Truly great actors can make a role their own and convince you that they might be almost anyone you could imagine. Sometimes, though, fact and fiction become blurred – and relationships between characters can slip over into reality. Take Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann, for instance. When the two former co-stars recently reunited, it emerged that their on-screen romance in George of the Jungle had thrown up some very real emotions for them.
Fraser – later made famous by The Mummy – and comedic actress Mann were perhaps not the most unlikely pairing. After all, they were both young, attractive people in their twenties when they starred in George of the Jungle, which was released in 1997. A muscular Fraser played the eponymous protagonist, George, while Mann was Ursula, portraying a “Jane” character opposite his Tarzan.
By the end of its theater run, George of the Jungle had proved to be a box-office hit, grossing almost $175 million worldwide. Fast forward a little over 20 years later, and the film was brought up in a TV interview with Mann. But few people could’ve predicted what was to happen next, however.
During her chat with Busy Philipps on Busy Tonight in May 2019, Mann actually spoke about her chemistry with Fraser on set. And there were to be more revelations as a special, unexpected guest was invited on stage. It certainly took Mann out of her comfort zone. She even confessed that she had told her husband that he was not the only man who she had had eyes for.
Born in March 1973, Mann grew up with her mother, Janet Ann Ayres, who had a career in real estate. The future Hollywood star spent her formative years in Newport Beach, California, following a brief spell in San Francisco. As a youngster, though, she started to harbor some lofty ambitions.
Indeed, during Mann’s time at Corona del Mar High School, she had set her sights on becoming an actress. The aspiring star hence set about getting work and appeared in a number of adverts over the course of her teenage years. Then, after completing her high school studies, she went a step further.
That was when Mann became a student at the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Studio, located in Santa Monica, California. The aspiring actress began to hone her comedic skills, as well, and she joined the improvisational group The Groundlings. And she would later touch upon just how important this period of her life had proved to be for her.
“We didn’t really talk about things as a family,” Mann told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in February 2013. “So when I went to acting class, I found I could express myself. It was such a great feeling that I got hooked on it. I was very shy, but when I was acting I could pretend I was someone else.”
Mann’s life then took another turn, as she became a college student. Convinced by her mom, she pursued a degree in communications. However, she went on to make a bold decision and ultimately opted to abandon her studies. That didn’t mean that studying had been a waste of time, though. In fact, during the course of her college life, Mann had met a figure who would be highly influential for her.
“I was not interested [in college] at all,” Mann admitted to The Daily Telegraph. “I met my acting coach there, who told me I should move to Los Angeles. And I got lucky and started working after about a year.” And in 1991, the actress finally earned her first film credit with her big screen debut.
Playing the role of “Squiggle Girl,” Mann appeared in the comedy Virgin High, which also featured Burt Ward. Following that, she made her first television appearance some three years later. The young actress was cast in the show Birdland, and she appeared in three episodes, which included the show’s pilot.
Mann appeared in another television pilot in 1995, taking on the character of Erica Mercer in The Wright Verdicts. And then, in 1996 she enjoyed a particularly successful year, as she featured in three major movie releases. The first of these was The Cable Guy, a dark comedy directed by Ben Stiller.
Starring alongside Matthew Broderick and Jim Carrey, the film was one of Mann’s first leading roles. However, her work on the movie also had a significant impact on her personal life. During production, the actress actually met her future husband Judd Apatow, who was one of the film’s producers. And the two were introduced by chance during her audition.
“Jim Carrey wasn’t available to read [for the audition] so Judd read his part,” Mann recalled to The Daily Telegraph. “I don’t remember Judd, but I do remember Ben. I remember having a little crush on him. Later [Stiller] called me at my mom’s and told me I had got the part. That was probably the most exciting moment of my life.”
Mann then revealed some more details in the interview regarding the initial stages of her relationship with Apatow. “He’d send his sister into my trailer to tell me how he had all kinds of dates so that I’d think that he was this in-demand guy or something,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘Good for him.’”
Mann’s mindset quickly changed, though, after she spent some time with Apatow. “We wound up going to this basketball game, and that’s when I realized he was a good guy,” she explained. “Judd was just so nice to me and treated me so well, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is the kind of guy I should be with.’”
“It was like a light bulb,” Mann added. “And then that was that, and we fell in love.” And as her relationship with Apatow continued to blossom, her career started to pick up in the late 1990s. She bagged another leading role during this period, joining the cast of a new live-action Disney movie.
George of the Jungle was the film in question, with Mann starring alongside Brendan Fraser. While he took on the title role, she played Ursula Stanhope, who served as George’s love-interest. The movie itself was an adaptation of a short-lived animated show from 1967 that lasted for just 17 episodes.
Then, ahead of the original cartoon’s 30th anniversary, George of the Jungle hit cinemas in July 1997. The movie received a fairly mixed response from film critics at the time, but audiences loved it. Indeed, the comedy earned more than triple its estimated $55 million budget at the worldwide box office.
However, just weeks before the film’s release, Mann’s life changed forever. Having spent two years together, she and Apatow tied the knot in June 1997. And while the actress continued to get work on the big screen, she would find even greater success in her career in the mid-2000s – around the time that her husband started to make his name as a Hollywood director.
In fact in 2005, Mann got a scene-stealing cameo in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow’s cinematic directorial debut. She then followed that up with another memorable performance in 2007’s Knocked Up, her husband’s sophomore feature. At this point, she started to establish herself as a Hollywood star, with more high-profile roles coming her way.
