"It was a real-life adventure": A conversation with Brendan Fraser on The Mummy, Leslie Grace, and the joys of being in Seattle
A reflection on work and life with Brendan Fraser
Brendan Fraser has been an iconic figure in the entertainment industry for years – from his time starring as the adventurous explorer Rick O’Connell in The Mummy to his upcoming dramatic work in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. With a variety of movies set for release in the coming years and a few appearances at comic conventions, there’s a lot we can look forward to from Brendan Fraser in the near future.
Popverse recently had the chance to sit down with Fraser at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle to talk about his work on titles like The Mummy and Doom Patrol. In this interview, Fraser reflects on catching up with old friends like Oded Fehr - who also appeared as a guest at Emerald City Comic Con – looking back on The Scorpion King’s CGI work, and thinking back on his time in Seattle.
Popverse: Brendan, we're going to start our conversation off with a little project called The Mummy which is now over 20 years old. Can you share with us your favorite memories from shooting that film?
Brendan Fraser: Yeah, I really enjoyed getting to be with that whole cast. I loved being part of a movie that we didn't know if it was an action, comedy, horror, adventure, romance. All of the above. We didn't know what we had on our hands, and there was a certain sense of liberty and excitement about it.
It was an old property that Universal had. The time it came out, you know, it was laughable. Everybody thought of Abbott and Costello—with the mummy. And here we were with our version of it. Courtesy of John Burton, ILM bringing state of the art CGI, and just the combination of all that made it, I'd say, the memorable film that it is now.
I think it had so much appeal because everybody wanted a little bit of all of those things I just mentioned. And by whatever movie magic, it came together for us.
With this film coming out over two decades ago, do you look back and see it a different way now than you did back when you filmed it?
Yeah, I look back on it, and when I watch it, I watch everyone else, I can't look at myself, I feel a sense of nostalgia. I feel a sense of hopefulness for all of us on the cusp of our professional lives and the potential for something lasting and memorable.
I can still hear Stephen Sommers writer/director giving direction like 'Ready… and DON'T SUCK! Action!' And then we'd run around and shoot... and camels! And stuff falling down and blowing up, and it's in the Moroccan desert. It was a real-life adventure. I'm glad they took pictures of it because I don't know if I'm going to be doing that movie again any time soon.
Is that something that sticks with you when you're on other sets? You fully expect to hear, 'Ready, set, don’t suck?'
[laughs] No, That's vintage Stephen Sommers.
I recognize that this has been a tricky situation, but is there anything you can tell us about your experience on Batgirl?
Leslie Grace is her namesake. She's dynamic. She gave a great performance. She's a stone cold professional. You're going to see more from her. And I'm looking forward to it.
We want to talk a little bit about Doom Patrol. Robotman is unique. You're providing the voice of the character while also playing a character who has a completely different body. How is it working and performing that character versus other roles you have done?
There's an actor called Riley Shanahan who wears the suit. He's kind of my David Prowse for the Darth Vader suit, you know? Great guy. He and I have a lot of similarities. We had the same birthday. We went to the same college, albeit 20 years apart. I think we played some of the same roles in productions around our career and lives, and he embodies the character Cliff Steel as a man on a mission to be a better human.
And he absolutely captures that Cliff is a better person as a robot than he ever was as a real living, breathing person. It's a collaboration that he and I have. So, on the one hand, I feel like I do have a sense of survivor's guilt for not having to wear the gear every day, but he loves the job. And I get to stand in front of a microphone and say funny things.
Do you record the voice first? And then [Riley] hears it and is able to perform the body movements, or is it someone like the script supervisor off screen reading and then they're reacting to that?
It's just as it is. He learns every scene, every line he plays it through. He's doing mask work; you know, he's an actor behind the mask. So, if you take away an actor's face, you only have something neutral or a visage of whatever it is. And he plays the character without needing the face at all.
Early in the process, we didn't know the answers. Those are good questions, so we were trying to figure it out too. Is there playback? We did lots of readings and rehearsals together. He would pick up my rhythms, intonation, etc....
Riley is playing me playing a race car driver whose brain is plugged into a robot, so he's got triple duty. It's a remarkable achievement. I have so much respect for suit performers.
And can you talk a little bit about your experience with voice acting and what you do differently to convey that emotion versus on camera acting?
For me, if I'm in the booth, I'm playing the scene along with everyone else who's clearly not there. And I find it helps to read the scene, stage directions, and all just to get it in, make sure that you're rolling on that, because sometimes rehearsal lines are actually the ones that wind up in production.
And at this point, we're four seasons in, and so I can't not hear Diane Guerrero as Crazy Jane. I can't not hear Matt Bomer as Larry Trainor. I can't not hear everyone's voice because they're so specific, and we know one another so well. So, I feel like I'm just another part of the ensemble, the crew, and through the magic of post and sound editing… What you hope to do, what's on the page, what you achieve— there are always three different distinct things and then what you finally wind up with is so far removed from what you thought you were going to do in the first place. So, it's a journey that you go on.
