Brendan Fraser is now an Oscar-winning actor with the pick of the juiciest roles in Hollywood. But for the longest time, it seemed Fraser had all but disappeared from acting. If you were a child in the ’90s, of course, you probably counted at least one Brendan Fraser film among your favorites. The Mummy, George of the Jungle, Encino Man... All of them are great — but all of them came out decades ago. Yet there is a very good reason why Fraser stopped making blockbuster movies.
A troubled history
Considering the types of films Fraser is famous for making, you'd think his story would be lighthearted. But on closer inspection, it appears that he always threw himself 100 percent into a role — for better and for worse. When Fraser first started working as an actor, for example, he embraced the danger sometimes associated with the job.
A dogfight at the start
His first movie role was as a sailor in the aptly named 1991 film Dogfight — and Fraser was asked to do a fight scene. And not only did he not mind doing it, but he was also happy to be hurled into a pinball machine for his art. Fraser ended up bruising a rib, and he got an extra 50 bucks for his trouble. Possibly not the best introduction to an Oscar-winning Hollywood career, but Fraser said he was just happy to be there.
However, he didn’t have to be hurled into arcade games for long. Fraser landed his breakout film role in 1992’s Encino Man. And unlikely as it may sound, this silly movie about a defrosted caveman now stars not one, but two Oscar winners. That's right: Ke Huy Quan, Fraser's co-star in Encino Man, also won at the 2023 Academy Awards. But it was Fraser who was really put on the path to stardom back in 1992.
Sex symbol status: unlocked
Stardom duly arrived with 1997’s George of the Jungle. The snappy children’s comedy established Fraser as a talented leading man and a bit of a sex symbol. His physique was displayed throughout the movie, and people liked what they saw. Fraser arguably had all the qualities of an A-list actor and was well on his way to being one.
The Mummy almost ended it all
Next came The Mummy – which, while a hugely successful movie, was an utter nightmare to film. The cast worked in scorching-hot conditions, with dangerous spider and snake encounters an all-too-common problem. Fraser suffered more than most, too. Things went drastically wrong during one stunt that featured Fraser’s character strung up in a noose.
Hung in a noose
Fraser later explained how he was then “choked out accidentally” while filming the scene. “The camera swooped around and I went up on the toes and the guy holding the rope above me, he pulled it up a little higher and I was stuck on my toes and I had nowhere to go but down,” he explained on The Kelly Clarkson Show in March 2023. Then it all went dark.
Lived to fight another day
“So he was pulling up and I was going down,” he went on. “And then the next thing I knew, my elbow was in my ear, the world was sideways and there was gravel in my teeth.” Luckily, Fraser was okay. And The Mummy proved so popular that it spawned two sequels as well as a prequel — and even a rollercoaster ride at Universal Studios.
Things took a turn for the worst
For a while, then, Fraser managed to combine his franchise work with critically adored movies such as Gods and Monsters and the Oscar-winning 2004 film Crash. But unfortunately, a series of high-profile flops, including Inkheart and Furry Vengeance, began to affect the actor’s career. And there was an alleged incident behind the scenes that all but derailed Fraser's life.
The untold story — from his own lips
When Fraser's career downshifted, it seemed that he had practically disappeared from Hollywood. But because the actor had so many fans, “Whatever happened to Brendan Fraser?” was the question on everyone’s lips. Yet it wasn't until February 22, 2018, that the answer suddenly presented itself. And it was more distressing than anyone had imagined.
His body had given out
Fraser sat down with GQ magazine and explained everything in detail — and it was a grueling read. The first thing that people hadn't realized was that the stunts the actor had once been so famous for had taken a huge toll on his body. “I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive,” Fraser said.
The stunts took their toll
“By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China, I was put together with tape and ice,” Fraser explained, “just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs. Screw-cap ice packs and downhill-mountain-biking pads, 'cause they're small and light and they can fit under your clothes. I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily.” In fact, Fraser had been trying to repair his battered body for seven years.
In and out of hospital
Fraser endured a lot of major surgery. “I needed a laminectomy,” he said, referring to the work he had on his spine. “And the lumbar didn't take, so they had to do it again a year later.” His list of procedures also includes additional back work, a partial knee replacement, and even an operation to improve his vocal cords.
A true workhorse
“I felt like the horse from Animal Farm whose job it was to work and work and work,” Fraser told GQ. “I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild s*** that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not.” Yet the constant surgeries weren’t the only things that Fraser had suffered.
Making headlines — for the wrong reasons
Fraser had gotten divorced in 2009. Then in 2013, he needed to officially request that his financial obligations to his ex-wife and three children be reduced because he simply wasn’t earning enough anymore. And 2016 was also an incredibly rough year for the actor. It marked a minor career comeback because he had scored a plum role in the prestige TV show The Affair. But a promotional interview for the series had his fans concerned.
Fraser appeared particularly sad in one interview, and the clip immediately went viral. Conspiracy theories popped up about what was "wrong" with Fraser. And it turned out he was in a personal hell: his mother had just died of cancer. “I buried my mom,” Fraser told GQ. “I think I was in mourning, and I didn't know what that meant.”
