On March 12, 2023, Brendan Fraser received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “The Whale.” The movie was written by Samuel D. Hunter and stars Fraser, who dons a fat suit and is digitally altered to appear obese. The story follows Charlie, a reclusive and morbidly obese English professor, who tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter as his health rapidly declines. Fraser brilliantly captures the raw emotion of a sequestered man living under intense scrutiny and the emotional — and physical — weight of his past mistakes.
The film won Fraser his first-ever Academy Award, cementing his comeback. Fraser’s win is seen as a hopeful sign for other artists in the industry who’ve fallen on hard times. While the internet has celebrated his triumphant return to acting, it’s hard not to think about other actors who’ve been similarly forced out of their craft. From abusive industry moguls to stigmatized mental health issues, it’s no hot take that Hollywood is unkind to those who refuse to endure the harsh treatment it demands. So when someone like Fraser, who has undergone some of Hollywood’s most intense trauma, successfully walks back into the spotlight, it means much more than just another Oscar win.
The late ‘90s saw Fraser rise to fame as Hollywood’s next heartthrob. From his shredded appearance in “George of the Jungle” to his boy-next-door charm in “Gods and Monsters,” there was no escaping the inexplicable allure of his tanned skin and piercing blue eyes. But where Fraser really excelled was in “The Mummy” series. Fraser plays a swash-buckling explorer named Rick, who traverses the sandy plains of Egypt, slaying ancient demons and stealing the hearts of all who lay eyes on him. The film premiered in 1999 and was a global success, earning a whopping $416.4 million in box-office sales. This cemented Fraser as a Hollywood mainstay, but it also marked the beginning of a series of events that would significantly damage his career.
While filming “The Mummy” series, Fraser was responsible for performing all his stunts. The series spanned almost a decade, so the injuries piled up. By the time the third installment, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” was released, he had undergone multiple surgeries; Fraser described his body as “put together with tape and ice.” In his GQ profile from 2018, Fraser discussed the effects the films had on his physical health: “I needed a laminectomy. And the lumbar didn’t take, so they had to do it again a year later.” A laminectomy is a major surgery where the back of one or more vertebrae is removed, usually to ease pressure on the spinal nerves and give access to the spinal cord. Fraser also underwent a partial knee replacement, had his vocal cords repaired, and had work done on his back, which included “bolting various compressed spinal pads together.” Due to the amount of damage done to his body, Fraser took a much needed break from the spotlight and spent many years recovering in privacy. Unfortunately, this caused speculation that his career was over.
As the onslaught of rumors surrounding Fraser’s disappearance increased, his struggles, which accumulated from his performances and time in the spotlight, only worsened. In 2016, Fraser buried his mother. He later stated in his 2018 GQ interview “I think I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what that meant.” This was in response to a viral 2016 interview for AOL’s BUILD series, where he appeared sullen and morose. In that same GQ interview, Fraser claimed that the former President of the Hollywood Foreign Press association, Philip Berk, sexually assaulted him in 2003 at a lunch party at the Beverley Hills Hotel. Fraser described how this experience changed his perspective on the entertainment industry, causing him to feel helpless and sick. He told GQ “[I] became depressed. I was blaming myself and I was miserable — because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’ [Work] withered on the vine for me. In my mind, at least something had been taken away from me.” After this event, Fraser claims he felt blacklisted by Hollywood, and was rarely invited to the Golden Globes. When the opportunity to star in the A24 feature film, “The Whale,” came knocking, he felt as though things were finally turning around.
As news spread about Fraser’s return to the silver screen, people all over social media celebrated. Fans expressed their excitement to see Fraser finally receive the praise he deserved, calling his return to film the “Brenaissance.” While on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” Fraser discussed his deep appreciation for fans’ reactions to “The Whale.” “I just broke out crying. That solved all the problems. I feel like I’m still waiting for someone to walk in and tell me that the jig is up.”
From a decade’s worth of struggles to a triumphant return to Hollywood, Fraser’s story is a glimmer of hope in the challenging world of acting. Fraser is far from the only actor to struggle with the entertainment industry; Amanda Bynes has publicly condemned Hollywood for her treatment, and Lindsey Lohan only recently found the strength to make a small comeback in Netflix’s “Falling for Christmas.” Despite the many other examples of Hollywood failing its actors, the entertainment industry seems to be changing for the better. Hopefully, Fraser’s return is indicative of changing times, and more entertainers will come out of the woodwork to an industry that welcomes them with open arms.
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