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Brendan Fraser opens up about leaving Hollywood — and why he returned for 'The Whale'

On Sunday Sitdown, Fraser explained why he took a step back from the spotlight after his success in the '90s and the lessons he learned while away.
/ Source: TODAY

Brendan Fraser is speaking out about why he stepped away from the spotlight.

The actor was a sensation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, cranking out hits back-to-back such as "The Mummy," "George of the Jungle," "Crash" and "Dudley Do-Right."

"At that time, it was a break-neck pace," he said in an interview with Willie Geist for Sunday Sitdown Feb. 26.

"I was really out of the gate early," Fraser recalled. "There were a lot of films I was doing that was overlapping with one another. I was sometimes in competition on opening weekends with my own project because the release dates."

Brendan Fraser on Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist.
Brendan Fraser on Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist.TODAY

He then retreated away from the industry for several years and relied on smaller roles.

“I knew that I was also on a merry-go-round and wanted the music to stop,” he told Geist.

Fraser said stepping back back allowed him to recover from the physical toll of performing his own stunts and to "take stock of who I am, where I’m going and what my aspirations are," he said.

But after the pause, he noticed the "quiet."

“You get off the merry-go-round and you’re wondering, ‘Wow, geez. It’s a little quiet around here, maybe I should get back to work,” he said.

Returning to Hollywood, Fraser said he knew he need to do something that exclaims, "I am here." Darren Aronofsky's "The Whale," provided that opportunity.

The story spoke to Fraser because it is a “noble quest of hard-won hope,” he told Geist. At the Venice Film Festival, the film received a six-minute standing ovation, marking the first moment that Fraser knew the film was having an impact.

“This is not a film about obesity,” Fraser said. “This is a film about a man who must reconnect with his daughter, full stop, and will he or will he not be able to is the question that we go on.”

But transitioning back into the spotlight also meant bringing back lessons he learned during his time away.

"I've learned that it's (better) to do good, to work smart instead of work hard, as another birthday rolls by," he told Geist, with a laugh. "And I also learned that I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin, a lot more at home."

Fraser added that this time also taught him the value of confidence.

"For me, currency is confidence,” he shared. “And I didn’t always have that. It ebbs and flows, but feeling like I’m at home in myself makes me have a stronger sense of ownership over the work I’ve done and what I’m capable of and what I want to do.”

Brendan Fraser in "The Whale" marked his return to Hollywood.
Brendan Fraser in "The Whale" marked his return to Hollywood.TODAY

As "The Whale" has catapulted him back into the mainstream, he said he's better able to receive that attention now.

"I feel so much more receptive and have gratitude for the positive attention that I'm receiving at this time," he said. "It's really humbling."

The "Brenaissance" has also come with new perks, he shared.

"Now dad’s cool," he said of how his children reacted to his Oscar nomination. "We’ll see how long that lasts."

In the past, when "The Mummy" was on, Fraser said he had to convince his kids of his fame, but they were not interested.

"When they were very small, I'd be like, 'Hey guys,'" he said, acting out how he would gesture between himself and the screen.

"They'd look at it and go, 'That's not Power Rangers, so I don't care,' he recalled.