Brendan Fraser and Adam Sandler first jammed together in the 1994 comedy “Airheads,” playing two members of a band so desperate to make it big that they hijack a radio station. The musically inept Lone Rangers — Steve Buscemi was the bassist — would soon be in high demand in Hollywood, but Sandler reveals in our conversation that he had to fight to get Fraser cast as singer Chazz Darby.
Back then, Fraser was best known for playing an unfrozen caveman in “Encino Man,” opposite Pauly Shore. Soon enough, his career exploded, with studio vehicles including “The Mummy,” “George of the Jungle” and “Bedazzled.” And to this day, Sandler, who’s at the top of his game as an NBA coach in Netflix’s “Hustle,” is still rooting for Fraser. “You crushed me,” says Sandler of Fraser’s comeback role as a 600-pound English teacher in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” Since the film premiered at Venice, audiences have felt a special connection to Fraser, who’s not shy about letting his emotions play across his face. Most of Fraser’s fans will likely relate when Sandler says the movie “made me cry a lot, because you’re my buddy.”
Adam Sandler: Brendan, you were in a movie called “Airheads.” Remember when I discovered you? You were just a kid. I stole you from Pauly and said, “Get over here.”
Brendan Fraser: Is that how it shook out? Get out of here.
Sandler: I was like, this guy shouldn’t just be a caveman — he should be in a band.
Fraser: And then what?
Sandler: The director, Michael Lehmann, was very against you. He was like, “I don’t get it. I don’t see the caveman being in the movie.” And I just said, “He can do other shit, man.”
Fraser: Are you pulling my chain right now?
Sandler: I eventually went to his house at like 4 in the morning, woke him up, and I said, “Just know Adam Sandler ain’t going to be in ‘Airheads’ unless old Fraser is in it.” So he changed his little tune.
Fraser: He flew out to Chicago to meet me. He sang a different tune then.
Sandler: He’s a filthy liar. He didn’t want you. I did, and the rest is pretty good. You had a good life because of me.
Fraser: I did not know this. Thank you.
Sandler: My pleasure, man. I was pulling for you. And Pauly Shore was against it. He kept saying, “Just in case we do ‘Encino 2,’ I don’t want him doing other shit.” And I said, “Don’t do that to him.”
Fraser: That’s Pauly. Pauly wanted to be in “Airheads,” I think.
Sandler: He did. He wanted David Arquette’s part. Well, I’m happy you did “Airheads.” I’m happy you were the leader of the band, the Lone Rangers. Buscemi, my brother in the movie, loved you. Ultimately, we got our tune on the air. People liked it. Do you remember the name of our song?
Fraser: Yeah. “Degenerated.”
Sandler: That’s right.
Fraser: I have a cassette at home — an actual cassette — of the demo that we did. I found it in a box of crap at my desk.
Sandler: That was one of the best shoots of my life, without a doubt. We would drive to the Fox lot and just get there at around 4:30. Sun’s going down. We’d have our snacks, get into our clothes, do our scenes. And, man, the best party of all time.
Fraser: It was the “Die Hard” building.
Sandler: We were so excited that they shot “Die Hard” there. And then we there, and it was summertime, right? You took it very seriously.
Fraser: I took myself very seriously in those days. I remember watching you actually improvising while on film, which was a big deal. Lehmann would go, “Just go — go.” And Mitch Dubin shot it: “How much you have left in the magazine?” “We got 90 seconds. OK, Adam, go!” It was thrilling to watch, because we take that for granted now that things are digital.
Sandler: Rich Wilkes wrote the script, and we loved him. He was the only guy taller than you.
Fraser: The first day of work he came up and he said, “Man, your hair looks awesome.” He really liked the hair. I didn’t, because it took about an hour and a half to do.
Sandler: Was it a gluey wig?
Fraser: I got my head shellacked right underneath a wig, and then this thing screwed on, and then pins crossed over. It was a form of torture.
Sandler: So it’s a headache guaranteed. You looked like 100% rock ’n’ roll. Chris Farley, he terrorized the craft service truck. But I think, actually, when we shot that movie, Farley was on a diet.
Fraser: I loved him.
Fraser: We jumped off a parking structure. Crowd surfed.
Sandler: Buddy, now this is the truth of that jump. I don’t know if I told you recently, but we jumped off the thing, landed on a mat maybe 15 feet below us. Not that big of a stunt. I thought for sure I can handle that. I landed in such a stiff way that I heard my neck go [makes a cracking sound], but I didn’t want to say anything because I would be humiliated. You two guys got up laughing, you and Buscemi. I was like, I’m supposed to laugh but —
Fraser: You completely collapsed your neck backwards.
Sandler: It was awful. I was never a gymnast. I would go on the trampoline at the Jewish Community Center growing up, saw everyone else do well on it. I had the same thing happen to my neck when I was 9. I’m not good at jumping and landing on my back. I got to stop.
