You may have seen the Oscars on TV, but did you pay attention to one of the night’s top moments—Brendan Fraser accepting his Best Actor award for The Whale? He said so much more in those three minutes than most “forgotten” or “shunned” people can say in their entire lives.
This was his renaissance moment, a resurrection of years past from vapor and mediocrity. Yet, what Brendan Fraser did in this powerful film, he also may have done for millions of people worldwide unwittingly.
In a movie our own Isaac Joel calls “devastatingly beautiful,” Darren Aronofsky directs a compelling story about a gay 600-pound English teacher who evolves before our eyes in an evocative fashion. Coincidentally, this journey of restoration somewhat mirrors the man playing “Charlie” in the movie.
He was A-List material once upon a time. However, as fast as his supernova status appeared on the horizon, his flame-out smoldered just as quickly. And then, he slowly disappeared from the spotlight, becoming the search topic of “Where is Brendan Fraser now?”
No one knew. He was gone. The world moved on, but as we witnessed at the 95th Academy Awards, the world looked back and reached for Fraser one last time.
Brendan Fraser: A whale of a life
Back in the whimsical 1990s, Brendan Fraser was the poster boy for Hollywood’s new generation. He put his comedic chops on display in Encino Man and then flexed with drama in an underrated film School Ties. He would swing slapstick style in George of the Jungle, command scenes in Gods and Monsters, and the Oscar-winning shocker Crash. (The movie beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. C’mon!)[Fun Fact: When Fraser appeared in Gods and Monsters, critics praised him as a serious actor. The film was based on the life of Frankenstein director, James Whale. And now, life comes full circle.]
Yet, he is probably best known for his role as Rick O’Connell from The Mummy trilogy. These movies were the next era of historical exploratory films fans adored with the Indiana Jones escapades. This franchise opened the door to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and proved to everyone that Tom Cruise doesn’t always get what he wants. (“Dark Universe,” we’re looking at you.)
In 2008, Fraser decided to do his own stunts in the third franchise film, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. This would be a decision he would regret ever making. A 2018 article in GQ shares his thoughts:
“I needed a laminectomy. And the lumbar didn’t take, so they had to do it again a year later,” said Fraser. Over the next seven years, multiple surgeries followed, including a partial knee replacement, work on his back including “bolting various compressed spinal pads together,” and having his vocal cords repaired.
Life wasn’t done hurling fastballs in his direction.
- Fraser and his wife, Afton Smith, divorced during this time, and their three kids were caught in the middle.
- He had his share of straight-to-DVD movies and even an uncredited role in G.I. Joe, The Rise of Cobra.
- His mother succumbed to cancer and died, which sent Fraser reeling.
- There were countless health problems in his own life.
- And an alleged sexual assault by then-President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Phillip Berk. That’s why you didn’t see him at this year’s Golden Globes.
But a life preserver was on the way.
And the Oscar goes to…
Just because you are down, you are not out. All hell broke loose in Brendan Fraser’s life. He lived with the idea that he was blacklisted from Hollywood because of his alleged note against Berk. (Incidentally, Berk would later tell GQ that the story was “a total fabrication.”)
And now, he will forever be known as an “Oscar winner.”
To play a complex character like Charlie, an actor must revisit some dark times in their lives for inspiration. Regretfully, Fraser had plenty of that—the darkness of obscurity, the agony of loss, the secrecy of untold identity, and the hope of restoration.
That’s the issue with a comeback story. While we all love watching it come full circle, a comeback implies someone was lost. Anyone can feel that way, and most of us have. It’s unlike the story of the Prodigal Son because that kid chose to vanish. Brendan Fraser was forced.
When life barrels in, that kind of tumult can roll anyone over. The dystopian scenes in The Last of Us end up in our hearts.
Areas of our emotion left untouched and underutilized for years grow weeds with a strangling power. The longer a person is in that situation, the tighter the weeds get, and the stronger the trauma becomes.
And then, when you least expect it, life sends a machete to help you chop your way to the light again. It’s on the horizon. It’s always been there, but you didn’t know where to reach.
The Whale was Fraser’s. What’s yours? One thing is certain if you watch the Oscars: it doesn’t matter. When interviewed by The New York Times, the 51-year-old actor said that he “wanted to be worthy of a comeback.”
That’s the thing—no one is worthy, but everyone deserves it. Even when Brendan Fraser didn’t feel worthy, someone thought he was. That’s the lesson: Even when you feel no one cares or sees you, someone is watching and cheering. You can make it back if only you try and have a little hope.