Welcome to a new issue of the Gossip Reading Club. We’re heading into fall festival season, which means the Oscar chatter is kicking off hardcore. This is my Super Bowl, baby. Bring me the thirsty campaigning, the critical squabbles, and all of the Discourse (hello, Dear Evan Hansen.) For now, however, let’s look at one of the internet’s most beloved actors and the profile that helped to reintroduce him to the world.
A quick content warning that this piece discusses depression, sexual assault, and grief.
If you've ever been on the internet, then the chances are you've seen a lot of clickbait ads that use unflattering photographs of celebrities you vaguely recognize with headlines wondering where they are nowadays. "All grown up" child stars are especially familiar with this tactic, as are women who dared to visibly age. Another regular face was Brendan Fraser, the Canadian heart-throb comedy actor who quietly dominated Hollywood of the '90s before seemingly disappearing without a trace. He went from being an old-school leading man to a non-entity, and after a while, the internet started to take notice. For the past few years, there’s been a truly earnest groundswell of enthusiasm and renewed fandom for the actor. When Tom Cruise’s attempt to reboot The Mummy flopped, we all suddenly remembered how much we loved Fraser in those films. Who knew that we eagerly needed an action hero halfway between Errol Flynn and Jim Carrey? As the glut of superhero movies saw a hyper-specific brand of white cishet masculinity dictate the big screen, I personally found myself thinking about how Fraser’s elasticity and earnest goofball take on Indiana Jones may have helped to pave the way for many a Chris (seriously, you do not get to Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok without Fraser in The Mummy or George of the Jungle.) The homogeny of the blockbuster left us crying out for some nostalgic relief, so where the hell was Brendan Fraser?! GQ found out for us, and the answers to those clickbait questions left many of us slack-jawed with shock.
With a title that gets to the point, Zach Baron's deep dive gently re-introduces us to Fraser, and for fans, there was something so hearteningly familiar about that opening paragraph. Fraser introduces the author to his horse, who he acquired while working on a TV series and felt compelled to adopt him after the animal "looked like he needed help. Like: Get me out of here, man." It’s a moment that is simultaneously goofy and tender: so, basically what we want and expect from Brendan Fraser. In another immensely endearing moment, he tells the interviewer, following a summary of recent tough times, that “I think I just need to let some arrows fly.” That's not a sweet metaphor. It turns out he wanted to literally fire some arrows for a moment of target practice (he hits the bull's eye, of course.) Fraser seems like a guy who’s eager to please but is also just naturally good at doing so. The piece captures what made him so loveable in his best movies, which isn’t as easy as some profiles make it look, especially as the format becomes more homogenized and PR-moulded. This Fraser piece is definitely one untouched by meddling publicists or harried agents. I’m not sure any agency would want their clients to be as raw and candid as Fraser gets here.
The GQ piece went viral not just because people were glad to see Fraser once more after a perceived absence, but because of how thoroughly it dismantled our ideas of Brendan Fraser the star, as well as the industry that heralded him as the next big thing. As Fraser built up his reputation as an action hero for the ‘90s and (hopefully) beyond, his body began to fall apart under the stress. He describes being "put together with tape and ice—just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs" and going through various surgeries on his knee, vocal cords, and lamina. He got divorced from his wife, his mother passed from cancer, and he fell into a depressive state.
When Fraser did emerge back into the public eye, most notably during a 2016 video interview for AOL's BUILD channel, he seemed, well... sad. The guy who was so good at pleasing everyone else now looked utterly bereft. It was later revealed that his mother had died mere days before the interview and Fraser described himself as still being in mourning as well as ill at ease with a return to promoting a show (he was appearing on The Affair in a startlingly good supporting role.) Not that the public knew about that when the video went viral. All they saw was a “former star” at a low point; older, no longer chiselled by the gods, not working the crowd or playing up his status as the goofy leading man. Someone who was once so familiar, someone who exuded a kind of relatability that remains rare even today, now felt like a stranger. Some people on social media were cruel, but from what I saw, most just felt concerned for him. It was a keen reminder of the divide between the person and the star, and how, no matter how frequently those two elements may intersect, there will always be some sort of distance between them.
