Brendan Fraser was a genre-jumping, action blockbusting, bonafide hottie by the time he reached the apex of his career in the late 90s. The momentous success of The Mummy made both him and Rachel Weisz household names, and it seemed like the actor’s trajectory should’ve shot steadily upward as it had in his first decade in Hollywood. But if you ask anyone under the age of say 15, what they think of Brendan Fraser, they’ll most likely respond with a glassy-eyed “Freezer who?” So. Whatever happened to the leading man we were promised at the turn of the century?
Brendan Fraser, born a Hoosier by two full-blooded Canadians, had his first foray into the acting scene in the form of a reenactment for America’s Most Wanted — he played the victim of murderer Rodney Mark Peterson. His first leading role came only four years later in the 1992 flick Encino Man, where he busted out of a block of ice — abs and all — into the hearts of Pauly Shore and the rest of America. A versatile actor, Fraser (most people pronounce his name like the dry 90s sitcom “Frasier”, when it actually just rhymes with the word “laser”) proved that he had all the elements perfect for ushering us out of the flimsier, comedic plots of the late 80s into the more grounded, self-aware scene of the 90s.
Next came films like School Ties, With Honors and In the Army Now (ok, not too self-aware.) But still, Brendan could run the gambit, and we bought whatever it was he was selling in any number of movie genres. It turned out his biggest strength was in his ability to be silly, and lighthearted while maintaining a earnestness to his work. George of the Jungle, offered another role that fit his strengths perfectly (somehow he became an expert at playing a caveman?) and quickly became his biggest hit, pushing him to the next level. Seeing that we went gaga all over his neanderthal bod, Hollywood then shoved a massive action flick onto his plate, The Mummy, which ensconced him as a Hollywood hero, a path that leads to long, lucrative careers. He was the next Indiana Jones, but he could also do Gods and Monsters AND Blast From the Past at the same time.
Then, suddenly, Fraser’s career began to wane. Why? Dudley Do-Right was in his wheelhouse and Bedazzled was fun(ish) — but comedies like Monkeybone seemed like a step backwards in the style of content we came to expect from a star. The heart-centered simplicity he became famous for was lost on the audiences of the aughts. Then came a very expected Mummy sequel, and eventually Journey to the Center of the Earth, after which he may as well have been buried down there…
Unfortunately Fraser’s personal life followed a similar arc to his career. Fraser courted Afton Smith, who he met at BBQ at Winona Ryder’s house — how 90s! — until the two married later in the decade. The happy couple had three sons, as Brendan’s career soared, and then less than 9 years later it was announced that the two were getting divorced. Later in 2013 Fraser would take her to court to reduce the extravagant $900,000 yearly alimony he was paying his ex.
The good news is, the indie scene has become better acquainted with the actor, giving him a much needed home, and hopefully the money he needs to get out of the debt he’s allegedly steeped in. Movies like Case of You and Gimme Shelter have kept his head poking about, but a headliner like Vanessa Hudgens will hardly buy the street cred necessary for a comeback (and neither will a stream of below 30% “Tomatometers”.)
So, if Brendan proved his worthiness at the box office and his versatility as an actor early in his career, and the man avoided the pitfalls of other superstars – side-stepping controversy, rumor, public humiliation, sex-tapes, etc., what was it that let the career of an intelligent, talented, strikingly handsome man slowly sift through his own fingertips? Or maybe it was the Hollywood landscape that changed, or we just tired of him in his old(er) age. Then again, he’s only 2 years older than Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the same age as Vince Vaughn, and three years younger than Robert Downey Jr. He may have lost his six-pack and have less hair, but so have the rest of them.
It’s possible that Fraser pinned himself to an an type-cast innocence with his earlier characters that we find less attractive or appropriate for a older, leading man. Is that why he’s facing the difficulty of a child star seeking a comeback career? Whatever the reason, there’s still plenty of talent left to be seen from Fraser — he hasn’t lost it, did you see Crash? Even Downey Jr. faced a long dry spell before he came back as one of the highest-earning celebrities in history, so maybe if the actor can find his Iron Man, he’ll again be plastered on the screen with that goofy grin from the 90s, like popping out of his bomb-bunker from another era in Blast From the Past.
Share if you miss seeing Brendan Fraser on the big screen!
Where did he go? I LOVED Encino Man.