How The Mummy movies almost physically destroyed Brendan Fraser
In case you were wondering where Brendan Fraser has been, it was a long, complicated road for his way back to the spotlight.
Brendan Fraser grabbed Hollywood's collective attention thanks to his tremendous mix of physicality and comic timing in early-career entries like 1992's California Man, 1994's Airheads and 1997's George of the Jungle, so it always seemed obvious that he would soon become a megastar.
While his Best Actor win this week for his powerfully emotional performance for The Whale might have come as a surprise to some, if you've been paying attention to his career, this is far from his return to the spotlight. It isn't even the first time that there was some talk of him potentially getting an Oscar, thanks to his turns in 1998's powerful drama Gods & Monsters, 2002's somber thriller The Quiet American, and 2004's loved-then-but-hated-now multi-Oscar-winning Crash.
In between all of that though, two major events took place in Brendan Fraser's life that essentially derailed his career for over half a decade. The first were The Mummy movies.
1999's The Mummy was a shocking box office success, mixing together Indiana Jones with old-school Hammer horror, banking over $416 million worldwide on an $80 million budget. That sent Fraser's career off in an action-packed trajectory, including two Mummy sequels in 2001 and 2008 (neither of them any good), 2008's Jumanji-wannabe Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
In a time when stunts were getting heavily CGI-assisted, not to mention the use of stunt doubles, Fraser put most of that aside in favour of doing all of the action himself. And it proved to be ultimately very damaging to him.
This includes an early scene in the first Mummy movie, in which Brendan Fraser's character Rick O'Connell is being publicly executed by hanging. He told CBS News:
"They killed me for 18 seconds. I was hanging from the noose standing on a board. Take one, and Steve (Sommers, the writer-director) said, 'The noose doesn’t match the stunt guys. Can we bring up the tension a little bit, and we’ll have it.'
"They did the take and the camera was on a spin that goes 180-degrees and it shows the prisoners shouting, and then comes down on me at the end of the noose. I figured, 'I’ll get oxygen and hold my breath,' and I was up on my toes and something went wrong- and the next thing I knew, I was waking up."
Or better yet, watch him retell the story to Kelly Clarkson, who has the perfect reaction to it:
Stunt work led to multiple surgeries
In a 2018 interview with GQ, Brendan Fraser details the aftermath of doing his own stunts:
"I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive. By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China I was put together with tape and ice - just, like, really nerdy and fetish'y 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."
This lead to multiple surgeries, including a laminectomy, a partial knee replacement, back surgeries to bolt compressed spinal pads together, vocal cord repair, a back procedure to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, but the lumbar didn't take, so he had to have it done again a year later.
All in all, Fraser reckons he spent seven years going in and out of hospital getting his body fixed as much as it possibly could be. Which is what essentially put an end to his action career, but the reason why his acting career was put on hold is a conversation containing much speculation, as the second major event in Fraser's life was a claim of sexual assault he placed against the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Fraser claimed that the incident took place at a luncheon in 2003, when the HFPA President Philip Berk groped him. Fraser stated "I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry. I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me."
Making this accusation led many to believe that Fraser had then been blacklisted in Hollywood, although this is something that Fraser himself denied is likely to be true. Instead, it is likely to be a combination of the assault, the passing of his mother, his divorce from his wife of 11 years, which reportedly launched Fraser into a depression, and a long pause in his career.
Fraser didn't appear on-screen between 2013 and 2019, but it is clear that he is now back with a bang. While the Batgirl movie he was the villain in might never see the light of day, 2023 will bring the release of Martin Scorsese's epic adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, with Fraser starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.
And just to prove that The Mummy didn't break him completely, he's already said he'd be up for The Mummy 4. Bring on the Fraser-aissance!
The Whale is available to watch at home right now on Apple TV, Google Play and Rakuten TV.
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