Over the next few years, Mann featured in films such as 17 Again, Rio and Funny People, alongside stars like Zac Efron and Adam Sandler. The actress also continued to work in television, appearing on shows including Modern Family, The Simpsons and Allen Gregory. But her work didn’t end there – and Mann started to be regularly cast as a mom in comedies.
Indeed, in 2018 Mann appeared in two big film releases, the first of which arrived in the spring. Taking on the character of Lisa, she starred in the comedy Blockers alongside John Cena and Ike Barinholtz. And in addition to that, the Hollywood star appeared in Welcome to Marwen in a supporting role.
Following all these efforts, in May 2019 Mann was invited on Busy Tonight, a late-night talk show hosted by the actress Busy Philipps. And during their conversation, Philipps brought up Mann’s work on George of the Jungle. One might imagine that there wouldn’t be too much to discuss – but the line of questioning drew a surprising response.
Mann admitted to Philipps that she had in fact had a crush on her co-star Fraser back when they were filming. And at this point, the host teased out another revelation from her guest. “[I thought] I would marry Brendan,” the actress said. And this line drew a big laugh from the audience.
Curious, Philipps asked Mann why she had felt that way about Fraser. “Well, he was just delightful and funny; I dunno,” she responded. “I’m supposed to fall in love with him… so I just fell in love with him in real life.” The Hollywood star then revealed that she had told Apatow about her crush at the time. And his reaction was stark.
“I was like, ‘Judd, I love Brendan,’” Mann told Philipps and the audience on the show. “He’s like, ‘I know, stop it!’ But I’m like, ‘No really, I think I love him.’ And I started getting really weird around him. We’re at work, and he was like naked all day long. [Wearing George’s] loincloth.”
And after Mann made this surprising admission, Philipps questioned if Fraser ever knew about her feelings. She responded by bringing up a routine that they had had on set for the start of each day. Indeed, it turns out that the George of the Jungle stars shared a rather intimate greeting.
“So every morning before work, we were in the hair and make-up trailer getting ready,” Mann explained. “And [Fraser] would come in and kiss me on the lips. Not in a [romantic way], but just like, ‘Good morning,’ and kiss like he was European or something. And so I was like, ‘Okay!’”
At one point during the film’s production, though, that routine came to a rather abrupt end. “So I’d gotten used to this morning kiss, and I was in love with [Fraser],” Mann continued. “And then one morning he caught me off guard. I was taking a big bite of oatmeal, and he was right behind me.”
“[Fraser] was like, ‘Good morning,’ and I was [licking my lips],” Mann added. “And he went in to kiss me, but my lips had like sticky oatmeal on them. [After he kissed me], he probably had like oatmeal around his mouth. And he never kissed me again. [He] never kissed me again after that.”
On this note, Philipps revealed a big surprise for Mann and the studio audience. “I wonder if [Fraser] remembers,” the host said with a smile. “Should we ask him? Please welcome Brendan Fraser.” The actor walked on stage sporting a sheepish expression, before wiping his lips in reference to the oatmeal anecdote.
As Mann greeted her former co-star with a warm hug, she asked Fraser, “Wait, did you know that I was in love with you?” To avoid answering her question, he quickly responded, “It was maple oatmeal. I don’t like maple syrup! I do [remember that]. I thought I was getting too close, what with your breakfast and all being yours!”
Philipps then revealed that Apatow had actually given his blessing for Fraser’s appearance in the interview. After this, Mann recalled another humorous moment from the George of the Jungle set. “Do you remember that scene when we were on a log on a stage, and I had to tell you I loved you?” she asked Fraser. “I would start to well up because I did love him!”
“[Fraser] was like, ‘What’s wrong, are you okay?’” Mann recalled. “And I was like, ‘I just need a minute!’ Do you remember that? You do! That’s because I was actually in love with you.” Fraser then revealed how he felt at the time, himself – suggesting that he had had something of a crush on her as well.
“How can you not be in love with Leslie Mann?” Fraser asked his former co-star. Indeed, it seemed like there might have been a great deal of romantic confusion going on on the set. “Oh wait, you were in love with me?” Mann responded with a smile. “Should we date?” As the laughter died down, Fraser shared a memory of his own from the film.
Fraser recalled, “Do you remember the scene, it got cut, but it was the one where there was quicksand? It got cut – I guess it wasn’t funny. And we had to spend the better half of an afternoon in like this big mud spa bath. It was like warm, and it had this gelatin stuff. It wasn’t that bad actually.”
After setting the scene, though, Fraser revealed that something mysterious had happened to him on the day. “While we were there, I could see through the greens and the bushes,” he explained. “And there’s this guy there and he’s looking at me. I know that look, I’m a man, I know that look. [But] I didn’t know who it was.”
Fraser continued, “Then The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out, and suddenly I realized that was Judd Apatow. Yes [he was keeping an eye on me]. Because he loves you [Mann], that’s why. Either that, or I have yet to have the pleasure of working with Mr. Apatow.” And at this point, Fraser presented his framed loincloth to Mann.
The interview was later posted on Facebook via the show’s official account, and it has garnered some 4,000 views. And while Mann and Fraser never became an item, Fraser nevertheless married one of his George of the Jungle co-stars. Indeed, he would later wed Afton Smith, who played the role of Mann’s on-screen buddy. The two married just a year after the film’s release – but one can only imagine what would have happened had Fraser and Mann’s relationship followed a different path.