Brendan Fraser’s best actor Oscar win on Sunday for his powerful performance as a morbidly obese man in “The Whale” caps a remarkable career comeback for the charismatic leading man.
The former star of 1990s hits such as “The Mummy” endured a decade in the Hollywood wilderness before winning over Academy voters with his portrayal of a reclusive teacher who eats compulsively as he is tormented by grief.
“So this is what the multiverse looks like,” an emotional Fraser told the audience at the Dolby Theatre.
“I started in this business 30 years ago, 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 said, referring to his long absence from the big screen.
“Thank you for this acknowledgment.”
In Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” Fraser plays Charlie, a 600-pound (250-kilogram) English teacher whose only regular contact with the real world is his nurse and friend Liz (Hong Chau).
Charlie rarely leaves his couch, teaching his students via video calls while gorging on delivery food, and resisting Liz’s pleas to seek medical help for his rapidly deteriorating health.
The drama follows Charlie’s attempts to secretly reconnect with his rebellious and aloof teenage daughter Ellie, while he is also visited by a young missionary who is seemingly determined to save him.
Fraser delivers an intense performance, imbuing his character with depths of regret and agony which are punctuated by bursts of passion and hope sparked by Ellie’s presence.
“Charlie is by far the most heroic man I’ve ever played,” Fraser said at the film’s world premiere in Venice last year.
“His superpower is to see the good in others and bring that out in them.”
– ‘The Mummy’ –
Fraser was born in December 1968 to Canadian parents in the US state of Indiana.
Theater sparked his interest in acting at a young age, and after graduating from a Seattle arts college, Fraser moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s to pursue his dream.
Success came swiftly — he landed his breakthrough role as a frozen caveman discovered by two modern-day California teens in 1992 hit comedy “Encino Man.”
That sparked a run of major roles for the tall, hunky, wide-eyed leading man, ranging from anti-Semitism drama “School Ties” to rock-and-roll comedy “Airheads” to family blockbuster “George of the Jungle.”
In 1998, Fraser married actress Afton Smith, with whom he had three children.
Fraser’s greatest commercial success would be his trilogy of “The Mummy” films.
Loosely based on the 1930s ancient Egypt horror film franchise, the movies starred Fraser as Rick O’Connell, a maverick American adventurer who battles sinister immortals and greedy treasure hunters.
Collectively, the film and its two sequels earned well over $1 billion, also spawning the “Scorpion King” spin-off film series and a poorly received Tom Cruise reboot in 2017.
Fraser also starred opposite Liz Hurley in a 2000 remake of “Bedazzled,” and led the live action-animation hybrid “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” three years later.
– Lost decade –
But Fraser’s A-list career would soon be derailed.
In 2003, Fraser was the alleged victim of sexual assault by a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes.
Fraser only made the incident public more than a decade later, saying in an interview that he had been blacklisted by the industry after accusing Philip Berk of groping him at a Beverly Hills hotel luncheon.
Berk denies the incident.
But Fraser has said the psychological impact of the alleged attack, combined with the industry’s response, and a bitter and costly divorce from Smith, all took their toll on his mental health.
Fraser refused to attend this year’s Golden Globes, despite being nominated for “The Whale,” due to his history with the group.
Back in the 2000s, he also suffered a series of physical injuries — many acquired on-set during his action movie stunt sequences — which eventually required multiple surgeries across a seven-year period on his knees, back and vocal cords.
While he appeared in best picture Oscar winner “Crash” in 2004, and guest starred in hospital sitcom “Scrubs,” the big-screen roles soon dried up and Fraser largely vanished from the public eye.
– ‘Brenaissance’ –
Fraser’s comeback – dubbed the “Brenaissance” by fans – began in earnest with a villainous role in the third season of the hit television drama “The Affair.”
But it was his role in “The Whale,” which appropriately tells its own story of redemption, that brought him back to star status, with Hollywood flocking to praise his vulnerable, heartfelt performance.
In the run-up to the Oscars, he won a Critics Choice and a Screen Actors Guild award.
Future projects for Fraser include Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
In claiming his first Oscar, Fraser saw off Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) and Bill Nighy (“Living”).