Brendan Fraser: Shy Guy?

Brendan Fraser, who came on strong in School Ties and Encino Man, is rumored to be retiring in person. Instead, he's something of a motor-mouth who manages the near impossible: he leaves our intrepid reporter struggling to get a word in.

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I've been warned: Brendan Fraser is shy. Okay, I can handle shy. No, I'm told, this is more than shy, much more. The story goes that this guy once froze so badly on "The Arsenio Hall Show" that you could hear his knees knocking through his mike. He's apt to get so tongue-tied that he might not be able to look you in the eyes. Hey, I'm a big girl, a professional . . . I'll deal with it.

I've offered to meet Fraser any place in L.A.--say, his place, or my hotel--but he's chosen the living room of his publicist's house. All right, so he's shy: maybe he'll be comfortable and relaxed there. We pull up at the same time, and this is what I do: I walk over, head down, and mumble, "Hi, I'm Martha. I'm here to do the interview." I am staring at his shoes. Can't be more non-threatening than that, right?

Fraser puts out his hand. "How ya doing?" he says, forcing me to look up. He is staring me right in the eyes, calm as can be.

"I know you hate doing this..." I begin.

"No," he says, leading me inside. "I'm cool with this." Either Fraser has had some good therapy in the last year, or my sources were way off base. In either case, the guy is trying hard to make me feel at ease. My face must be bright red. He probably thinks I'm out of my mind.

I look him over. Figuring I don't have to handle him with kid gloves, I say, "You're too tall for the movies."

"That was the joke when I worked with Sean [Astin] in Encino Man. The crew gave me his box, with his name on the side..."

"To stand on?"

"Well, that was the theory. But I'm not too tall, just, well, tall."

"How tall?" I ask, seriously scrutinizing him.

"Six foot, two."

"I bet Tom Cruise will never work with you . . ."

"Never say never," he says with a wicked laugh.

The truth is, 25-year-old Fraser may be able to work with anyone he damn well pleases. On-screen in movies like School Ties he projects a manliness not often associated with his peers. He seems more grounded, more, well, grown up. He's no standard issue, Young Hollywood knockoff of James Dean. I tell him he reminds me of the young Gary Cooper. But that doesn't impress him--he's never seen any of Coop's films.

"I'm a real pop-culture baby. My first job in films was a day on [Nancy Savoca's] Dogfight," he says, although I don't think I asked. "I was 'Sailor #1. I had one line, 'How'd you like to eat my shit, huh?' I tried saying it in every conceivable way. 'How'd you like to eat my shit, huh?' 'How'd you like to eat my shit, huh?' In the end, it was, was, 'How'd you like to eat my shit, huh?' And that was my SAG card right there!" Shy?

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