Brendan Fraser was bitten by the acting bug, as they say, in the '80s, after joining the theater company at his Canadian boarding school. "I was doing plays — that's kind of the only reason they let me stay at the boarding school — and I wasn't even really in them that much," he remembers. But onstage, he found a place where, "I felt at home."
On the weekends, Fraser would go into Toronto with his classmates to see movies, falling in love with blockbuster epics and auteur dramas. He made his way to L.A. in the early '90s and soon found himself starring in blockbuster hits like George of the Jungle and The Mummy, as well as School Ties, Encino Man and Airheads.
In the decades that followed, the leading man would reinvent himself numerous times — appearing as part of the ensemble cast of 2006's Best Picture-winning Crash, along with two sequels to The Mummy — before briefly stepping away from Hollywood. Then in 2020, director Darren Aronofsky saw Fraser in an old movie trailer and decided to offer him the lead role in The Whale, a drama about a 600-pound recluse in search of redemption. Fortuitously, Fraser was ready to make his comeback.
"I wanted to be a part of a film that made really bold statements about how we regard one another," he explains. "I really think there's a way to get to know this person who lives behind closed doors in a little apartment somewhere in Idaho in a way that you wouldn't normally, because this is a story that's played out behind closed doors all across the country. And to go into that darkened space and see what a lighthouse that he is was all at once invigorating and challenging, and it made me excited to have the job."
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Fraser is now a first-time Oscar nominee for his performance in The Whale. "I'm trying to enjoy all of it as much as possible," he says, "because look, if this is as good as it gets, that's good for me."
Below, Fraser shares with A.frame a list of the movies that he loves the most. It's also, in a sense, the story of his life — of the movies he's starred in, the people he's worked with, and the wisdom he's found in the most unlikely of places that has gotten him through it all. "I guess I'll start at the beginning."
Supervising Director: David Hand | Written by: Perce Pearce and Larry Morey
The first film I saw was Bambi. I was a child, clearly — I would've been five or six. Teeny Brendan, itty-bitty Brendan — and it made me always want to be kind to animals. That's what I remember. Of course, there's traumas. Clearly, the hunter and Bambi's mom stayed with me. But it also made me want to have a friend like Thumper. So, it was a relationship piece.
Written and Directed by: George Lucas
I would be remiss to not say that Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was a big inspiration for me to go, 'Wow, movies are awesome.' I didn't know if I wanted to be in them or any of that yet. I didn't know how they were made, I just knew I loved them. I saw that movie in London when I was on holiday with my family — we used to go for Christmas in those years — and I remember getting vertigo when Luke's X-wing goes down into the chasm before they blow up the Death Star. I thought that was so awesome. And I loved the battle of good and evil, and it reminded me of my favorite cowboy stories, but in space. If Star Wars doesn't make the list, I'm not paying attention, right?
Directed by: Don Chaffey | Written by: Jan Read and Beverley Cross
Ray Harryhausen really had an interesting influence on me. Jason and the Argonauts had a fantastic skeleton battle, and the creatures were great in it. Of course, we all knew it was stop-motion animation, but it's awesome. I loved the janky, herky-jerky quality of it. And it's a big adventure film. It's boy stuff. I loved it.
But years and years and years later, it was important to have another think about that movie when I was doing The Mummy, because Rick O'Connell gets into a battle with some mummies. He's off to rescue Evelyn, and he picks up a sword and goes whack, smash, and gets up on all these mummies. It was totally inspired by the skeleton battles in Jason and the Argonauts, and also The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
Written and Directed by: John Hughes
I loved the ensemble. When you watch the film now, it's a product of its time, in a time capsule kind of way. But it was the first time it depicted teenagers in a sincere dialogue, the way that teenagers can get into it in a sort of touchy-feely, self-revealing way that later becomes what we call therapy. And I loved that! I must have seen it like 14 times. That and Sixteen Candles, which I also loved for similar reasons.
Written and Directed by: Oliver Stone
When I was a teenager, I saw Platoon and went, 'Holy smokes.' I was just blown away. I don't remember feeling like I was really in the thick of the s**t until I saw that movie. Again, I think maybe I liked it so much because, in a way, the platoon's like an ensemble. There's a team of guys, they got to get through something together and rely on one another's unique strengths. And it struck a chord with me at the time, because I was very similar in age to a lot of the guys depicted on that screen. It made me think, 'Wow, that could have been me.' It hit home in a way. It was visceral, if I'm honest.
Written and Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
In those years, I saw Clockwork Orange, and that took my brain in a whole other direction. I read the book — it was required reading in English class — but to see the film, it opened my eyes to Kubrick. I moved on to The Shining and Barry Lyndon. I loved Barry Lyndon because I heard that Kubrick created lenses so that they could leave the aperture open wide enough to capture candlelight, which I thought was very cool. It really felt like, 'Wow, I guess we're going to go back in time to see what it's like in the Gilded Age!' I loved that.
Directed by: Mel Gibson | Written by: Randall Wallace
I loved Braveheart. It's about fathers and sons, ultimately, so that spoke to me.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
I mean, come on! If that isn't an influence in my oeuvre, I would be a liar. I loved those movies. It made me a lifelong Harrison Ford fan, and certainly cemented it when I saw Blade Runner. That was a masterpiece.
I worked with Harrison Ford on a film called Extraordinary Measures, and he was a great guy. He called me one weekend and said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Nothing.' He's like, 'Can you go to the airport?' 'Sure.' He's like, 'Now.' I got in a cab, I went to the airport, and he took me for a ride. He took me up on his plane a couple times, actually. I was Chewbacca. I got to be his co-pilot, he gave me the stick for a little while. True story. Believe me, I was pinching myself. I'm a fanboy, clearly, but on top of that, he's just a really cool guy.
Directed by: Gus Van Sant | Written by: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
I saw a lot of great stuff in the '90s, for sure. I can name lots of great ones that my friends made. Good Will Hunting, I was so proud of those guys [Matt Damon and Ben Affleck]. My heart was bursting. We were just scrappy actors hoping to get a piece of chicken from craft service when we were doing School Ties. And here we were, like, in the industry! It was such a good movie, too.
Directed by: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava | Written by: Brad Bird
I'll leave you with this: I had kids, and so, you revisit a lot of films. I didn't show them Bambi. But I did, and I was pleased about this, have Ratatouille on a loop. Ratatouille was playing all the time, and I would cook them food and watch this story about this little unlikely friendship that the young man and the rat have. It's about creating perfection, and capturing something, and following the recipe and rules, and making unlikely friends and all that Disney stuff that I just love.
But, more importantly, it had a take on the role of the critic in Anton Ego, who was voiced by Peter O'Toole. There's a wonderful monologue. And to paraphrase it, Anton Ego, who is the villain and wants to see the restaurant fail, learns, 'Oh God, no. It's run by a rat? What? Impossible. But his food is incredible. He's transported me!' The thing that he had to say about how fun it is for the critics to write mean things, and read mean things about other people, and how other people's work is your excuse for being creative. I think it was a really self-aware statement that was being made with that film.
I'll be honest and say, I've gone back and I have looked at that passage on more than one occasion when I get a stinging review or I read something that's mean-spirited about something I did. It reminds me that you have to have courage to be an actor. You have to own that this is what you do, and you're going to take a risk. And it's an okay risk to take because it's a creative one. From that, you can learn something, sometimes, if you choose wisely. That's the hope. That's the aspiration. And it doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. You don't know why and vice versa. But it's always been a comfort to me to go back and read that little passage of Anton Ego's final filing before he goes into the restaurant business with the rat. I thought that was delightful.