At the 2023 Academy Awards, Brendan Fraser tearfully accepted the award for best actor for his role in “The Whale” — the 54-year-old actor’s first Oscar nomination and win.

In his speech, Fraser thanked “The Whale” director Darren Aronofsky, saying, “I’m grateful to Darren Aronofsky for throwing me a creative lifeline and hauling me aboard the cruise ship ‘The Whale.’” 

Perhaps most touchingly, Fraser addressed his turbulent career, saying, “I started in this business 30 years ago, and things didn’t come easily to me, but there was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time until it stopped.”

“It’s been like a diving expedition on the bottom of the ocean, and the air on the line to the surface is on a launch being watched over by some people in my life,” Fraser said, per Rolling Stone.

The win signifies a comeback for Fraser. After becoming a Hollywood heartthrob due to his roles as leading man in “The Mummy” franchise and “George of the Jungle,” among others, Fraser quietly retreated from Hollywood for roughly a decade.

In 2018, Fraser said that he was sexually assaulted in 2003 by Phillip Berk, former president and member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, per People. Berk has denied this accusation.

Of the incident, Fraser said, “And I had played by the rules up until that point. And I felt like, okay, now, suddenly, I’ve been violated. And it has gone too far. And I will no longer abide this.” He added that the assault “was causing me emotional distress; it was causing me personal distress.”

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For those aware of Fraser’s alleged assault, and reclusion from Hollywood, his Oscar win was cathartic — even hopeful. It illustrates that those truly deserving of accolades can receive them, even if they’ve faced significant roadblocks to do so.

Before Fraser’s Oscar-winning performance in “The Whale,” he was known for “playing guys who were often new to the world” at the start of his career, per GQ. Of his early career, Frasier told GQ, “I believe I probably was trying too hard, in a way that’s destructive.”

What was Brendan Fraser doing before ‘The Whale’?

At the start of his career, Fraser took some small roles. He played Sailor #1 in 1991’s “Dogfight” and took other smaller roles in “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” and “My Old School.”

It wasn’t until Fraser played Link, a caveman thrust into modern-times, in 1992’s “Encino Man” that Fraser himself was thrust into the limelight. But some may argue that it was his starring role in “School Ties” that solidified his status as a leading man. It was a dramatic role — Fraser played David Greene, a Jewish teen trying to fit in at an anti-semitic prep school in the 1950s.

The role is surprisingly serious, considering that Fraser was primarily known as the hunky, comedic leading man in action films in the 1990s and early 2000s. He later starred in “George of the Jungle,” “Blast from the Past,” “The Mummy” and “Loony Tunes: Back in Action.”

This was when Fraser was in prime physical shape: as GQ put it, “he ultimately found most of his success with his shirt off.” Of this time in his career, Fraser said, “I look at myself then and I just see a walking steak.”

Brendan Fraser’s career in the late 2000s

It wasn’t until the late 2000s, after Fraser’s assault, that he hit a wall in his acting career.

What happened to Brendan Fraser’s acting career?

By the late 2000s, Fraser’s health was in decline. Health problems, plus mental and emotional toil, impacted his career.

Fraser cites his stint in 2008’s “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” telling GQ, “I was put together with tape and ice — just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs. Screw-cap ice packs and downhill-mountain-biking pads, ‘cause they’re small and light and they can fit under your clothes. I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily.”

What surgeries did Brendan Fraser have?

During this time, Fraser had multiple surgeries, including a laminectomy, lumbar surgery, partial knee replacement and vocal cord repair. According to GQ, “All told, Fraser says, he was in and out of hospitals for almost seven years.”

“I felt like the horse from ‘Animal Farm,’ whose job it was to work and work and work,” Fraser said. “He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him.”

Why did Brendan Fraser stop acting?

Beyond the physical toll of his acting career, Fraser was facing the emotional and psychological toll of his 2003 assault. The incident, he said, “made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive.”

In 2018, Fraser speculated to GQ whether or not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association blacklisted him. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening.”