So much of what made Fraser a hot commodity in the ‘90s was rooted in this blend of classic movie star and modern goofus that leaned heavily on self-deprecation. In his most entertaining films, Fraser always cracks the joke first and never seems to mind being the butt of it. As much as Rick in The Mummy charms and oozes classic Errol Flynn debonair power, he’s still just as likely to be pratfalling on his face. He’s Indiana Jones with none of the toxic crap. Even in George of the Jungle, one of the king himbo movies of the ‘90s – really, Fraser was just a top notch himbo – relies as much on his female gaze-y sex appeal as it does his cartoonish comedy timing. In more serious roles, such as his excellent turns in Gods and Monsters and The Quiet American, Fraser conveys a similar sense of guilelessness. It’s not naivety so much as it’s terminal optimism. He always seemed like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to disappoint or be disappointed by. That’s hard as f**k to keep up and Fraser couldn’t. No mere mortal can. Throughout the profile, you still sense him yearning to please everyone, and while it seems to come organically, the fact that he even has to adds to the melancholy of the piece. It also makes him even more endearing, to be honest. even at his most self-deprecating (veering into self-loathing at times), Fraser has an optimistic glance. The moments where that changes end up hitting extremely hard as a result, especially when he fights off the gaslighting regarding his assault.
After a few weeks of conversing with the writer -- something that is increasingly rare in the PR-dictated world of celebrity profiles -- Fraser shares the story of his sexual assault. In 2003, Fraser alleges that he was groped by Philip Berk, the former President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Berk admitted he’d groped Fraser but tried to claim it was a joke and called Fraser’s accusation “a total fabrication.” Berk, by the way, was expelled from the sh*tshow that is the HFPA this year because he's a racist creep. He never faced any repercussions regarding Fraser's accusation, and the actor told GQ he was convinced that the organization blacklisted him for it:
“He was in a hotel room just weeks ago, watching the Globes on TV, Fraser says, as the actresses wore black and the actors wore Time's Up pins in solidarity, when the broadcast showed Berk in the room. He was there and Fraser was not.
“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.” On the phone, he breathes deeply. “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.””
His fear is palpable, especially in that context of early 2018, a mere four months after the New York Times and New Yorker investigations revealed the full extent of Harvey Weinstein’s campaign of concerted terror and intimidation of his victims. The HFPA may currently be in ruins, its reputation as an industry-wide joke finally caught up with it, but even in the aftermath of #MeToo, the Golden Globes were still elevated far beyond their legitimacy. Everyone wore their Time’s Up pins, but nobody thought about Fraser, and like I said, it’s not as though this incident was unknown. Berk f**king wrote about it in his memoir! Reading this part of the profile, after many paragraphs of Fraser’s tough experiences in the industry, the callousness with which he was all but dumped by Hollywood and the hangers-on of the HFPA feels like the final indignity. To steal a line from The History Boys, it was just one f**king thing after another.
Hollywood has never been kind to women who age, but its heartlessness towards men who suffer the same fate is just as ferocious. We gender the very notion of ageing (and the expensive fight against it) to the point where we seem genuinely flabbergasted by the notion of male vanity. Guys like Paul Rudd remain remarkably smooth-faced into their 50s and we can’t fathom how it’s possible, because to acknowledge the routine of fillers, laser facials, and supplements required of modern learning men feels like a step too far. And I’m not even getting into the issue of the toxic masculinity reinforced by the ceaseless six-pack tyranny of the superhero franchise age. Yes, random man in a cape, I’m sure you got that body in your late 40s solely through pull-ups, chicken breasts, and vitamins. Men are expected to maintain this crushing norm well into their twilight years (although, of course, there’s far more wriggle room for guys than women, as exhibited by every character actor allowed to have wrinkles.) Fraser couldn’t. His body had been too damaged by it, and he aged like most people in their 50s do. He doesn’t look like he did in 1999, and that seemed to shock and disgust some. It stopped him from being a leading man. I think a lot about Fraser’s pain and how horribly common it probably is in an industry whose lifeblood is dependent on maintaining an impossible fantasy. Fraser says he was in and out of hospitals for almost seven years with his various injuries.
