“We didn’t know if there would be a tomorrow. So going to make a film with this gravity just reinforced how important it is to perform as if this is the first and last time you ever will. That’s all I got.”
Brendan Fraser has always had this undeniable sincerity — one that you can’t fake. As the old saying goes, “eyes are the windows to the soul,” and one can think of no finer actor today who exemplifies that sentiment onscreen than Fraser.
So when I first heard that quote above — as he told the press after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his turn in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale — I was struck by how genuinely happy I was to see him back. I suppose I took him for granted, as I never realized just how much I missed him.
As one looks back at his filmography during his ’90s heyday, I’m struck by something else.
Hollywood didn’t really know what to do with Brendan Fraser. In his prime, he wasn’t merely blessed with movie-star good looks, as he also had a rare versatility — able to be a commanding hero in action mode (The Mummy franchise), carry the weight of a drama (School Ties, Gods & Monsters, The Quiet American), and demonstrate a range of comedic chops, from teen-friendly films like Encino Man and Airheads to more family-friendly fare such as George of the Jungle, Dudley Do-Right, Looney Tunes: Back in Action — movies that allowed him to play silly on a cartoonish level, figuratively and literally, in the latter case.
And yet despite this dynamic range, Fraser was never the butts-in-seats movie star we remember him as. With the exceptions of the afore-mentioned Encino Man (which you’d peg more on the movie stardom — no joke — of one Pauly Shore), George of the Jungle, and especially The Mummy and its subsequent sequels, Fraser had noticeably more misses than hits at the box office. But the industry — to its credit — kept trying.
Until it didn’t.
For a while there, Fraser was left to disappear into our movie memories — a fallen star whose good looks had faded. We awaited his return, but Hollywood seemed to have moved on. The Mummy was no longer that hit franchise you loved, it was that Tom Cruise movie you hated. Encino Man? A hit… back in the Stone Age. But the Fraser faithful clung to hope, and fortunately, Aronofsky was among them, coming down the mountain with the project that would change both his life and his career. And now, here we are.
Fraser will forever have the title “Academy Award Winner” in front of his name, be it in the trailer for his next film, or the first paragraph of his eventual obituary. That honor not only comes with prestige… it comes with a salary bump as well.
But with Fraser’s triumphant return comes the most important question — now what?
He does have Martin Scorsese‘s Killers of the Flower Moon coming out this fall, though unconfirmed reports suggest his role is fairly small, and that most of his work wound up on the cutting room floor. Regardless, he booked that role around the same time he did The Whale and Batgirl — and more on the latter situation in a minute — but long before his Oscar victory. Perhaps Scorsese, cinema’s wisest sage, had a hunch and made a good bet.
Now that, like Scorsese, Fraser has his Oscar, the next role he chooses will be crucial, if only to show the world that The Whale wasn’t a fluke or merely the perfect pairing of actor and material. Fraser will have to choose wisely, as the follow-up to a comeback role is just as important as what brought one back in the first place.
Though Mickey Rourke didn’t win an Oscar for his turn as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler — incidentally, another Aronofsky flick — it was a physically demanding, comeback role for the actor (similar to Fraser’s turn in The Whale) that earned him a ton of goodwill within the industry? And what did he do with that goodwill? He took the money and made Iron Man 2, The Expendables, and Tarsem‘s Immortals. Not bad choices in a vacuum, but with the benefit of hindsight, did those movies do anything for Rourke’s career? Not really. He pretty much wound up right back where he was in straight-to-VOD territory.
It’s been two months since Fraser won the Oscar and there still hasn’t been any word regarding what he’ll do next. “At the moment, I don’t have anything — I’m really being picky right now,” he told People. Of course, Fraser has most definitely taken meetings, so I imagine it won’t be too much longer until he makes a decision… if he hasn’t already. After all, many new projects are announced in advance of the Cannes Film Market, and the international marketplace puts a premium on Oscar winners.
But taking Fraser at his word that he doesn’t have anything lined up right now, I have a little advice for him, not that he needs it or that his reps would ever agree with it:
With all due respect… don’t you dare… under any circumstances… do The Mummy 4!
Yes, those rumors have been around as of late — including from our own big cheese Jeff Sneider on The Hot Mic Podcast with our good pal John Roca last December and more recent rumblings regarding the involvement of Sonic the Hedgehog and Violent Night screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller — and I’ve heard some chatter myself from my own industry contacts. Fraser himself has given “hopeful” answers when the subject is broached in interviews, but he’s also been non-committal. A negotiation tactic, perhaps?
Fraser and his reps have been smart with every move… so far. But rather than rush to reprise his most famous role, it would be wise to take a lesson from John Travolta, who upon his return to movie stardom with Pulp Fiction, didn’t jump on every big paycheck role offered his way. No, he waited another two decades to sell out and do VOD dreck.
Back in the ’90s, Travolta even sought the advice of his Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino regarding his next course of action before settling on Get Shorty. When that crime comedy opened to solid business and reviews, it cemented the idea Travolta was here to stay, and for the rest of that decade, it was nothing but critical-and-commercial hits — Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Michael, Phenomenon, A Civil Action, Primary Colors, The General’s Daughter, and The Thin Red Line.
He didn’t just pick good movies. One of the key reasons that Travolta’s comeback worked was that he embraced the fact that he wasn’t the same pencil-thin, smooth dancer who launched into superstardom with Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
Nearly two decades later, he was older. He didn’t move as fast on the dance floor anymore. He had chubby cheeks and a belly. He was mortal, just like the rest of us, and he didn’t pretend to be otherwise. It was refreshing to see someone onscreen acknowledge that he couldn’t be that same guy forever.
By progressing as opposed to regressing, Travolta played for the long-term when it would have been easy to take a big paycheck and put on his dancing shoes as Tony Manero again — and don’t doubt for a second that Paramount Pictures didn’t throw that his way after Pulp Fiction exploded in October ’94.
So it is that I fear Fraser’s return to the role of Rick O’Connell would be one such act of career regression. Respectfully, who is even asking for The Mummy 4 in the first place? Like most franchises, it had its day in the pop culture sun and ran its course, petering out with 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
I realize that today’s film environment isn’t the same as when Travolta had his comeback. The big studios — and now streamers — are all about IP, and the most logical course of action for Fraser is hitching himself onto a big franchise.
Granted, he thought he did that with Batgirl… until Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav made the unprecedented move of canceling that movie in the middle of post-production, a controversial play that still rubs many within the industry the wrong way — and understandably so. But Fraser and his reps had to have gotten down on their knees and thanked God — in every tongue, just to cover their bases — that Batgirl was canceled.
Its disappearance opens up Fraser’s options and gives him the chance to aim higher. Preferably away from the franchise game.
Offer your services to any top-notch director and say “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” Go to the Safdie Brothers — currently prepping their next with Adam Sandler and Ben Affleck — or Quentin Tarantino as he begins casting his swan-song The Movie Critic, or Ari Aster, who may need extra muscle to get his next film made in the wake of Beau Is Afraid, which has lost millions for The Whale‘s distributor, A24.
Frankly, anything would be better than watching Fraser try to recapture his glory days as a movie star again. The real glory lies in original, human stories like The Whale, not high-paying franchise fare.
As I’ve said elsewhere, one’s career choices are effectively a game of chess. One must be strategic these days, especially if they’ve clawed their way back to the top from near-obscurity.
All eyes are on Fraser’s next move, and we at Above the Line hope he makes the correct one, as this “Fraserssaince” has been thoroughly enjoyable thus far, and all of us want it to continue. Here’s hoping he avoids franchise fever and focuses on finding a project with a bit more life in it than another Mummy movie.