It is time I apologize to Brendan Fraser, recipient of the 2023 Oscar for Best ActorI
It’s an apology 25 years late.
Once upon a time, long ago, I was a journalist working for a trade magazine covering retailing. My beat included entertainment and retailing back in the era when there were places called video stores and movies were on VHS cassette tapes.
One day a nice public relations person for the consumer products division of Universal Pictures called.
Would I be interested in an all-expenses-paid press junket to London to see the making of The Mummy and interview people involved with making the film?
The film’s stars were Brendan Frasier, who was looking for a break, and Rachel Weisz, a young stage actor who was then a newcomer to film. Maybe the PR person called it something nicer than a junket.
It took about a nanosecond to say yes. Los Angeles to London on Virgin Upper Class. Accommodations at Claridge’s, where the Queen’s guests stayed. A tour of the set at Shepperton, an historic film studio outside London owned at the time by Ridley and Tony Scott. Access to Universal execs, a lunch at the studio with some of the film’s actors. A private evening reception in the Egyptian wing of the British Museum with talks by curators and up-close-and-personal interaction with artifacts like the Rosetta Stone.
So, heck yeah.
Journalistic ethics? Those were a little fungible in the trade magazine world. Besides, the movie studios were the magazine’s customer, advertisers who paid the bills. As a journalist I could be as critical as I wanted about our prime target – retailers. We always wrote nice things about advertisers.
At the time Universal was a studio in desperate need of a hit. Universal also wanted to revive its famed monster movie franchise, which includes movies like Bride of Frankenstein.
Thus, the full court press with the press to promote a hoped-for hit in the making.
The next thing you know I’m flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class in a 747 to London, getting picked up by a driver in a Land Rover and transported to Claridge’s in Mayfair, one of the swankiest hotels in the city, the kind of place where they iron the newspapers before they drop them outside your door.
The next morning the U.S. press got on a bus for the ride to Shepperton Studios in the Surrey countryside.
I knew this junket was a big deal when I realized that sitting across from me is Harry Knowles, founder of the then-hot movie website Ain’tItCool.com.
We arrive at the studio and a shepherded around Shepperton to see movie magic in progress, even getting to see a take of scene – the one where the character Beni, played by Kevin J. O’Connor, has his touch go out deep inside a pharaoh’s tomb and is subsequently consumer by flesh-eating scarabs.
At one point the scrum of journalists is led into a hallway where we “accidentally” encounter none other than Brendan Fraser, the costar of the film. Fraser is clearly on his way to start his day of filming as Rick O’Connell.
We were clearly supposed to be star-struck by our “unintended” encountered with Fraser.
But Fraser sees Harry Knowles. It is Fraser who is excited to see Knowles – a journalist — rather than the other way around. Fraser asks Knowles if he can take picture with him, producing a Polaroid SX70 instant camera.
Fraser explains that Knowles was instrumental in pressuring a film studio into releasing Gods and Monsters, a partly fictionalized account of film director James Whale’s final days. Fraser starred in the film alongside Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, and David Dukes.
The studio had apparently been balking at releasing the firm because of the homosexual plot line that drives the story.
Fraser, who turns in a great performance in Gods And Monsters, was very grateful to Knowles. The film displays Fraser’s substance as an actor.
Fraser then told a story to the assembled group about his grandfather – an RCMP officer who sometimes enforced weights and measures laws.
Fraser explained that his grandfather would sometimes thrust his arm into wagon loads of hay to ensure they were not hollow inside.
I see punch line of the story coming from miles away.
Totally jet lagged, my brain not in full control of my mouth, I blurt out “So, you’re telling us you father was the long arm of the law?”
The group falls silent. I grin anyway.
If Brendan Fraser could have killed me he probably would have at that moment. If his eyes had been how power laser beams I’d have two big holes burned though my forehead and out the back of my head.
Brendan Fraser, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I had no self-control and shot my mouth off and ruined your punch line. I still feel bad about it.
I think you are a great actor.
Your amazing comeback and underdog Best Actor win for The Whale is a genuine inspiration.
And I really am sorry for messing up your funny story about you grandfather all those years ago at Shepperton.
And it turned out The Mummy did help Universal break its slump.
The Mummy was the number one film in the United States and Canada on its opening weekend in May 1999, grossing $43 million in 3,210 theaters. The film’s weekend box office was the highest non-holiday May opening, and ninth-biggest opening of all time. The Mummy grossed more than $155.4 million in the United States and Canada and $261 million internationally. Its worldwide total gross was $416.4 million.
The Mummy helped make Rachel Weisz a big star.
I did write about the film, but within the context of Universal and other studios reviving their monster movie franchises, which eventually translated into sales of videos at retail as well as related licensed consumer products.
The studio that was hesitant about releasing Gods And Monsters, but shouldn’t have been. Although not commercially successful, it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for McKellen, Best Supporting Actress for Redgrave, and won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.