Interviews


Brendan Fraser


Occupation: Actor
Date of Birth: December 3, 1968
Place of Birth: Indianapolis, Ind., USA
Sign: Sun in Sagittarius, Moon in Taurus
Relations: Wife: Afton Smith
Education: Attended Upper Canada College in Toronto; B.F.A. from the Actors' Conservatory, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, Washington

 

BRENDAN FRASER is not the first actor to have arrived in Hollywood dreaming of Shakespeare, only to find himself appearing in films memorable more for the amazing brevity of their multiplex tenure than for their social impact. With his rakish good looks, Fraser seems tailor-made to play the kind of beefcake roles that appeal to the young-and-female box-office demographic. But ever since his first days in Tinseltown, this stage vet has made a respectable number of films which have tapped into his years of dramatic training, in the process proving himself more than amply talented to one day extend his audience beyond the late-night-with-a-six-pack, video-watching crowd.

The son of a Canadian tourism official, Brendan and his three older brothers might just as well have been a rock band on tour for the kind of peripatetic upbringing their father's profession afforded the family. Touching down for brief periods in a series of European and Canadian cities, Fraser acquired an international education, gaining his knowledge of French in Ottawa, of Dutch during a stint in the Hague. By the time he hit high school, Fraser's vagabond family had set up camp in Toronto, Canada. Apparently unable to deny his genetic wanderlust, Fraser pulled up stakes again and entered the theater department at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, where he pursued a fine arts degree with an emphasis on physical performance. The young performing arts grad soon found steady work with Seattle's Intiman Theater, as well as with the Laughing Horse Summer Theater in Ellensburg, Washington, where he appeared in such standards as A Midsummer Night's Dream, Arms and the Man, and Waiting for Godot.

But this particular thespian had bigger fish to fry. In January of 1991, after scoring a one-line part in a film, Fraser borrowed his mom's Chevy Spectrum and headed for the palm-lined boulevards of Southern California. Unfortunately, the film was never released, but the bold career move bore fruit that same year when Fraser appeared in two made-for-TV movies: the based-on-a-true-story Guilty Until Proven Innocent; and the latter-day virgin-birth drama Child of Darkness, Child of Light. With a bit part that same year in the Vietnam-era romantic morality play, Dogfight, Fraser stood poised to advance his career on both the big and small screens.

When the time came for the up-and-coming actor's first major cinematic outing, as the titular character in 1992's Encino Man, the theatrical movement training in Fraser's collegiate past proved invaluable. In this celluloid slice o' So-Cal life, Fraser was charged with aping a Cro-Magnon man who is liberated from his ice cocoon only to commit the requisite series of predictably lame faux pas in his attempts to adapt to twentieth-century life. The film, which did little for his reputation as a serious actor, did manage to endear the heavy-lidded stunner to hunk-seekers everywhere. But Fraser had a sure-fire ace-in-the-hole: he had secured the respect of Paramount Pictures head Sherry Lansing, who, so the story goes, selected Fraser for the role of a Jewish kid on a boarding-school football scholarship circa 1950 in School Ties (also 1992) on the strength of his initial audition. "Brendan came into the room, very shy," Lansing remembers. "We said: 'Here are three scenes. Read.' And suddenly his stance changes. And this person emerges whom you can't take your eyes off. He's like all the good ones. They become the person." Fraser, himself the product of a boarding-school education, recalls his schooling without a trace of nostalgia: "I didn't fit in. They encouraged tremendous rivalry between different houses. We were like gang members in suits and ties." Putting these unpleasant memories to good use, Fraser turned in a performance that secured his ability to land dramatic roles  even after the debut of the critically maligned Encino Man marred an otherwise promising year.

Since his movie-land debut in the early nineties, Fraser's career has run hot and cold. The actor's unfortunate alliance with Encino Man creator Pauley Shore has manifested itself in the resurrection of Link the Cro-Magnon man for cameo appearances in the poorly-received  is there any other kind?  Shore vehicles, Son In Law and In the Army Now. While Link is a character who seems quite comfortable executing ingenuous gags, Fraser has proved himself capable of far more than lowest-common-denominator humor. For 1995's fairy tale The Passion of Darkly Noon, he plumbed the depths of his range to portray the disturbed orphan of religiously conservative parents who is taken in by an earthy and uninhibited Ashley Judd. This critically lauded performance arrived on the heels of a noteworthy outing as a mentally unbalanced baseball prodigy in the Albert Brooks comedy The Scout.

Fraser has become somewhat of a regular in the comedy genre, starring in a number of pictures that readily attest to the difficulty of realizing a funny screenplay that will actually fly. Yet, from the utterly forgettable comedy about a struggling band, Airheads to the story of a law student whose thesis is intercepted by a homeless man, With Honors, Fraser has consistently rated higher praise than the films in which he appears. Sadly, the minor gems in his oeuvre  1993's Twenty Bucks, for example  are overshadowed by projects conceived to revisit safe thematic territory, such as 1996's fatuous mistaken-identity flop Mrs. Winterbourne. As the titular character in the live-action film George of the Jungle, Fraser came full circle, returning to the analphabetic physical comedy of his baptismal starring role. Luckily, the sometime Cro-Magnon has continued to appeal to producers of higher-minded fare like director Bill Condon's biopic exploration of the final days of horror director James Whale, Gods and Monsters, and the sophisticated date movie Blast From the Past, which paired him in romance with Alicia Silverstone. Fraser cut a dashing figure in the 1999 action remake The Mummy, a film which he followed with a comic turn as the title character of Dudley Do-Right.

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