Fraser: Take it from me, the guy who smashed into trees for a living.
Sandler: That’s true. You left “Airheads” and got very jacked for “George of the Jungle.” I was disappointed how good you looked in that. You weren’t supposed to do that to us.
Fraser: The wardrobe was there was no wardrobe. George wears a loincloth.
Sandler: You did right by the character. But you did wrong by us, man. You made us feel bad about ourselves. Were you oiled up at all during “George”?
Fraser: I was waxed. Starved of carbohydrates. I would drive home after work and stop to get something to eat. I needed some cash one day, and I went to the ATM, and I couldn’t remember my PIN number because my brain was misfiring. Banging on the thing. I didn’t eat that night.
Sandler: Oh, no. How about that feeling when you have to eat right for a movie and it’s four months long?
Fraser: Well, we can talk about that. I made a movie about a guy who had eating issues.
Sandler: You’re very good in “The Whale,” man. First of all, I saw “The Whale.” My heart was broken throughout the whole movie. Every move you made was upsetting to watch, sad to watch. That’s what agony you were in. But all right, so let’s just talk about acting and being Charlie.
Fraser: He’s a man who’s hundreds of pounds, and he lives with obesity because he’s been harming himself overeating. He has regrets about the life choices he’s made. But he needs to redeem himself in the very little amount of time he has left.
Sandler: Yeah, he’s got five days to live.
Fraser: Monday to Friday. And to pick up the phone and call his daughter, played by Sadie Sink, is actually the moment when Charlie realizes, “This is what I have to do.” And that’s kind of the movie right there. For Charlie just to take to his feet was like an Olympics deadlift.
Sandler: Now what did you have on as an actor? What were you wearing? Your hands were big.
Fraser: Those were sleeves that came to the shoulder. There was a five-point harness that had me strapped in. Once into it, I was in there all day until it came off. The costume pieces themselves contained combinations of those little airsoft pellets, maybe dried beans, marbles. But the rule was that the whole look should obey the laws of physics and gravity, because we don’t see that in films.
And I really looked at what the Farrelly brothers did. I looked at what Mike Myers did, what Eddie Murphy did. That’s just in the last 20 years. Anything before then, it’s a cut-out silhouette of a costume that’s stuffed with batting, and it’s just an athletic actor inside the suit. And it was all in the service of a mean joke.
It’s important to say this, because there are those who live with this disease. I felt empowered to be their voice and to be as honest as I could and as authentic as I could in the portrayal. Look, my weight has been all over the map. I put on weight to play this role, and it wasn’t enough — so the body had to go on top of that, and the two worked together.
Sandler: Every time you have an attack, every time you have a coughing fit, as an audience member, we’re saying: “This is not going to end right.” You rehearsed a lot for this?
Fraser: Three weeks.
Sandler: So Aronofsky leads everyone through what he was envisioning, or he watched what you guys were thinking?
Fraser: Both. He said if he wasn’t a director, he would’ve been a baseball umpire. He knows the calls, sees everything, and he’s the last word as the director. And it was shot during the time of COVID; we were all there and living under the existential threat that we all had.
Sandler: So everybody had the masks on?
Fraser: We started talking about it in January 2020. And then March 2020 came along, and we all know what happened. Everything shut down, so the film went on ice.
Sandler: That must have killed you.
Fraser: I kept the faith. But I’ve seen the ship sail plenty of times before, and I don’t take it personally. He texted me. In typical Darren fashion, he starts the conversation right in the middle: “This is your research.” “Am I hired?” He’s like, “Yes.” I had an equal part panic attack and felt calmly overjoyed. I’m hearing a lot about this being a comeback for me, but I was never that far away. I’ve always kept working, busy doing something. I would lose my mind if I wasn’t working. There’s so much content in the world, a lot of that can slip off the radar.
You shot “Hustle” during COVID?
Sandler: Yeah, we shot it at two different times. We shot six weeks. Jeremiah Zagar, he’s our director. He’s tremendous. And we worked on the script with Will Fetters on Zoom. We put it all together; we got the greenlight. It was a basketball movie. They weren’t allowed to play basketball yet. So we shot about five or six weeks, every scene that wasn’t basketball. And then we took a hiatus. And we came back, and the NBA was available. The guys were available to come shoot, and we shot the basketball stuff.
Fraser: What’s it like working with ballplayers? I’m sure it was the best, because they’re performers in their own regard.
Sandler: Oh, yeah. There’s complete confidence. These guys are the most elite athletes of our time. There’s a calmness too. It was just about telling the players, “Say what you would say.”
Fraser: You basically live the movie.
Sandler: Really got to fuck around and see. Look, when you’re making a movie, shit has to happen.