Brendan Fraser won the best actor Oscar for “The Whale,” a transformative role in which he revived a career that was once so bright.
“I started in this business 30 years ago and things didn’t come easily to me,” said an emotional Fraser, breathing heavily on stage Sunday night. “I just want to say thank you for this acknowledgement.”
Fraser was one of five first-time nominees in the category, the first time that had happened since 1935. Fraser beat out Austin Butler of “Elvis,” Colin Farrell of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Paul Mescal of “Aftersun,” and Bill Nighy of “Living.”
Fraser figures the role of Charlie, a 600-pound reclusive gay English teacher who tries to restore his relationship with his teenage daughter, found him at the perfect time.
Any earlier in his career and Fraser has said he wouldn’t have had the life experience or heartache to authentically play a character who lives with sadness, pain and life-threatening obesity.
“I think it’s a film that’s going to change some hearts and minds, and that feels really good,” he said backstage.
Fraser’s portrayal earned him standing ovations at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, and the early praise continued building through the fall and winter. In addition to receiving the best reviews of his career, he earned a SAG Award for his performance. Along the way, he’s given emotional acceptance speeches, unafraid to cry at times.
His eyes were rimmed red as he clutched his Oscar in one hand, clearly moved by the reaction from his Hollywood peers.
“This has been incredibly rewarding and affirming,” he said backstage, “and it’s given me a lesson in humility and gratitude.”
It’s a career comeback, which Hollywood has always loved.
The 54-year-old Canadian American actor broke out in the early 1990s with the comedy “Encino Man” and the drama “School Ties.” He was the face on movie posters for “George of the Jungle” and “The Mummy” trilogy, where he worked with fellow Oscar nominee Michelle Yeoh. He did dramatic turns in “Gods and Monsters,” “The Quiet American” and 2006 best picture winner “Crash.”
He had his share of projects that bombed, too.
Then Fraser all but disappeared.
He was off the big screen for several years dealing with a series of personal issues involving divorce, his mother’s death, health problems and an alleged assault by the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He boycotted this year’s Golden Globes as a result.
He regained career momentum with a series of cable TV shows before appearing in director Steven Soderbergh’s movie “No Sudden Move” two years ago.
Now, he owns one of the biggest prizes in movies.
“I hope I live up to this,” he said.