Brendan Fraser: BMOC

Unlike the grunting Cro-Magnon he plays in Encino Man, Brendan Fraser loves to talk.

But landing a role bereft of dialogue has turned out to be one bodacious career move. In a film originally designed to showcase MTV's odd-ball Pauly Shore, Fraser's deadpan take on a prehistoric Val-dude pulled in teen moviegoers. At 23, Fraser seems to take his sudden transformation in stride. "The bills are paid," he says matter-of-factly, but then admits with a grin, "I pinch myself daily." Still, he insists, "Life won't come crashing down on me if I don't star in another film." Or maybe that's what everyone says after working with Pauly.

Fraser's new film, School Ties, has all the earmarks of the "message" movie that Encino Man decidedly wasn't. He plays a hotshot quarterback from a coal-mining town recruited into a New England prep school in order to deliver them a championship . . . only to discover the perils of anti-Semitism among his fellow classmates. The film has an instant high profile--it's a Sherry Lansing production--but will have to shake off the inevitable All-the-Right-Moves meets Dead-Poets-Society comparisons. A prep-school man himself, having grown up in Europe and Canada, Fraser had just moved to L.A. and signed with an agent when he received the script. "I had to put it down halfway through," Fraser recalls. "It was ringing all too true ... I know how young men can treat each other when they want to be part of a group."

At the very least, Ties may help Fraser distinguish himself from Brent Fraser, another young actor who, like Brendan, did theater in Seattle and then moved to L.A. That was Brent, not Brendan, in the Zalman King camp scorcher Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue.

An unabashed fan of actor/monologist Spalding Gray ("I admire what he does to the language"), Brendan says it felt great to work with him in the upcoming Twenty Bucks, playing a disillusioned young man who discovers that money won't solve his problems. Fraser doesn't sound like someone hoping to get rich quick: "I need to keep my goals minimal," he says. "I want to work on projects that scare me . . .projects that make me uncomfortable."