Mummy Returns, The : Interview With Brendan Fraser

SOMETHING had to give. No one could maintain those pumped pecs, toned triceps and buffed biceps for long. At least not without a deal of dedication beyond the endurance of most mortals.

Brendan Fraser, 32, originally acquired all of those hunky attributes and many more besides to enable him to swing convincingly in Tarzan's slipstream as the cartoon strip hero, George of the Jungle (1997). Then he had to get them back again for his first outing in Mummy, the (1999). And he's gone through the process all over again for the sequel, eagerly awaited on screens everywhere from mid-May.

He's eternally grateful to the Disney adventure for giving a spurt to his, until then, relatively low key career. Certainly a magazine picture spread at the time of the preened torso wearing little more than a fig leaf caused animal stirrings in the ranks. It helped to ensure Fraser such trappings of solid gold celebrity as his own home page on the Net and an official fan club. Tomorrow the world ... and the prophecy turned true.

Fraser, in a check shirt and chinos, seems a might diminished from some of his on-screen personae, especially Mummy, the (1999)'s spunky Rick O'Donnell. Who wouldn't be? To be sure, he's no seven stone weakling but he's not exactly bursting out all over as the eponymous hero who ten years on from the events of the first one has married his sweetheart (Rachel Weisz) and prepares yet again to stop a curse from ancient Egypt unleashing its fury.

He did most of his own stunts, blowing his knee out, popping a disc and breaking a rib in the process. "There was a lot of preparation involved... weights, high protein dieting, the works ... . In the script where it says Rick gets thrown across the room, then I did, and sort of got smashed up in the process," he says.

You mumble sympathetically. This is no time to be underwhelmed by an actor who has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the fray on more than one occasion. He suggests that he still tries to keep fit "by running ... and drinking beer."

Even now after ten years in the business, the experience of international exposure and media junkets around the globe is a a relatively awkward phenomenon for Fraser, who had his first major film role when he was 23 in a claustrophobic drama of college anti-Semitism School Ties. A year later he was the frozen caveman brought back to life in Encino Man (1992) which he's still trying to live down.

Since then he has managed to work both in the theatre, where he has considerable experience, and in a diverse collection of films from the independent comedy Twenty Bucks (1993) to a studio frivolity about a rock band, Airheads (1994) with Steve Buscemi. He hopes to be back on the stage in London's West End in the autumn as Brick in a new production of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Fraser, like Buscemi, wants to keep that broad span. But despite the global hype he considers himself still to be a bit of an unknown quantity. He enthuses about the fact that his Mummy persona has attracted an audience of loyal fans, both parents and children, who have been returning to savour his exploits two or three times.

"I certainly remember being loyal to my favourite films as a child. I saw Star Wars (1977) about 19 times. Repeat business has to be a good thing," he says

Fraser bestows Rick O'Connell with an appropriate tongue in cheek sense of humour with a stiff upper lip which occasionally remind you of the totally correct mannerisms of a Jimmy Stewart.

"I don't take myself too seriously," says Fraser. "I think if you can treat comedy as normal then inevitably you will get more laughs. Even in adventure hokum you have to stick to the rules and parameters - then give the character a heart."

Fraser has managed to manoeuvre himself into totally different worlds. He played a romantic idealist in Still Breathing (1998), for which he grabbed serious attention by winning a best actor award at the Seattle Film Festival for his performance as a street performer with telepathic powers.

And in Gods and Monsters (1998) he consolidated his serious reputation as the object of Frankenstein director James Whale's homosexual affection. The film, directed by Bill Condon, travelled backwards and forwards from reality to the past, and from film characters to people in his life.

Fraser played opposite Ian McKellen (as Whale), an experience he savoured with a certain awe. "He McKellen was surrounded by an aura of ability and professionalism, and enormous talent, but at the same time he was immensely approachable. He certainly taught me that the work is not about ego, but that it always comes back to basics: scenes do not work if you cannot get a handle on the words. So we would sit down and endlessly run through the lines, and it worked." It was McKellen, in fact, who suggested him for his forthcoming West End stage role when he'll appear alongside Frances O'Connor.

"Brick is a rite of passage part," says Fraser. "I also happen to identify with many aspects of the play. I find it very fascinating and very moving. And it's a piece of theatre that audiences flock to."

Barely pausing for breath over the years, Fraser has moved swifly from movie to movie. Remember him in Hugh Wilson's Blast from the Past (1999) in which he played a young man locked in a bomb shelter since he was a child after his father believes mistakenly they were under attack? He emerges 30 years later, but acts as if he is still in the Sixties. And then there was Monkeybone (2001), an ambitiously macabre outing which resolutely failed to find much of an audience. He was a comic artist who befriends and is then possessed by an evil cartoon monkey, voiced by John Turturro.

And Bedazzled (2000) had Fraser (teamed with O'Connor and eLizabeth Hurley) as a hapless computer geek who sells his soul to the devil and turns into several different characters including a drug lord and a sports star. It wasn't especially well received either, yet he won the role ahead of Jim Carrey and Mike Myers.

Director Harold Ramis wanted Fraser because "he can play those emotionally wounded guys better than anyone his age, even though he's so good-looking and charming."

He hopes to raise his serious dramatic cred in Philip Noyce's film version of Graham Greene's Quiet American, the (2001) with Michael Caine which he has just finished shooting in Vietnam. "I am always thinking of the long run," he says. "I am not interested in how hot my movies are at the moment, only whether they're any good. And I think my fans will let me have that kind of career. The people who liked Mummy, the (1999) will go to see Mummy Returns, the (2001) and the people who liked Gods and Monsters (1998) will go to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Fraser, whose father worked in the travel business, was raised on the hoof with his three older brothers, in Holland and Switzerland before returning to be educated in Toronto, progressing to the city's Actors' Conservatory and thence to the College of Arts in Seattle.

"I seemed to often be the outsider. My family moved every few years and I was always the new kid, trying to fit in. As the new boy you had to learn how to assert yourself. Like an actor you had to constantly redefine yourself," he says.

He's not a party animal, coping with the Hollywood jungle by "staying indoors." He says: "I don't get out that often, but I suppose I'm a city boy at heart." His settled home life has a lot to do with his wife actress Afton Smith whom he married three years ago.

And the long-term prospects in the profession? "My objective is to go 360 degrees in the opposite direction of what I just did last. If I can keep on doing that for the rest of my career I'll be one helluva happy guy. If there is a career strategy I suppose it would have to be diversity. Acting is something I feel comfortable with it. There could be worse ways of making a living.

He does, however, plan to ease down from the hectic pace has been pursuing over the last eight years. "I guess you could say I have been going non-stop and it's time for the next chapter of my life. That will involve starting a family and slowing down long enough to enjoy what I've been given. And I suppose I'm saying I want to have a life now."

With that, Fraser draws himself up to his full 6ft 3in, and looks as if he is about to take on the terror of the tombs. Instead he just makes a swift exit. Pity. It would have been great to have seen him in live action.

Author : FeatsPress