The injuries put a stop to the work
And, of course, the surgeries Fraser required had another side effect. “Going to work — in between being in and out of those hospitals, that wasn't always possible,” Fraser confessed to GQ. “So what I'm saying to you sounds, I hope, not like some sort of, 'Hey, I had a boo-boo. I needed to put a Band-Aid on it,' but more of an account of the reality of what I was walking around in.” And there was something else.
There was more to the story
It was clear that Fraser had had a very rough time of it over the past decade or two. But there was one more revelation that he had left to make — and it was something quite disturbing. He had never talked about it in public before, he explained to GQ, because he didn’t have “the courage to speak up for risk of humiliation, or damage to [his] career.”
A shocking revelation
Fraser alleged that a man called Philip Berk, one-time president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), had groped him in 2003. Berk himself had admitted in his memoir that he'd pinched Fraser’s behind at an HFPA luncheon. But the actor’s description of the incident was far more detailed. Fraser said Berk's finger touched him in a far more intimate area.
Fear and panic
“I felt ill,” said Fraser. “I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.” He said he eventually burst out of the room and later told his wife about it. “I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me,” he explained. Berk, for his part, claimed that Fraser's version of the events was “a total fabrication.”
He kept it to himself
Fraser didn't talk about the incident in public for years. “I didn't want to contend with how that made me feel, or it becoming part of my narrative,” he said. But his spokespeople did request a written apology from the HFPA — and he got one. Berk told GQ, “My apology admitted no wrongdoing, the usual ‘If I've done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.’”
In the interview, though, Fraser wondered whether this led to him being blacklisted by the HFPA. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA,” he said. “But the silence was deafening.” Fraser said he subsequently became depressed — and naturally this is a factor that has hindered his acting career. He said he found the incident hard to move past.
In a depression
“I was blaming myself and I was miserable — because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel,’” Fraser explained. “That summer wore on — and I can't remember what I went on to work on next.” Berk argued that the HFPA did not blacklist the actor. He told GQ, “His career declined through no fault of ours.”
Something was taken away
But the incident, Fraser told GQ, “made [him] retreat” and “feel reclusive.” He said he lost a sense of “who [he] was and what [he] was doing.” He explained, “In my mind, at least, something had been taken away from me.” And while he confessed that he might be “over-reacting in terms of what the instance was,” it still continued to have an effect on him.
Still scared to talk
“Am I still frightened? Absolutely,” he said. “Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely.” And Fraser ultimately blamed the incident as one of the reasons why the “phone stopped ringing.” And Fraser had a lot of sympathy for other famous actors who've come forward in recent years with a story of sexual assault.
In the GQ interview, Fraser offered public support to Weinstein’s accusers, some of whom he knows personally. “I haven’t spoken to them in years, but they’re my friends,” he said. “I watched this wonderful movement, these people with the courage to say what I didn’t have the courage to say.” Needless to say, though, as soon as news of Fraser’s own allegation spread, the internet reacted with horror.
An outpouring of love
Many people who themselves had made sexual assault allegations against powerful men came out in support of Fraser. Rose McGowan was among them, as was Fraser’s School Ties co-star Anthony Rapp. “My heart goes out to [Brendan], and I applaud his courage in coming forward to share his experience,” Rapp wrote on Twitter.
The HFPA responded
Then, the day after the GQ interview, the HFPA released a statement. “The HFPA stands firmly against sexual harassment and the type of behavior described in this article,” it read. “This report includes alleged information that the HFPA was previously unaware of, and at this time we are investigating further details surrounding the incident.”
Nothing official came of it
In 2022 Fraser spoke to GQ again and said the HFPA didn't rebuke Berk. He said the organization wanted him to sign a joint statement that, according to Fraser, said, “Although it was concluded that Mr. Berk inappropriately touched Mr. Fraser, the evidence supports that it was intended to be taken as a joke and not as a sexual advance.” Fraser refused... and shortly afterward, the HFPA and the Golden Globes had its own public reckoning.
Oscar comes calling
As for Fraser, well, he fared a lot better. In 2019 he began going to fan conventions in an attempt to "get over" himself and start putting himself out there. He also began getting much more visible and enjoyable roles — including in the TV show Doom Patrol and the movie No Sudden Move. And then came The Whale.
A whale of a time
“I don’t know if this is gonna give me some big redemption in my own life,” Fraser said. “I know that I’m proud of the work that I did, and it’s enough. It’ll live on long after me. And that’s good. The other stuff, maybe not so much. That’ll live on too, but... I think I just have to live for what’s happening for me now.” And things started happening very quickly.
The awards circuit
For his performance in the film, Fraser was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe and went on to win a Screen Actor's Guild Award, a Critics Choice Award, and, of course, an Oscar. It completed a career comeback that is remarkable — a Hollywood story in itself. And Fraser commented on that during his Oscars acceptance speech.
“I started in this business 30 years ago,” Fraser said as he received his Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. “And things, they didn’t come easily to me, but there was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time. Until it stopped.” He was clearly overwhelmed by the recognition — but he found time to honor his loved ones.
Coming up for air
"It's been like I've been on a diving expedition to the bottom of the ocean," he said, "and the air on the line [has come from] some people in my life, like my sons Holden and Leland and Griffin." He also thanked his fellow nominees for how they "laid [their] whale-sized hearts bare so that we can see into your souls like no one else could do."