GQ has just published a fantastic profile of Brendan Fraser, and — spoiler alert — if it doesn’t make you cry, you’re inhuman. But going into it, I wasn’t expecting it to hit me like a punch in the gut. I was expecting some weird tidbits, maybe a bit of melancholy, and certainly some funny quotes. It’s fucking Encino Man, after all! Fraser may have fallen off the map for awhile, and suffered personal setbacks, but he’s hardly a tragic figure, right?
Oh, how wrong I was.
What follows is my thought process while reading the profile, through a series of quotes. At first, I’m looking for laughs, because ha ha it’s a celebrity puff piece about a supremely odd individual! But the further I read, the harder it was to find humor in the pathos. And then Fraser revealed his own experience with sexual assault, reminiscent of what happened to Terry Crews, and — but wait, we’ll get to that.
The author of the piece, Zach Baron, sets the stage early on with a very clear, concise description of his subject — a description that also perfectly describes Brendan Fraser’s personal website (seriously, just go look at it and spend some time clicking around):
He’s compulsively honest. His mind is like a maze. You wander in and then emerge, hours or days later, disoriented but appreciative that something so unpredictable can still exist in this world.
Fraser’s seems to be giving Timberlake a run for his money as a real Man of the Woods!
As he parks his car, he begins removing items from it: a black leather satchel, a riding helmet, a hunting bow. “Can you just grab those hatchets?” he asks. There are two of them. I do.
Regarding the George of the Jungle nothing-but-a-loincloth era of his career, Fraser manages to use the word “cum” more times than anyone not talking about pornography ever has, I’d wager:
“I look at myself then and I just see a walking steak.”… “The naïf cum babe in the woods cum new guy in town cum man-boy cum… visitor-in-an-unusual-environment conceit was, uh… was very, very good to me.”
But Fraser’s gung-ho attitude toward acting and stunts took a toll on his body, which is where his career started to take a turn:
“By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China,” which was 2008, “I was put together with tape and ice—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.”
And in the end, he spent about seven years in and out of hospitals for different surgeries to repair the damage. Which leads to this heartbreaking exchange:
He laughs a small, sad laugh. “This is gonna really probably be a little saccharine for you,” Fraser warns. “But I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work. Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him…. I don’t know if I’ve been sent to the glue factory, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to rebuild shit that I’ve built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not.”
But it’s all better now, right? He’s was in The Affair, and has a new role in Danny Boyle’s FX drama Trust! But, uh, Boyle’s reasons for casting him kinda sound like a backhanded compliment…
“It’s one of those delicious moments where you see someone you’re so familiar with who is so changed by time and by experience. You kind of just clock that, and it’s both so sad and wonderful. Because we all share that same time line.”
One thing that has come out of Fraser’s difficult years is a helluva good coping mechanism:
Fraser pauses, and his eyes seem to well up, and for the first time in this litany of surgeries and loss, he seems like he might not want to continue. I ask if he needs a break.
“I’m okay,” he says. “I think I just need to let some arrows fly.”
He excuses himself as I ponder what this means. A few minutes go by. When he returns, it’s with a leather quiver full of arrows strapped to his back. He steps out onto his porch. Outside, he lofts a bow, nocks an arrow. Down below on his lawn, maybe 75 yards away, is an archery target. He releases the arrow straight into the target’s center. Bull’s-eye. Then nocks a second arrow, and does it again.
Finally, he exhales. “I feel a lot better now,” he says. He hands me the bow: “Okay, now you try.”
Up to this point, I feel these quotes have been a solid representation of the profile itself: in turns fascinating, odd, and heart-wrenching, just like the man himself. The thing about Brendan Fraser is that he was always under-appreciated, even at his peak. Our curiosity around where he went flows into the pleasure of seeing his resurrection. But he isn’t a figure you’d ordinarily consider mysterious. Mildly tragic in the details, perhaps, but that’s about it.
And then he calls up Baron with something completely unexpected.
The story he wants to relay took place, he says, in the summer of 2003, in the Beverly Hills Hotel, at a luncheon held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that hosts the Golden Globes. On Fraser’s way out of the hotel, he was hailed by Philip Berk, a former president of the HFPA. In the midst of a crowded room, Berk reached out to shake Fraser’s hand. Much of what happened next Berk recounted in his memoir and was also reported by Sharon Waxman in The New York Times: He pinched Fraser’s ass—in jest, according to Berk. But Fraser says what Berk did was more than a pinch: “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.” Fraser says that in this moment he was overcome with panic and fear.
Berk disputed Fraser’s version of the event in an email exchange, but hearing Fraser talk about the aftermath — the depression, and how he retreated and blamed himself — it’s hard not to recall the many stories we’ve heard from other Hollywood survivors. His reps demanded an apology, which they got, but Fraser wondered if that may have led to him being blackballed, or some kind of retaliation on his career. And this? This is the part that broke me, because I feel like it feels so universal:
“Am I still frightened? Absolutely. Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely.”
On the phone, he breathes deeply. “And maybe I am over-reacting in terms of what the instance was. I just know what my truth is. And it’s what I just spoke to you.”
The profile doesn’t end there, but that’s where I’m going to leave you. Please go read it for yourself. And join me in being doubly thankful for the Brendan Fraser comeback we’re witnessing right now.