globes, even if he’s nominated because of his history with the HFPA. “I have more history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than I have respect for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association,” Fraser told GQ in November 2022 cover story. In answer to the question as to whether he would attend, he replied, “No, I will not participate.” He added: “It’s because of the history that I have with them,” he added. “And my mother didn’t raise a hypocrite. You can call me a lot of things, but not that.”
The Whale is in cinemas now.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 1-800-656-4673.
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