By Dan Heching, CNN
While it’s true that everyone enjoys a good comeback story, it would be simplistic to say that’s the only reason people are loving on Brendan Fraser so much right now.
Yes, it’s lovely to see him continue to get accolades and recognition for his emotional turn in last year’s somber drama “The Whale,” culminating in an Oscar nomination on Tuesday. But, in truth, people have always loved this actor, from his early days in zany films like 1992’s “Encino Man” (which put him on the map) up until when he largely stepped away from major motion pictures around a decade ago.
Here’s a look at some of his most standout moments as an actor:
To get this out of the way first, it would be remiss not to include Fraser’s franchise-launching “Mummy,” not only due to his bronzed and suave take on an Indiana Jones-like adventurer who had a hefty penchant for humor to keep things light. Fraser has said that this film series — which started in 1999 and was followed by 2001’s “The Mummy Returns” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” in 2008 — took a toll on his body due to rigorous physical demands and stunt work, but the final result, especially in the first movie, is still something quite fun to behold.
‘Twilight of the Golds’
This 1997 film’s premise does not stand the test of time, but Fraser’s performance in this odd film sure does. In it, he portrays a gay man trying to convince his pregnant sister to keep her baby boy after she found through a fictional test that the fetus will be born gay like him. Rounding out a cast including Garry Marshall, Jennifer Beals, Rosie O’Donnell and screen great Faye Dunaway, Fraser more than holds his own, supplying much of the angst and energy that propels the plot forward.
If there were such a thing as movie acrobatics, 2000’s “Bedazzled” would be the most exemplary film of the craft. In this comedy, Fraser plays no less than five distinct roles, after he makes a deal with a saucy Satan (Elizabeth Hurley), who grants him seemingly any and every wish. In Jim Carrey-like fashion, “Bedazzled” showcases Fraser’s remarkable range, going from heroic everyman to sensitive shy guy and back again with sidesplitting aplomb.
Fraser guest-starred a handful of times during the early seasons of “Scrubs,” playing Ben Sullivan, Dr. Cox’s (John C. McGinley) former brother-in-law and good friend. On first glance, Fraser’s goofball character is pure comic relief — a foil to the perpetually grumpy Cox. But Ben’s introductory Season 1 two-parter had other layers, taking viewers through his leukemia diagnosis and remission. The character’s return in Season 3 was a welcome one, but the episode was a gut punch, ultimately tackling themes of guilt, denial and grief while culminating in Ben’s funeral in a gasp-inducing reveal. “Scrubs” was known for balancing comedy and heartbreak seamlessly, and Fraser’s memorable guest arc — still talked about amongst the sitcom’s enthusiasts nearly two decades later — is a perfect example of the series’ best qualities.
This 1994 film — which feels like it’s part “Good Will Hunting,” part “Breakfast Club” — recounts the at-first stinted friendship between a pretentious graduate student (Fraser) and a homeless man (Joe Pesci), who ultimately help each other in fundamental ways. Fraser is the glue that holds the ragtag group of Ivy Leaguers together in the movie, which also features Moira Kelly (of “The Cutting Edge” fame) and Patrick Dempsey, and manages to retain sympathy in spite of his intellectual prudishness.
Released in 1992 — the same year as his Pauly Shore slapstick comedy “Encino Man” — “School Ties” featured Fraser in one of his most dramatic turns, which also happened to coincide with him at his swooniest. The period film followed Fraser as a Jewish student on a football scholarship at a New England prep school who encounters antisemitism, and while the movie veers toward heavy-handedness, Fraser’s sensitive portrayal never falls fully into the flat plane of being the victim. A still solid watch that also features early turns from Matt Damon and Chris O’Donnell.
‘Gods and Monsters’
Based on the later life of actual “Frankenstein” director James Whale, 1998’s “Gods and Monsters,” starring Ian McKellen, is a strange and beautiful movie that presents an aging gay Hollywood filmmaker who is coming to terms with his mortality. Fraser plays Whale’s (McKellen) straight gardener — as well as his object of desire — and has the tough task of walking the line between beefcake heartthrob and haunted war veteran. The film, from director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”), draws enthralling performances from all involved, Fraser included.
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CNN’s Radhika Marya contributed to this story.