I understand the fascination with Don’t Worry Darling. I, too, chuckled at Chris Pine’s apparent disinterest of any promotional event at the Venice Film Festival. So titillated was I by the sight of an unbothered Florence “Miss Flo” Pugh with her Aperol spritz raised skyward that I that I caught myself reposting the video to my Instagram story. But if I’m forced to feign interest in Spitgate, rumors of an onset affair and falling out, or this more-rotten-than-fresh film for another week, I’m determined to make Brendan Fraser a part of the discourse. Why? Because he deserves it, after Hollywood tried to chew him up and spit him out.
In case you were too busy investigating the aforementioned epic, Fraser received a six-minute standing ovation for what’s being called his “comeback role” at the same festival just one night earlier. In Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, Fraser plays Charlie, an obese English teacher trying to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter before he dies of congestive heart failure. While the film has generated blowback, with some critics calling it fatphobic and decrying the cosmetics and technology used to alter Fraser’s appearance, the actor’s return to the silver screen has been overwhelmingly lauded as a must-see.
“[Brendan Fraser’s] performance is strangely beautiful, one of those rare roles that seems to draw on years, if not decades, of a performer’s personal misfortunes and harness them into something profound,” wrote The Film Stage critic Rory O’Connor.
When a video of Fraser weeping to a chorus of applause at the festival went viral, even former co-star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, tweeted that he was “rooting” for Fraser: “Man this makes me so happy to see this beautiful ovation for Brendan. He supported me coming into his Mummy Returns franchise for my first ever role.”
The Rock is hardly the only one hoping that The Whale is a harbinger for a “Brendanaissance” following his marked disappearance from the public eye. If you’re not a child of the ’90s, you may not realize the chokehold Fraser once had on Hollywood. In the beginning of the decade, Fraser became a household name after appearing on Encino Man and With Honors. By 2000, after George of the Jungle and The Mummy, it appeared the actor was primed for lifelong superstardom. Instead, his career tapered off, with memorable performances mysteriously becoming fewer and further in between.
It wasn’t until a poignant GQ profile in 2018—during the hight of #MeToo reporting—that he shared some context for his disappearance. Fraser said that he was “blacklisted” from the industry after alleging that Phillip Berk, the former president Hollywood Foreign Press Association, sexually assaulted him at a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2003.
“I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry,” Fraser recalled of the incident, in which Berk allegedly grabbed Fraser’s buttocks without consent.
Berk denied the incident and, in a statement to GQ, said, “Mr. Fraser’s version is a total fabrication.” He added that he wrote a letter to Fraser, but said that the “apology admitted no wrongdoing” and was instead “the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.’”
Fraser also recounted to GQ all of the other ways the industry was hard on his body—namely, while shooting a series of demanding action films, including The Mummy franchise: “This is gonna really probably be a little saccharine for you,” Fraser told GQ’s Zach Baron. “But I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work. Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him. ...I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild shit that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone.”
Throughout the last decade of his career, Fraser has had a few meaty roles, like his turn in The Affair, but it hasn’t compared to his run in the ’90s. As a 28-year-old woman who grew up with Fraser, I’m elated by the notion of him finally being recognized as someone capable of more than just being a charismatic action hero. But more than that though, I’m borderline misty-eyed at the thought of him proving to Hollywood—and more importantly, to himself—that he doesn’t have to be defined by the harm he’s had to suffer. He’s not an underdog—he’s just finally getting what he should’ve received years ago, like opportunities to exhibit the range true Fraser fans always suspected was there. After The Whale, he’s set to star in a handful of promising projects, including Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
If there’s one thing that unites the masses as swiftly as salacious Hollywood lore, it’s a redemption story. Welcome back, Brendan Fraser. Sorry it’s taken this long for you to get the ’naissance you deserve.