“Brenaissance completed,” Brendan Fraser captioned a photo of himself holding his Oscar for best actor in a leading role. Fans refer to Fraser’s return to acting as the ‘Brenaissance’, combining Brendan and renaissance. Indeed, several years ago, the most optimistic fan would have struggled to conjure up an image of Fraser winning an Oscar. 

The 90s star slipped out of public consciousness in the early 2010s. In late 2016, he appeared in an interview for AOL’s BUILD channel and couldn’t hide his sadness. It seemed like Fraser had hit rock bottom – and perhaps, he had. This piece explores the reasons why Fraser retired from acting for a while. 

Fraser left Hollywood due to an alleged sexual assault by former HFPA president Philip Berk

The main reason Brendan Fraser left Hollywood was an alleged sexual assault by Philip Berk in the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2003. 

Philip Berk wrote in his memoir that he pinched Fraser’s ass in jest; Fraser told GQ that Berk did a lot more: “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.”

Fraser told the outlet that he eventually removed Berk’s hand, but the experience scarred him. “I felt ill,” Fraser said. The Encino Man star, who nearly broke down, said he felt ‘like a little kid’. He rushed home and confessed to his ex-wife, Afton. 

Fraser largely kept the incident hidden, and it ate him up inside. Berk, predictably, claimed innocence. “My apology admitted no wrongdoing, the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize,’” Berk wrote to GQ

Fraser said he became depressed after the assault: “I was blaming myself and I was miserable—because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’”

The Oscar winner told GQ that he gradually retreated from the limelight. “It made me feel reclusive,” he said. Further, he felt ostracized by the HFPA, which, he said, rarely invited him to the Golden Globes after the incident with Berk. “His career declined through no fault of ours,” Berk told GQ. 

Fraser said that the incident corrupted his sense of identity. “In my mind, at least, something had been taken away from me,” he stated. 

Fraser’s body was crumbling, and his personal life was a mess

Another reason behind Fraser’s Hollywood sabbatical was his ailing body and disintegrating personal life. 

Fraser performed most of his stunts, which took its toll. The actor told GQ he needed an ‘exoskeleton’ made from biking pads and ice packs to support his body. “By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China, I was put together with tape and ice,” Fraser said. 

Fraser required multiple surgeries to remedy the injuries. Surgeons worked on his back, his knee, and his vocal cords. Fraser said he visited hospitals constantly for nearly seven years. “I felt like the horse from Animal Farm,” Fraser said, “whose job it was to work and work and work.”

At home, Fraser’s relationship with Afton deteriorated, culminating in divorce. “I was going through things that mold and shape you in ways that you’re not ready for until you go through them,” Fraser said. 

Days before that infamous 2016 interview, Fraser lost his mother to cancer. “I think I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what that meant,” he said. Fraser was sad and confused: it had been a while before his last interview, so the unfamiliar format surprised him and made him feel old. 

“Going to work – in between being in and out of those hospitals, that wasn’t always possible,” Fraser said. 

Fraser felt he wasn’t good enough to continue starring in Hollywood

Around the time Berk allegedly assaulted Fraser, the actor was in line to play Superman in a new Superman film. Brett Ratner, the director of the proposed film, called Fraser to his house to discuss the role. 

The meeting was awkward: Ratner seemed more interested in taking a photo of Fraser than discussing the film, Fraser said. “The meeting ended with him sitting on a pool table with a phone getting into a full-throated argument with somebody at the studio, I don’t know why,” Fraser added. 

Fraser didn’t get the role; Brandon Routh played the superhero. The snub made him feel like an impostor among Hollywood’s elite. He explained:

“You feel like: I didn’t measure up. Oh, I failed. And the truth is, you didn’t. That’s erroneous. That’s wrong. It’s not true. You didn’t fail. You’re not. But even if you—if like, as I sit here and say that to you right now, I feel like, Well, no, no, the proof’s right there.”

Despite reclaiming his place in Hollywood, Fraser still battles feelings of inadequacy. “I can’t get rid of the feeling that someone’s gonna walk in the room and tell me that I’m a fraud, or that I have impostor syndrome. They’re gonna hand me a dish-towel and I’ll have to go get back to work,” Brendan told NME in February 2013. 

However, he’s learned to use the negative feelings as motivation to prove himself. “I’m still not done proving myself yet,” he said. 

The actor’s confession about the alleged assault by Berk sparked his return to the top

Fraser watched in awe as actors opened up about incidents of sexual assault, which he’d failed to do for nearly 15 years. “I watched this wonderful movement, these people with the courage to say what I didn’t have the courage to say,” Fraser said. 

In 2018, Fraser talked to GQ about the incident that sparked his decline. Curiously, Fraser’s openness ignited his resurgence. “It was people saying they like me,” Fraser discussed the overwhelmingly positive reaction to his confession. He continued:

“It was a weight removed. That doesn’t mean I don’t get triggered every now and then, but then I come hang out back here.”

As demonstrated by his star turn in The Whale, Fraser’s talent never waned. The confession unburdened Fraser, allowing him to reclaim his spot among Hollywood’s A-listers. 

Fraser’s frosty relationship with the HFPA hasn’t thawed. Following Fraser’s revelation, the HFPA released a statement saying it had a ‘positive working relationship with Fraser’. In November 2022, Fraser told GQ that he wouldn’t attend the Golden Globes due to his history with the HFPA. Fraser stated:

“I have more history with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association than I have respect for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. No, I will not participate [in the Golden Globes]. It’s because of the history that I have with them. And my mother didn’t raise a hypocrite.”

Fraser said he’ll only reconcile with the HFPA if the association offers a sincere apology. He elaborated:

“According to the rules of engagement, it would be my responsibility to take a look at it and make a determination at that time, if that became the situation. And it would have to be, I don’t know, what’s the world I’m looking for… sincere?”