Fraser even explains his own desire to kill off the image he and Hollywood had made of him. In the super-underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action (it's better than Space Jam: accept it), Fraser plays a stuntman who stands in for... Brendan Fraser. In one scene, his character meets "Brendan Fraser" and knocks him out. Describing the day of shooting that scene, Fraser says he styled the fake Fraser as "my vision of the worst version of myself. And I get to deck me […] 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."
It’s the most direct Kill Your Darlings-style destruction of his own image Fraser could have done at that time. The self-deprecation that had helped to make him a star wore him down, a feeling I’m sure a lot of us are in some way familiar with. You can pre-empt the jokes but only for so long and doing so is emotionally draining. There was always a fascinating strain of vulnerability to Fraser’s roles but this wasn’t an industry or a period in time where he could be openly emotional and unfiltered about his struggles to the public. Nowadays, it feels like everyone in the celeb-sphere has at least one Instagram post of this nature, especially as conversations about destigmatizing mental health become the norm. Not so much in 2003, when tabloids ruled the roost and mocking vulnerable figures like Britney Spears as “crazy” was on the verge of becoming a national sport.
“I bought into the pressure that comes with the hopes and aims that come with a professional life that's being molded and shaped and guided and managed,” he says now. “That requires what they call thick skin, or just ignoring it, putting your head in the sand, or gnashing your teeth and putting on your public face, or just not even…needing the public. Ignoring. Staying home, damn it. You know, not 'cause I'm aloof or anything, but because I just felt I couldn't be a part of it. I didn't feel that I belonged.”
Three years on from this GQ piece and the Frasernaissance is kicking it up a gear. One producer says, “It's so cool to see leading men become great character actors later in their career.” Following some sinfully underrated work in a variety of TV series -- seriously go check out Trust -- he's got movies with beloved auteurs like Steven Soderbergh, Martin f**king Scorsese, and Darren Aronofsky in the pipeline (but seriously the Aronofsky one sounds... problematic. I'm concerned.) Moreover, he’s being talked about. He has trended worldwide on Twitter not for any specific reason or scandal but just because people were talking about how much they liked and missed him. Recently, during a cycle of online fan meet-and-greets, one video of him getting truly emotional about the internet’s fandom for him went viral. The Mummy hasn’t been so thoroughly at the front of the popular consciousness since its initial release. Gosh darn it, we like him. Maybe he’s a stand-in for every person the entertainment industry has chewed up, spat out, then had the audacity to pretend they weren’t entirely culpable in that person’s struggles. Seeing one of those folks, one of those underdogs, return to the spotlight and be welcomed rather than rejected? Call me naïve but I think we needed that. Bring on the Brenaissance. Or Frasernaissance. We really need to settle on one term.
Please share your thoughts on this article in the comments below, or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @Ceilidhann for a chat about books, gossip, and my panting efforts to return to regular exercise. If you like this newsletter, please share it online and recommend it to everyone who you think would enjoy some vintage gossip analysis. If you have any feedback or recommendations for future issues, please get in touch through email at email@example.com.
You can find my work on Pajiba.com as well as sites like SYFY, IGN, Uproxx, Slashfilm, RogerEbert.com, and many other places. If you like esoteric vampire pop culture, you can listen to my latest podcast Fangthology. We have a new episode coming soon on a vampire Broadway musical flop. This past fortnight, I wrote about one of my favourite sleazy movies, Paul Schrader's remake of Cat People, for Crooked Marquee. I also wrote about Disney's direct-to-video boom and River Phoenix's legend and performance in Stand By Me for SlashFilm. I tackled the inevitable Ted Lasso backlash and geeked out over John Cho's casting in Cowboy Bebop for What To Watch. I also dug into Matt Damon's perpetual foot-in-mouth problem for Pajiba. Hey, I had a busy fortnight!
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