Brendan Fraser says he has been working with two "subversive" heroes from his childhood after his previous role in the "un-American" The Quiet American.
On soundstage 22 of the Warner lot in Hollywood, Brendan Fraser is preparing to shoot a scene with Bugs Bunny. No stranger to the cartoon world, Looney Tunes Back in Action is in stark contrast to The Quiet American, Australian director Phillip Noyce’s ambitious and already acclaimed take on Graham Greene’s Vietnam-set drama.
Completed a year ago, the film’s distributor Miramax delayed the film's US release because of its anti-American sentiments. Fraser, taking a break from filming the more conservative Looney Tunes comedy, is pleased that The Quiet American will be opening, and has no problem with its apparent delay.
"I’m obviously pleased that the film is getting a release," says Fraser, in a rare moment of contemplative seriousness. "This is a film that could be released a year or many years after the fact that it was made and would still have basically the same integrity. The point I’m trying to make is I think that all in good time things happen. I think the release of that film a year ago would just be too much of a sad event and not appropriate."
The second cinematic incarnation of the Graham Greene novel and set in 1952 Vietnam during the Vietnamese liberation war from French rule, the film tells of an opium-addicted British journalist, Fowler (Michael Caine), in love with a young Vietnamese woman, Phuong (Do Hai Yen,), who is dismayed when a young American aid worker, Pyle (Fraser), seems to have eyes for her as well.
Shot on location in Vietnam, Fraser recalls the impact that the South-East Asian country had on him while filming there. "I very much adored the country," says Fraser, 34. "It’s an achingly beautiful place, a nation of optimists, a place I would like to see again in my lifetime and hopefully now with the release of this film, a place that people would go to with new eyes." Fraser also "loved the food that was incredible no matter where you went."
Asked to compare the experience of making The Quiet American, a starkly powerful drama, with shooting a mainstream studio comedy such as Looney Tunes Back in Action, Fraser is forced to emit a half smile. "If we’d had this conversation about a year ago, I could tell you it was a Herculean effort to make Quite American, so there are similarities between doing a well-funded studio picture such as this and then the more thoughtful material for Quiet American. A movie like Quiet American could never have been made without the efforts of a Brigadier General as director, Phillip Noyce, to make it happen, as it’s been a passion project of his for ten years."
Bugs and Daffy - subversive
Experiences vary in shooting films as relatively non-mainstream as Quiet American, against Looney Tunes Back in Action, a multi-million dollar crazy comedy, in which Fraser teams up with Daffy Duck after being fired as a Warner Brothers security guard. No stranger to working with animated characters, for Fraser, choosing the Looney Tunes film was a no-brainer.
"It was the novelty of actually working with Bugs and Daffy, heroes of mine since I watched their cartoons. I mean we’re bringing all of the classic characters back to life in this movie, shining them up and buffing them up and putting them out there again," says Fraser with a staccato-like speech pattern.
"They’re not being presented as any kind of plush toy - which is okay - but I mean it’s not so immediately consumable for just a specific child audience. This is a cartoon film that’s based on cartoons, but still has all the integrity of what we remember from what they were. These were cartoons that were subversive," says Fraser, warming to his theme, "that had an agenda that mirrored the whole political meanderings of the day, and certainly, they were timely and funny and I think that they just spoke volumes to what we, as adults, know about the horizon of television that we watched as we grew up. So I would be a fool to pass up the opportunity. The good thing is that my job is to be a fool and I’m hoping I’m going to do it very well."
Fraser has enjoyed playing the fool in Hollywood, in the likes of The Mummy franchise, Monkeybone, Bedazzled, George of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right, amongst others. The challenge for Fraser, he laughingly admits, "is not repeating myself. Since I’ve been making these films, the technology has almost redoubled itself each time out, so it’s actually getting easier," explains Fraser about the process of combining animation with live action.
Fraser's looney tunes
When we met, on the ambitiously designed soundstage at Warner, Fraser tries to describe the scene that he is shooting, with co-stars Jenna Elfman and Joan Cusack. He tries to talk with a straight face but fails miserably.
"Today, we are in the middle of Area 52, not to be confused with Area 51, which doesn’t exist. Paranoid delusional fantasy. As you can see, I get really high-tech important stuff. All sorts of spy gadgets and gizmos and fabulous things. This is a place where all of the robots have come to have experiments done on them, nice experiments. Sort of like tickling experiments, you know. We’ve got puppies and baby aliens were in there yesterday, but as you can see... oh my goodness, they're dressing it, they’ve escaped, and this thing is scary. We’re getting a guided tour today by Mother, played by Joan Cusack."
Don’t worry; it’s not supposed to make sense. But he’s having a blast, almost a holiday from the more sombre tone of Quiet American. After all, he does get to share the screen alongside Daffy Duck no less. "He’s trying to be a scene-stealer all the time, but it’s a formula that he’s never able to, the camera sort of frames him out but then he tries to get back in." Fraser agrees that he is having a ball shooting this latest project. "I know it; I am having too much fun and should probably go back to eating broccoli," responds the frenetic actor.
Another mummy in store?
Life is good to relatively new dad Brendan, here in his element amidst the world of Looney Tunes. Anxious, he says, to take a long nap after completing this film, the actor is non-committal as to his participation in a third Mummy film. "My commitment isn’t anything, but more an understanding that if people want this film to be made again and the director says: 'Hey let’s do it, he knows my number.'"
While Fraser fans will have to wait at least a year before seeing his work with Daffy Duck, they will see a different side to the actor when The Quiet American opens soon. There is even Oscar talk. "If you guys like, you are talking about that, then I’m listening."