Sun Oct 01 @ 7:00PM
Welcome to the Brenaissance
The air may have been frigid – by California standards – on Valentine’s Day, but that certainly didn’t stop the crowds from surrounding the Arlington Theatre, anxiously yet patiently awaiting the arrival of Brendan Fraser. The beloved, gentle giant arrived with a humble grin, arm in arm with his beautiful partner, Jeanne, and the streets of Santa Barbara erupted with applause and cheer. He made his way down the red carpet, stopping and giving undivided attention to every interviewer and photographer who begged for his attention. The universal love that everyone had for this man could not be denied as he entered the theater, ready to claim the American Riviera Award.
Roger Durling’s excitement was apparent as he kicked off the night. “I know I’m not supposed to choose favorites,” he said, “but this is the evening I have been looking forward to the most.” And the crowd could not agree more. Moderator Pete Hammond chimed in, in agreement, stating that he first met Fraser in Indianapolis, and that he was one of the nicest and most genuine people he’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. And with that, the lights dimmed and the audience was treated to a career highlight reel set appropriately to the song “Walk “by the Foo Fighters. Foo Fighter’s singer Dave Grohl’s signature voice growled at the crowd, “Learning to walk again, I believe I've waited long enough – where do I begin?” And as the lights came up, Fraser stepped timidly onto the stage as the audience cheered for minutes on end for a beloved icon that who they all grew up with.
“Wow, I didn’t realize the power of Brendan Fraser,” laughed Hammond when the applause finally died down. “Me neither,” scoffed Fraser in response as he sat down to join Pete. “And I didn’t realize I swung around so much.” From School Ties to Encino Man to George of the Jungle to The Mummy, so many grew up with Fraser in one way or another. Fraser fondly reminisced on the beginnings of his career, noting that he first caught the acting bug while growing up in London and being sent to the theater by his parents so they could get him out of their hair. “It opened my eyes to this whole world of wonder and I wanted to tell stories,” he said. His first big break came in 1991, starring alongside Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the drama School Ties. Fraser noted that coming in for a table reading was like preparing for the SATs. Just bear your soul and do your best. Clearly his best was enough, because later that same year he booked Encino Man. “It was a leap of faith,” he laughed after viewing a clip of himself covered in mud and running around as a caveman. “And we’re still f—kin’ here!” His smile never broke as he recalled fond memories of a misbehaving monkey on the set of George of the Jungle, the infamous CGI effects of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in The Scorpion King, and his fond memories of working with The Looney Tunes – and as expected, he noted that Daffy Duck is an asshole.
While Fraser is best known for his early, comedic roles, he has proven himself to stand among the best actors with his roles in more serious films such as School Ties, Gods and Monsters, and most recently, The Whale. While discussing his most recent role, which earned him the scar nod, he mentioned that director Darren Aronofksy had the movie rights for ten years before Fraser was attached to it. It was important to him that his character in the movie, Charlie, an obese and gay man seeking redemption, was treated with the respect and attention to detail that he deserved. The Whale examines themes that everyone can relate to – fighting against yourself while opening and closing the drawers of things we keep hidden from others and even ourselves throughout our lives. The passion in his voice was undying as he stared at the audience, “Powerful indeed is vindictive speech. We have to watch how we speak to each other. [The Whale] calls you out before you walk in. It doesn’t tell you more than the title.” And while the title may at first just seem to allude to the size of its protagonist, the movie also has messages from Moby Dick woven throughout, “Books and covers and all,” he finished. The theater once again erupted in applause.
As his interview came to a close, longtime friend and co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar walked on stage, beaming with pride and ready to present the American Riviera Award to her beloved friend. “You are a gift,” she said, choked up in awe. Everyone in the theater rose in a standing ovation as he approached the podium to claim his well-deserved award. This comeback is one that will be talked about for years to come. Uncomfortable with the praise, he shook his head at the audience, but not once did the applause waver. When the cheers finally subsided, he gazed at everyone and said, “My Valentine’s Day wish is that a powerful love propels you to all you need to be.” And with that, the night came to a powerful close. If the reaction is any indication of what the future holds for this star, it’s safe to say we’ve only scratched the surface of all Fraser is capable of.