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Brendan Fraser on missing out on Superman but finding his way to Robotman in Doom Patrol
Having a career as eclectic as Brendan Fraser's, one would assume he's either the savviest decision maker on the planet, or that he's adept at reinventing himself when it's needed.
Starting out in youth- skewing comedies and dramas like Encino Man and School Ties, Fraser then transitioned into an action hero for The Mummy films and as a broad comedian for Bedazzled, Looney Tunes: Back in Action and Blast From the Past. Then there was a shift to theatre. Now, he's becoming known for character parts in television series like The Affair, Trust and Condor.
Yet there's a genre that's remained stubbornly blank on Fraser's IMDB. He's never been in a superhero project. It took turning 50 for Fraser to try one, and luckily, his choice of DC Universe's Doom Patrol feels like it was tailor-made for his talents.
As Cliff Steele/Robotman, Fraser gets to play the hubris of the egotistical race car driver and the heartbreaking humility of what he becomes after a devastating accident. Rebuilt in steel by Chief (Timothy Dalton), Robotman is physically portrayed by Riley Shanahan, but Fraser provides the vocal performance that imbues the character's physicality with a world-weariness that makes you really feel for the former jerk. In our chat, the actor told SYFY WIRE about the surprising journey he took to playing this part and unlocking his superhero achievement.
You've really embraced TV in the last few years picking some great series to join. What's your personal bar for committing to one?
I guess is it something that you want to watch? Is it interesting enough because of the preponderance of what's called content? If there's anything I've learned about the new order, particularly from working on Trust, is you better be good. You better put something up that the people would wanna watch.
There's so many things to choose from now.
And on top of that, if it's very good, it can be consumed inside of a weekend. It sets up anticipation for wanting more seasons. But the question's a fair one, how do you choose? Well, aside from [the fact] I've never met an actor who didn't want a job. (Laughs) But for my standards, I wanna find something that plays to my strengths and that is relevant. That has a new take on a regular idea. I think that, in whatever Doom Patrol is — because it's never really explained — this is risky material from its inception. And I'm talking like '63, when the comic book came out. It didn't have a real big following, but among those who did, they were loyal. They went through growing pains about seven or eight times before Grant [Morrison's] run. Then, he took it on and gave us the visually splendid world that we now see. It didn't shy away from the darker aspects. It exploited them and just ran towards them with open arms. And that's what we've done so far in this season.
In the pilot, we meet you as Cliff, and he's a real ass. Is that how you saw him, too?
Cliff is not a hero. He thinks he is. He wants to be. He's a bit of a prat. A self-centered, narcissistic. And I question if he really won all of those races fair and square. Being a glory hound, and winning, and being a dude, and alpha male, it's just textbook narcissism, frankly. That's the testosterone-soaked dude that he is. And it's humorous when life is conspiring to just slap him back. [The accident] did him a favor, because when his brain/persona is put into this mechanical body, it lacks senses. He can see and hear; that's about it. He learns to become a better human as a robot than he was as a man. So that was interesting for my purposes of asking, can I play this and sustain this over years? Yeah. And hopefully if the series gets picked up and beyond, there's a good objective.
Let's talk about how you perform Robotman with Riley Shanahan. You voice him but was that always how it was going to be?
We tormented one another in early conversations asking, are you gonna put me in an additional suit? I was like, "It's doesn't make sense to do it on a close-up, cause it's a face that doesn't move." But the answer was really that we were overthinking it. Shanahan is a wonderful, formidable actor, who can take the knock, and play the physicality of the role. But there has to be a visceral sense of a performance coming through that effectively neutral mask. Otherwise, you're gonna get caught up in animatronics, and CGI treatments, and talking machines, and the answer was, it doesn't need to be overly complicated that way.
From my part, it's written and I understand the voice of that, and he understands the voice of that. It's that specific and clear so, in a way, we were all kind of partnering to play that part. Riley's teaching me a lot about how to do my job in ADR. I'm able to go in and read a scratch track for every department, and then do ADR after.
This adaptation of Doom Patrol doesn't play around with presenting Morrison's very adult take on these characters. Was it always this well-formed, and was there ever a concern there would have to be a fight to keep it this way?
It's all in the page. What was written is what goes on screen. Like chapter and verse, and it stays. And I say that because I know all too well how these processes are mixed with false promises, and things get "clarified." The suits have the good idea, then the ferry arrives and suddenly all of that charm goes away. But we don't have that problem. [Showrunner] Jeremy (Carver) is the keeper, and we're able to do what's there. It is risky. This is a story about people who are damaged goods. It's easy to say dysfunctional, but no; they've been dealt some rough blows. Or, they've made some questionable choices. And they're not really a family, so much as this quasi-tribe when they're not bickering with one another. They only band together, in their way, reluctantly, when it becomes intensely personal because their "father" is in peril. That's the super objective overall. But now, remember, this is a comic book, so anything can change. Nudge nudge, wink wink. (Laughs)
How come you never did a superhero film? Is it true you were almost cast as Reed Richards in Fantastic Four?
No. I auditioned for Superman [in what would become Superman Returns]. I even wore the suit.
Oh, man. What was that like?
It was cool, it was pretty cool. I mean, I didn't get the job. It went away. Brett Ratner was a bit "woo hoo" in those days, and that's well documented. And that was a script J.J. Abrams wrote but it never got made. And it was freaking Shakespeare in space. It was so cool. It was worlds colliding and, it was really, really cool. But you know, I hear he's done well since then. (Laughs)
Bringing it back to Doom Patrol, how faithful will this first season be to the comics?
Those who are familiar will be pleased that almost all of the pillars of [Morrison's] story points are recreated in Doom Patrol. You will meet a lot of those really obscure, and bizarre characters too. Crazy Jane's [personality] Black Annis makes a really scary appearance. And Cliff does go into the Underground at one point, as it was in the comic books. It's faithful.
How's his relationship with Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) going to evolve, as they seem to have a bond?
In Jane, he sees a shattered young woman, who became that way for unimaginable, horrible reasons. And the empathy that he feels for her, he knows he's ham-fisted. It's not a romantic entanglement that he pursues so much as just wanting redemption of his own, or getting as close to it as he can.
That's an easy thing for me to say, but when you see what Jeremy's done with that particular storyline, things don't get tidy, and just complete. They don't just ride off into the sunset, and things don't get resolved. This is like life. It's messy and there are dangling participles. There are things you wish you could walk back in the room and say that you won't be able to because they've moved on. But you hope that maybe he'll learn something from this. And you kind of wanna see him get it. But I laugh out loud every time Jane beats him up in some new and interesting way. He gets trashed just because he's Robotman. (Laughs)
DC Universe's Doom Patrol drops new episodes on Fridays.