LOS ANGELES — Brendan Fraser has been Hollywood’s favorite prepster in the last few years, starring in “School Ties” and now the upcoming “With Honors” as a clean-cut collegian. But slouched in a room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, he looks, well, like a slob: long shaggy hair, baggy T-shirt and jeans, hippie beads — the L.A. actor’s uniform.
“When I went to meet [director] Alek Keshishian for the part in ‘With Honors,’ I dressed kinda collegiate,” Fraser admits, “not like I did today. I actually tucked my shirt in. I understand that world, I guess, although, truthfully, I had a 65 average all the way through high school. My SAT scores were so miserable I can’t remember them. I Zenned through some of those sections with my number 2 pencil. I did make good marks in college, though,” he says of his years at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, “but I was studying acting.”
Fraser’s gone from the goon in “Encino Man” to one of the almost A-list twentysomethings who get to costar with the biggies. In “With Honors,” he’s teamed with Joe Pesci, who plays a down-and-outer who holes up on the Harvard campus. He manages to take Fraser’s senior thesis hostage until Fraser and roommates take him in. Then Pesci takes them for a ride until everybody’s learned the real lesson: humility. It’s the perfect Hollywood theme.
“Joe is actually very reserved,” Fraser notes. “The guy who intimidated me in this movie was Gore Vidal. Can you imagine having Gore Vidal as your professor of government? He’s written so many books I tried to get Gore Vidal Cliff Notes. I guess that’s not very Harvard, but it’s very Brendan. Then I meet him and I trip on a door jamb. He thought it was funny and helped me up — he’s a really nice man.”
Fraser didn’t get to sit in on any Harvard classes because the university wanted the film crew in and out as quickly as possible.
“We were the first film crew since ‘Love Story’ to be allowed to walk around and shoot on the Harvard campus,” reports Fraser. “But they didn’t want us there, they thought we were disruptive. We stole some of the shots, literally — we had to. In the end, we recreated the entire Harvard library back in Chicago, so we could match the weather.”
Fraser may not have made his own honor roll, but he’s on a Hollywood roll with two more movies out in the near future: “Airheads,” in which he and Adam Sandler terrorize a radio station, and “The Scout,” in which Yankee scout Albert Brooks discovers him as a baseball savior who’s a little wacky. To what does he attribute it all?
“I really don’t know. Some people say they don’t want to be typecast — I just wanna get cast! I’ve had some incredibly good fortune. And don’t tell me it’s about my looks,” he says, then stops to look in the mirror. He makes a gagging gesture that one his female fans would probably find even more endearing.
“My looks are just about chromosomes. Vanity is fairly prevalent in this town. They don’t need more of it from me.”