If there’s a single moment that can let us 90% know Brendan Fraser, it’s one where he’s in the middle of a poignant discourse on professionally becoming another person in order to help share a story with the world when the cartoon sproing-sproing ringtone of his phone cuts through. The fact that it’s his children needing to be picked up from school on the other end probably brings us close to the last ten percent.
“Hey, I got kids, and don’t tell anyone, but I still feel like one,” Fraser tells me, pinning the tail on a question about the sideways decisions of his career, the latest of which to see theaters is Stand Off . In the film from Terry George, Fraser plays Joe Maguire, a man who escapes a bad home situation by going to Belfast and running an antique store that eventually becomes the epicenter of the action promised in the movie’s title (a title that used to be Whole Lotta Sole).
Maguire is a fish out of water trying to understand a deep, troubled Irish history in a lighthearted action dramedy from the director of Hotel Rwanda. Yes, your intuition is correct. This role is another delightful head-scratcher from an actor who has already been all over the map.
“Thematically — a tommy gun (an antique one at that), a piece of fish, a man on the run from some very scary mobsters with a baby pram, and a baby, and an antique store that turns into the epicenter of a hostage crisis,” Fraser laughs, explaining the core of the story. “In Belfast! Northern Ireland. Something interesting is gonna go down.”
The last part of that statement could be said about most of the actor’s career decisions. This is the man who burst onto the scene simultaneously as a wacky caveman in Encino Man and as a brooding school boy hiding his religion in the bigoted prep academy environment of School Ties. In two decades, he’s led massive blockbuster franchises, returned to kid-friendly comedic work and taken giant chances along the way. We’re talking about the guy who starred in Monkeybone. A performer who all but shuns the straightforward choices.
Of course, there are also safety nets, or at least there are on the creative side. The biggest one on Stand Off might be its director.
“He’s a world class good guy. He’s Terry. He’s more than just local boy done good to Belfast, to Ireland,” says Fraser. “He’s able to allow us the access to locations, and tap into the spirit of the material itself. I really question if it could have been successful with a director who didn’t know the material as well as he did, let alone lived through it. And to handle it as deftly. The methods, the ideas, the way that he did. With a light touch, but still treading that edge between ‘This could all go horribly wrong…’ and the feeling that all will be well.”
But even if he feels safe with a filmmaker, there are and have been consequences to the roles Fraser takes that affect his star persona. Even after the bizarre disaster that was Monkeybone and the for-my-kids film Looney Tunes: Back in Action, he was still nailing down dramas like Crash and The Air I Breathe just before trying to spin Journey to the Center of the Earth and Inkheart into viable young adult tentpoles. The latter was fun but didn’t beg for a sequel, and the former continued on without Fraser or its director.
Talking to the actor, you get the sense that he calmly acknowledges the contract realities of his career but not that he’s particularly phased by any perceived missteps. “I’ve made some choices that may have not been the obvious one, and had to take the mail on a couple of those ones too for not doing what’s obvious,” he laughs. “But it seems like mine is a career that is a journey of discovery. I’ve turned the corner on being about halfway there toward understanding what it is. In a way, I hope that I never get to find out, but I do know that it will always come from having an unexpected opportunity to take me away from my comfort zone.”
When I ask him why he prefers the unknown, he says it’s a whole other couch trip.
With any luck, we’ll take the trip with him soon. His voice is currently starring in Escape From Planet Earth, which is in theaters, and Stand Off will be there this weekend. Fraser is also trying to shoot a big, sweeping 3D adventure based on the exploits of William Tell with his Journey director Brad Brevig in September; he stars in the based-on-real-life drama Gimme Shelter which is looking for a 2013 release; and he’s attached to several other projects that run the genre gamut. Which, by now, shouldn’t be surprising.
Near the end of our conversation about Stand Off where he explains why his character is introduced while running away from an underwear-clad, knife-wielding woman, Fraser waxes at length about risk assessment, the freedom that technology has granted storytellers, and the complicated splendors of Ireland — all while evoking a grand sense of humility in the face of what he gets to do for a paycheck.
“I feel happy and privileged to have been an actor. Doing a job, and a very lucky one at that. I heard Tony Hopkins was asked something to the effect of ‘How’s it going?’, and he replied, ‘Well, they haven’t found me out yet.’ If you’re gonna do this work, be grateful for it, be good at it, do your best to be good at it, and perpetuate that it’s all in support of –”
This is when the sproing-sproing of his phone goes off. He apologizes, you can almost hear him blush over the phone, and he continues without missing a beat.
“– Of a further trajectory of making the choices in our entertainment, what we see as part of our culture mythology, resonant. That they count. More than just a distraction. And there’s a place for that for sure. Absolutely.”
Eloquent and erudite with just a dash of childishness. Such is the profound goofiness of Fraser. Don’t tell anybody, but he still feels like a kid.
Stand Off is available on VOD today and in select theaters this Friday (2/22).