The entire experience made Fraser lose “who I was and what I was doing.” Jobs had, according to Fraser, “withered on the vine for me. In my mind, at least, something had been taken away from me.” 

Brendan Fraser’s return to the screen

For the next decade or so, Fraser only appeared in a handful of movie roles. It wasn’t until he was cast in season three of “The Affair” in 2016 that people — filmmakers included — began to take notice.

Danny Boyle, executive producer of “The Affair,” told GQ, “It’s one of those delicious moments where you see someone you’re so familiar with who is so changed by time and by experience. You kind of just clock that, and it’s both so sad and wonderful. Because we all share that same time line.”

Afterward, Fraser appeared in TV shows such as “Trust,” “Condor,” “Titans,” “Doom Patrol” and more, according to his IMDb page. During this time, Fraser told GQ, “Something good came out of something that was bad. Sometimes it takes a while for that to happen.”

Brendan Fraser in ‘The Whale’

Then, “The Whale” happened. According to Fraser, director Aronofsky most likely had him in mind for the role of Charlie, a 600-pound reclusive English teacher, per W Magazine.

Fraser was drawn to the role, saying, “You’re allowed to take risks in art. You should go toward the danger, where the most growth will come, and often where the most interesting choices are made,” per Entertainment Weekly.

The risk paid off. While critics’ reviews of the movie itself were mixed, Fraser has received universal acclaim for his portrayal. When “The Whale” premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, Fraser tearfully bowed to a six-minute standing ovation, according to Variety.

The Spectator praised Fraser’s performance, saying, “Fraser is especially compelling, bringing a sincerity to Charlie, and an openness and gentleness.”

After years of flying under the radar, Fraser once again found himself in the spotlight, but for a wildly different role. Years of health complications have taken a toll on his physique — he no longer resembles the chiseled hunk we knew in the ’90s — but perhaps it’s for the better.

It’s almost like time has peeled back the layers of Fraser, revealing the crux of a truly talented actor. Instead of his physicality confining him to action films, Fraser can finally rise to meatier roles: ones that are touching and haunting, challenging and rewarding.

Before this year’s Oscars, Fraser spoke to The New York Times about his recent accolades. “I’m reticent to become overconfident about anything because I’ve been on the merry-go-round a number of times, and I know that if you’re too comfortable, you can become complacent.”

Of his so-called “comeback,” Fraser told Entertainment Weekly: “Careers go up and down on a valley-and-peak trajectory, but I believe that it’s always in the ascendancy. I’ve never been that far away, is the short answer. Was away, or was everyone away from me? I’ll give you the answer: It doesn’t matter.”

What awards did Brendan Fraser win for ‘The Whale’?

After “The Whale” was released last year, it received a bevy of nominations this award season. Here are all the awards Fraser won for the film:

  • Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role.
  • Critic’s Choice Movie Award for best actor.
  • Satellite Award for best actor in a motion picture.
  • Academy Award for best actor.

What’s next for Brendan Fraser?

Fraser isn’t slowing down anytime soon. He recently took on a small role as W.S. Hamilton in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” appearing alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Di Niro.

“We thought he’d be great for the lawyer and I admired his work over the years,” Scorsese told Variety. “He’s a wonderful actor and he was just great to work with.”

Fraser is also set to star in a new film titled “Rental Family,” according to Deadline. The film follows “a down-and-out actor living in Tokyo who is hired as a token American guy for a Japanese rental-family company, leading him on an unexpected journey of self-discovery through the roles he plays in other people’s lives.”

For fans and film connoisseurs alike, Fraser’s return to the screen is warmly welcomed. His Oscar win is evidence of this. It’s hard not to be endeared by his Oscar acceptance speech, which displays an actor that is both painfully humble and wildly deserving.

“It’s almost like the public was just waiting for this moment,” film and media historian Chris Yogerst told NPR. “Everyone has missed him. Seeing him back on the screen, it was like an old friend was back.”