Actor bedazzles with diverse roles

The sound of the alarm stabbed the air, and Brendan Fraser reached out to find the clock. He turned it off, rolled over on his back and thought, "What country am I in ... what movie am I doing?"

Recalling this scene in a recent interview, Fraser realized he had good reason to question himself. In his last three films, shot back-to-back, he had been in London, New York, Morocco, and Los Angeles.

He recalled opening one eye and seeing it was 4:30 a.m. It hit him - "I'm in Hollywood filming 'Bedazzled,' and I'm going to be late." In rapid succession, he says, he threw on a pair of jeans, lifted a sweater over his head, and jumped in his car.

Fortunately he was only 15 minutes from 20th Century Fox Studio. He drove to the building where makeup artist Ben Nye Jr., prosthetics expert Matthew Mungle, and hair stylist Robert Hallowell were waiting. The 6 ft., 2 in., actor eased into the barber chair and someone handed him a bowl of hot oatmeal.

In "Bedazzled," now playing in theaters, Fraser's character is transformed into several different people. On this day, he was playing the "overly sensitive" genius.

"In all the films I've made, I've never been asked to wear [heavy] makeup," he says. But to be a 7-ft. basketball star with a blonde buzz cut and overflowing sweat glands, or a handsome, self-indulgent literary great, or a Colombian drug lord, prosthetics were required."

This particular morning he was made up for the sensitive young man. Three hours later, latex covered portions of his face, and there was a bumper crop of freckles across his nose. Special contact lenses changed the color of his eyes. A red wig was snugly fit over a skull cap covering his thick brown hair. Tiny teeth were fit over his own.

"We worked for 10 days to create each character," Fraser recalls. "We felt the sensitive guy would have very small teeth; since he was so anxious, he'd grind them in his sleep."

Remembering those long make-up sessions, Fraser recalls, "I admit I rather enjoyed it. It's a fusion of the technical and the organic styles of acting. [It's] literally a way of putting the skin of another person on your body. It gives you the freedom to inhabit another personality."

When the studio screened "Bedazzled" before a test audience, they liked all the characters except the rock 'n' roll pill-popper. So it was deleted from the movie.

And what was Fraser's reaction to the screening? "I just wondered: What if Shakespeare had had a test audience for 'Romeo and Juliet' or 'Hamlet'?"

After nine years in Hollywood, Fraser has made 30 films - a busy schedule.

But, he insists, "I have a real normal life. I've been married two years, and have a wonderful wife. It's my job, being an actor, that has provided the diversity."

Fraser was born in Indianapolis, but lived around the world because of his father's job in the Canadian Foreign Service. It wasn't until the family lived in London that he first became interested in acting.

By the time he was 18, he'd enrolled at the Actors' Conservatory at Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts. He had thorough training in Shakespeare. and even received a scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

But instead of accepting the scholarship, Fraser borrowed his mother's car and drove to Los Angeles. He won some small roles, and then landed a part in the film "School Ties," starring Matt Damon, Chris O'Donnell, and Ben Affleck.

Fraser said his role in "Gods and Monsters," a film for which Sir Ian McKellen received the Oscar as best actor, was a watermark experience.

"When I met McKellen, I knew the blueprint for my character should be in the screenplay," he says. "However, he showed how [your own] research makes you own the role."

Of all his films, Fraser admitted he was surprised that "The Mummy" was his biggest box-office hit. He has now completed the sequel, "The Mummy Returns," which again was filmed in the Moroccan desert in 120-degree heat. It will be released in theaters May 11.

Still to be released is "Monkeybone," a supernatural thriller that blends live action and animation. Next year, he'll be in Australia and Vietnam, starring with Michael Caine in "The Quiet American."

Fraser also will move from the screen to the stage next year when he plays Brick in Tennessee Williams's play "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof." His "Bedazzled" costar, Frances O'Connor, will play Maggie, "the Cat" of the title.

"It will be on the London stage, and I'm really eager to do it," he says.

Because of Fraser's busy schedule, he rarely spends any time at home. "Someone asked me the other day what was my biggest wish. I said, 'to go home.' I wonder if my dogs will still know me."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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