Brendan Fraser Says Starving Himself for Movie Role Caused Memory Loss
"I couldn’t remember my PIN number because my brain was misfiring," the actor revealed.
While Hollywood's youth and beauty standards for women are more frequently discussed, recent years have seen several male stars, including Channing Tatum and Kumail Nanjiani, speaking up about their own issues achieving unsustainable, unrealistic, and even dangerous body goals for certain roles. The latest to get real about the cost of a flawless big-screen physique is Brendan Fraser, who touched on one of his most popular 1990s movies and how preparing for it impacted his brain health in a conversation with Airheads co-star Adam Sandler for Variety's "Actors on Actors." Read on to learn what Fraser said about the troubling side effect he noticed after going on an extreme weight loss journey for the film.
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Fraser starred in the 1997 comedy George of the Jungle.
After making his feature film debut with Dogfight in 1991, Fraser went onto a string of both comedic and dramatic parts. Some of his most memorable early roles include 1992's Encino Man and School Ties and 1994's With Honors and Airheads.
In 1997, he played the titular character in George of the Jungle, a live-action adaptation of the popular animated series from the '60s. Fraser co-starred with Leslie Mann, Thomas Haden Church, and John Cleese, who voiced George's gorilla brother, Ape.
He had to change his habits significantly to get his George of the Jungle body.
In 2020, Fraser, who made some memorable guest appearances on the TV series Scrubs, was a guest on sitcom stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison's podcast, Fake Doctors, Real Friends. When the subject of his George of the Jungle muscles came up, Fraser described the unpleasant things he had to do to get the right look.
"Go back in time and eat nothing but, like, broccoli and Styrofoam," he said. "Lift weights until you puke and then go wash your mouth out and keep doing it."
"Starving" himself led to memory issues.
Speaking to Sandler for Variety, the 54-year-old star again did his best to un-romanticize the physical transformation he underwent to play George.
"You did right by the character. But you did wrong by us, man," Sandler joked about himself and their actor peers. "You made us feel bad about ourselves. Were you oiled up at all during George?"
"I was waxed," Fraser answered. "Starved of carbohydrates. I would drive home after work and stop to get something to eat. I needed some cash one day, and I went to the ATM, and I couldn't remember my PIN number because my brain was misfiring. Banging on the thing. I didn't eat that night."
Healthline reports that "some research suggests that undereating (not eating enough) could negatively affect cognitive function, resulting in symptoms like brain fog."
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Fraser's action roles also took a toll on his body.
In a 2018 GQ interview, Fraser reflected on his action hero past, which includes three movies in The Mummy franchise, and opened up about how stunt work had ravaged his body.
"By the time I did the third Mummy picture in China," he said, "I was put together with tape and ice—just, like, really nerdy and fetishy about ice packs. Screw-cap ice packs and downhill-mountain-biking pads, 'cause they're small and light and they can fit under your clothes. I was building an exoskeleton for myself daily."
He had a laminectomy (a procedure "that creates space by removing bone spurs and tissues associated with arthritis of the spine," per the Mayo Clinic) and a knee replacement, among other surgeries.
"This is gonna really probably be a little saccharine for you," he told the publication. "But I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work. [George] Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn't ask questions, he didn't make trouble until it killed him … I don't know if I've been sent to the glue factory, but I've felt like I've had to rebuild [expletive] that I've built that got knocked down and do it again for the good of everyone. Whether it hurts you or not."
He's getting Oscar buzz for playing a 600-pound man.
Fraser was absent from Hollywood for some time, due not only to these physical health problems but also to family issues and the aftermath of an alleged sexual assault by former Hollywood Foreign Press Association President Philip Berk in 2003. (Berk has denied Fraser's accusation.) Now, he's receiving critical raves and Oscar buzz for his starring role in The Whale, playing a 600-pound teacher seeking to improve his relationship with his daughter (Sadie Sink) before he dies.
While some have criticized the use of prosthetics in the film to make the actor look much larger, Fraser told Sandler in their Variety conversation that he was coming at the character from a place of respect.
"It's important to say this, because there are those who live with this disease," he said. "I felt empowered to be their voice and to be as honest as I could and as authentic as I could in the portrayal. Look, my weight has been all over the map. I put on weight to play this role, and it wasn't enough—so the body had to go on top of that, and the two worked together."