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Brendan Fraser reflects on the highbrow approach he brought to caveman comedy ‘Encino Man’

"The last thing that you need to bring to a comedic performance is the comedy."

By Benjamin Bullard
Brendan Fraser is being groomed by Sean Astin and Pauly Shore

With incurable clown Pauly Shore as his 1990s comedy costar, it’s a pretty big deal that Brendan Fraser’s cave man character in Encino Man is the one that still seems to melts fans’ ice-age hearts today. As Link, an unfrozen paleo relic tossed into the teen-dominated suburban L.A. jungle, Fraser’s fish-out-of-water hero retains a cult following that even has some fans hoping for a Disney+ sequel — a full three decades after the movie’s 1992 premiere.

Thanks to his warmly-received performance as an underdog dad in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, Fraser is back on fans’ minds this year after a sustained under-the-radar acting stint. In a recent chat with GQ about roles he’s played in everything from The Mummy to George of the Jungle, Fraser said Encino Man viewers probably connected with Link not because he clowned it up alongside Shore and costar Sean Astin, but because he did just the opposite: “The last thing that you need to bring to a comedic performance is the comedy,” he explained.

“My heroes were Buster Keaton to Bill Irwin at the height of his clowning career,” said Fraser, calling out a pair of  greats who knew how to look hilariously serious amid maelstroms of comedic mayhem. “These savant, poker-faced, Chaplin-esque performances…define cinema to this day for the contribution that they've made. There's nothing that was lost on me in the time that I was in training, and certainly what I remembered about what you needed to bring to a comedic performance: And the last thing that you need to bring to a comedic performance is the comedy.”

RELATED: How an 'Indiana Jones' documentary accidentally led to cult caveman comedy 'Encino Man'

Fraser’s sincere, straight-man vibe in Encino Man wasn’t only an act, either. Falling early in his career, the film’s key cave man role came as an awesome, eye-opening introduction to the big-budget side of making movies. From there, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Fraser to appear earnestly gobsmacked as Link took in the sensory-overloading culture shock of a brand-new time and place.

“…I was pretty wide eyed about being in this big Hollywood comedy at the time that was produced by Disney,” said Fraser. “I guess I really just had to show up to work and feel like, ‘Wow — what is going on around me?!’ And that's what Link was doing all the time. ‘Wow — where am I?! Will you be my friend? You won't? You will? You won't? Oh — we're good!’”

With the shelving of DC’s Batgirl earlier this summer, fans will sadly miss out on Fraser’s stint as the villainous Garfield Lynns (aka Firefly). But he’s set nevertheless for a pair of upcoming big-screen features, including next year’s arrival of the Martin Scorsese-directed Killers of the Flower Moon, as well as the comedy Brothers, where he stars alongside a pair of misfit siblings played by Josh Brolin and Peter Dinklage.

Need your Fraser fix now? You don't have to wait 'til next year: Stream on over to Peacock, where Fraser stars as Prof. Trevor “Trev" Anderson in the Jules Verne-inspired sci-fi action flick Journey to the Center of the Earth.