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SYFY WIRE Superman

After his star turn in 'The Mummy,' Brendan Fraser came very close to playing Superman

Brendan Fraser's action movie success almost put him in Superman's cape.

By Matthew Jackson
Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999)

Brendan Fraser is having an amazing year. He just got an Oscar nomination for his work in The Whale, he's about to appear in a Martin Scorsese movie, and in many ways, it feels like he's finally getting his due as a talented, versatile actor who can do thoughtful drama as well as broad comedy and action-adventure. It's a high point in a career that's already had a few high points, but 20 years ago, Fraser almost landed a job that would have changed everything about his current trajectory: Superman.

Appearing on The Howard Stern Show this week, Fraser discussed the opportunity that came his way in the early 2000s, after the success of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, to audition for the Man of Steel. At the time, J.J. Abrams was gearing up for his take on the DC Comics icon in the eventually cancelled Superman: Flyby, and several major actors were up for the part. Thanks to his blockbuster success, Fraser was one of them, but when he auditioned, he was given a warning that may have shifted his perspective on the whole role. 

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"Everyone in town was reading for Superman. They were testing six or seven guys in 2002 or 2003," Fraser said. "Of course, it's a life-changing, amazing opportunity, but I had to reconcile with, 'Okay, say you do get the job to be the Man of Steel. It's going to be chipped on your gravestone. Are you okay with that? You will forevermore be known as 'the Man of Steel.' There was a sort of Faustian bargain that went into [the] feeling, and I think inherently I didn't want to be known for only one thing, because I prided myself on diversity my whole professional life. I'm not a one-trick pony."

Despite his misgivings about the indelible mark the part might make on his resume, Fraser did make it through to the screen testing phase of the project, putting him just one step away from being the new Man of Steel. Ultimately, he didn't land the part, and looking back on that moment two decades later, he has some ideas about why.

"I felt disappointed that there was an amazing opportunity, and it didn't come to fruition. It had to do a lot with some really ... shenanigans and studio politics. And probably, probably, inherently, in my screen test — I think that's why you test — they could kind of see I was only there like 98 percent instead."

Even if he'd gotten the part, there's no guarantee that Fraser would have stuck around long enough to play Superman, as Abrams eventually departed and Bryan Singer stepped in for Superman Returns a couple of years later. Still, it's interesting to think about Fraser's brand of comedically tinged action and inherent kindness being applied to that role. For now, we can just keep hoping that a fourth Mummy movie will materialize.

And until we find out if we'll get a fourth Mummy film, get your action-adventure fix with flicks like Fast & Furious 6, and Jurassic World, now streaming on Peacock