Sound the alarms, summon the townsfolk, and listen to the joyous news: Brendan Fraser is back. The iconic George of the Jungle and The Mummy franchise actor is once again a leading man in a major film with Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming drama The Whale. Oscar nomination whispers are already in the air, and Fraser has been welcomed back into the film industry with open arms and extremely long standing ovations. And if that’s not enough, Fraser fans will be rewarded again with his appearance in a little film by Martin Scorcese next year: the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leonardo Dicaprio. It cannot be denied, the “Brenassaince” is here.
But as we celebrate Fraser‘s much deserved comeback and return as a pop culture icon, many are unaware of the path that led him to this point. Before March of 2023, when we lose our minds over the title of “Oscar nominee Brendan Fraser,” we need to acknowledge what helped make him a film star again: television.
To understand Fraser’s rise you must also account for his fall. His career as an all-star leading man began to decline after The Mummy Returns but fully collapsed post-2008, the year he starred in Journey to the Center of the Earth, Inkheart, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Many factors contributed to his absence: a messy and financially difficult divorce, physical strain on his body after years of stuntwork, and even behind the scenes blacklisting after accusing Philip Berk of the Hollywood Foreign Press of sexual assault. Fraser continued to appear in small or direct-to-DVD films for years but nothing mainstream.
While Fraser’s first major TV appearance since his ostracization was the History Channel series Texas Rising, his official comeback came when he appeared in Season 3 of Showtime’s The Affair in 2016. Fraser played John Gunther, a cruel prison guard who looms over Noah Solloway (Dominic West). The role is dark, terrifying, and a major departure from the career as the goofy family-friendly action star that Fraser had become known for.
When press for Season 3 of The Affair began, Fraser stood in front of a world who had not seen him in nearly a decade. He didn’t have a six pack, he had lost a lot of hair, and he was almost unrecognizable to many. Headlines and YouTube videos asking “What Happened to Brendan Fraser?” soon emerged. Some tuned into The Affair, the prestige drama beloved by a devoted few for its riveting performances and in-depth exploration of relationship dynamics, just to see what had become of Fraser.
John Gunther was such a drastically different role for Fraser that it gave him the opportunity to reintroduce himself as a performer. He couldn’t do crazy stunts anymore, and the himbo archetype that turned him into a beloved ‘90s and early 2000s actor no longer worked. The Affair forced everyone to see an evolved man who was entering a new stage in his career. And people took notice.
Fraser’s next major role also came on TV when he starred in Danny Boyle’s 2018 FX miniseries Trust. The drama told the story of John Paul Getty III’s 1973 kidnapping and the desperate search to find him. Fraser starred as James Fletcher Chase, J. Paul Getty’s chief of security who led the search for Getty’s grandson. Chase is more reminiscent of the fun Fraser people remembered, he’s a sweet-talking Texas man in a ten gallon hat who cuts right through the high-stakes Italian drama around him. Fraser’s character also frequently breaks the fourth wall, allowing him to create a conversational relationship with the audience. It’s a role fueled by pure charisma, something Fraser never lost in his years away from the spotlight.
2018 saw another Fraser-starring role in Season 1 of the TV series Condor, this time on the short-lived AT&T Audience Network. In case you forgot how much TV has been made the past five years, there was a TV show starring William Hurt and Mira Sorvino that adapted Six Days at the Condor and you’re probably only hearing about it right now. Even though very few people watched Condor (or even had the opportunity to) the pure abundance of shows during this era multiplied the number of opportunities for all actors. Fraser was able to find a market where a talent like his was in demand: amongst the streamers and networks competing to fill their platforms with shows during an age when content was king. Fraser was a competent actor who wanted to get his name back out there, and a show like Condor was another opportunity to prove he was ready.
Fraser’s next major TV appearance was as Cliff Steele/Robotman on DC’s Doom Patrol. The DC-Universe-turned-HBO-Max-series features Fraser as a former race car driver whose brain is put inside a giant hunking metal robot to save his life. The role is mostly a voice performance (Riley Shanahan plays the cyborg body) but Fraser has occasional face appearances. And his voice work is great, a goofy return to form for Fraser that lets him play his characteristic at-his-wits-end straight man while also being a steampunk-esque giant robot.
Doom Patrol found a comfortable niche in a flooded market of superhero media. It’s funny, features a great cast of underappreciated talent, and always manages to walk the right line between crude weird and sweet weird. With an upcoming fourth season about to air, Doom Patrol is an excellent punctuation to Fraser’s TV comeback story. He has shown he’s a great performer, he has charisma in spades, he’s ready to be back in the spotlight, and he never lost that goofy soul that made him such a great leading man three decades ago. It’s also fitting for him to play a revered public figure who lost his fame and gets locked away for years, only to come back with the same soul he always had.
Fraser’s multitude of TV appearances signaled to the rest of Hollywood that he’s back for good. In 2021 Fraser appeared in Steven Soderburgh’s No Sudden Move. He has the aforementioned Scorcese film on the horizon. He secured a place in one of pop culture’s most powerful machines by playing Firefly in the now shelved Batgirl film. Darren Aronofsky said he wanted an actor he could “reintroduce” for The Whale and Fraser is an excellent choice. But the only reason he was on anyone’s radar to be reintroduced is through his consistent quality work on TV since 2015.
The Brenassaince is one of the few cultural moments of pure joy that has happened in recent years. It’s not just that Fraser seems like a genuinely sweet man who deserves better than what happened to his career, it’s also that there are very few people in Hollywood who get a complete second chance like he did. And while there’s much to criticize about the overabundance of Peak TV, Fraser’s story shows the potential of a system that offers infinite visibility. If it weren’t for the opportunities TV granted Fraser, there would be no Brenassiance. If Fraser’s name gets called at the 95th Academy Awards and an Oscar is placed in his hands there will be a lot of people he will thank. But there’s one more thing that we can thank at home, one that will allow us to see him reach that moment: the wonderful chaotic medium that is TV.
Leila Jordan is a writer and former jigsaw puzzle world record holder. Her work has appeared in Paste Magazine and FOX Digital. To talk about all things movies, TV, and useless trivia you can find her @galaxyleila
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