And speaking of a journey, in this show, there's a big discussion about mental health, and Robot Man kind of embodies that discussion.
They all do.
When you took on this role, what was it like for you to be joining a superhero show that has this sort of discussion?
That's the thing that's special about Doom Patrol is that they're not necessarily superheroes. That's their shtick. They want to figure out their own issues. They've got their own demons. They don't need to go off and fight crime. You know, they'll stand up to a bully. Absolutely. And they'll look out for one another.
But they bicker like a family. The challenges that they have are to overcome their own issues. That's helpful to open the dialogue and to take the focus away from there being a stigma attached to how we think and feel in our minds being as important as what we do in our bodies.
Taking a step away from TV and film, I want to talk about location. We're here in Seattle, a place you are very familiar with…
Near and dear.
What is it like being back here and are there any memories about being in this familiar location?
Everywhere, every street I look, I can see myself as a skinny 19-year-old on a mountain bike. It's the same, but it hasn't changed. I love this town. I met a college buddy for an ice cream last night in Wallingford. It's the same vibe.
It's great to smell the salt in the air off Elliot Bay. I hope I have time to run down to the market and watch guys throw fish at each other again. And there's a really great knife shop down there that's got great flashlights and stuff. I like to poke my head around the door, you know. I hope it's still there.
Seattle is inherently an environment of creative people who take care of and support one another's vision and interests, and it was always, always like that. And 30 years ago, when I went to college on Capitol Hill, at Cornish, it was no different. I mean, everyone had a sense of purpose, and it's still apparent today. I haven't been everywhere, but I mean, every major metropolis, every major city has pockets of that. It just seems like it's prevalent throughout Seattle, which is special.
Any particular food staples? Cause you mentioned ice cream and going to the markets, do you have any particular staples that you are like 'I need to get my hands on this weekend'?
[laughs] You know, ramen. [laughs]
It's so good!
I went out for ramen in Boston. Okay. It was good. I'll leave it at that.
That, and you can't go wrong with the salmon. I mean, come on, it's like healthy and right off the boat you know? And it flies!
Going down memory lane, what life lessons have you learned that you wish you could maybe tell your younger self?
It's going to be all right. Hang in there. It's possible. You're doing okay. You have nothing to prove.
That's a message I feel like a lot of people would love to hear.
Lastly, here at Popverse, we like to celebrate the best of TV, movies, and comics. What is something you're geeking out about right now that you're not working on? It can be anything.
I was really impressed, the guy that came by with an RC controlled full-scale model of a Dalek. That was impressive. I thought there was someone in it, and no, he was the one operating it.
What am I geeking out about? I just put my head around the door to see a bunch of people signing stuff. I'm just happy to be here and see Oded Fehr again. We haven't seen each other for 20 years. Great guy.
Did it feel like coming back to...
Oh, like moments, absolutely! It's like it's been 10 minutes. That's the thing about growing older, your friendships pick up where you left off, no matter who. You know, if you have that connection, time doesn't even matter. That's how you know it's a real friendship.
I feel that way when I come back to Seattle because, like I say, it's the same place. Change, of course, but the same place, the same spirit.
And going back to the Dalek. Are you a Doctor Who fan?
[laughs] You know what? I'm busted on that one. I loved the show as a kid, the early iterations of it. I don't know them all.
There are a lot, to be fair.
Absolutely correct. I mean, I grew up in Europe. I know of its popularity. I think what I like best about that show was the high-low tech that was used back in the day. It was such low budget television that I read the sound mixers would go around the building looking to make weird new noises, like something's just someone running a fork across a radiator. That's like one of the noises they had to come up with cause there's nothing digital!
It has a charm.
Yeah, it's kind of like what I love about The Mummy Returns when the the Rock, I'm sorry Dwayne, shows up at the end. You know he looks like CGI Man because he is CGI man. Because [laughs] they ran out of time to do the CGI, and I know, because I talked to the guys [at] the after party when it opened. They were like, 'Hey, we did the Scorpion King.' And they're like, 'We know. We know. We know. Not our bad. They seriously they gave us three weeks, okay? We could have used eight.' But [laughs] it's all good. Now, it would be a shame if it went back and it was made deepfake picture perfect. It wouldn't have the same allure. You know, when you watch a Ray Harryhausen movie, it's herky jerky because it's stop motion animation. I love that.
You love the analog feeling of it, you know, the creativity behind it, the effort. He was only a piece of tape on a stick! I never met him in person until the after-show party. Seriously!
How would it be for you if the CGI team came to you beforehand and was like, 'Oh, this is how Dwayne's going to look, by the way?'
You have it in mind, but that's the bizarre job that acting is: to just sort of talk to your imaginary friends anyway.
Let your mind run free, right?
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