When we spoke with the actor we expected a straight-forward interview. How very wrong we were; the following conversation includes some singing, a bit of ice cream tasting, and a dash of Charlie Chaplin, proving why Fraser is the go-to guy if you’re looking to give your movie some spark. Read on on and enjoy.
Hi Brendan, how are you doing?
I’m great – Gary’s the same name as my erstwhile brother in Escape from Planet Earth [Gary Supernova].
That’s fantastic. It’s fate!
I just thought of that… anyway, how do you do?
I’m good, I’m good, thanks very much. I feel kind of famous now.
(Laughs) Everyone’s famous these days, are you kidding me?
Well, on that note – your erstwhile brother in the film, was that one of the things that attracted you to do the film in the first place?
I wanted to do something that’s fun. That I can take my kids to see, and I wanted bragging rights when we’re watching the movie. And the story got me, essentially; in this case, the bond that mine and Rob Corddry’s [Gary Supernova] play, the big brother / little brother dynamic; one’s the brain, one’s the brawn, and sincerely the heartache that comes with having a disagreement and then reconciling it. And the backdrop is fantastic; there’s this tongue-in-cheek, waka-waka premise where [the humans on] Planet Earth are actually the scary aliens, and the people from Planet Baab are just trying to go about their business – we’re always going off to other worlds in science-fiction and doing zany things, but yeah – the tables have turned.
I was wondering, you play Scorch Supernova; that’s a pretty amazing name. Is that your favourite name of all the characters you’ve played through your career – or what are your favourites?
(Laughs) That’s a pretty good one. I mean it’s up there somewhere between a rockstar and a racing horse, come to think of it. [Brendan then shouts something that sounds like ‘Hi-ho Silver, away!’, but at a greater distance from the phone, so we’re not entirely sure]. Is that my favourite? You know what, I’ll tick the box – it’s among my favourites, yes. I don’t keep a list of them, I’d have to be reminded. I’ve never played a character called Randolph Mantooth; I think that’s a great name. Someone said it to me on Saturday Night Live, for a sketch.
That’s a very good name.
So if anyone ever writes the Story of Randolph Mantooth…
[At this point the phone line unexpectedly goes dead. Eventually, after twenty seconds or so, the connection returns.]
Hi! I paid my phone bills this month!
I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened there.
It’s that technomology thing; like Ali G said, it’s whack.
What’s your favourite bit of technology?
My favourite bit of technology? I really like low-tech stuff. Like… wheels. (Laughs)
I don’t know where this interview is going, by the way…
Fire! That’s a good one. I’m big on wheels, fire, bows and arrows; bladed tools I think are pretty cool. The Bronze Age was an awesome period in history. And then they invented this internet thing and you can just look at whatever you want and know everything all the time – it’s like a big homework machine. But come on – how do I answer a question like that? (Laughs) Unless I’m angling for someone to send me the latest pair of Parrot Zik designed-by-Philippe Starck headphones, if I dropped that name – ooh, I just did! My goodness! I wonder if I’ll get a free pair… I know how it works!
What’s your favourite piece of technology in Escape from Planet Earth?
Ooh – that’s a fun question. I like the bit that they used, I think it would have been during a montage – it just made me laugh – where Gary is lecturing his brother about how he should not go to our planet [Earth]. And in the background, there are just these arms, mechanical arms, coming out of nowhere – and they’re just suiting him up. And they basically help you put on your armour, and all this gear and big suit and all the gizmos – and then one just comes up and it’s just like a buff and polisher, and it starts polishing the back of his head (laughs) – it just reminds me of everything that made me laugh when I was a kid. Where it’s sourced from Warner Bros. cartoons, which borrowed heavily from, you know… look at the silent films – Charlie Chaplin. Prop comedy is always, to me, a hoot. Just ask Carrot Top.
I will next time I see him. Has there been a Charlie Chaplin film that’s inspired you in the past?
Oh, sure; The Kid. I loved that relationship between the two of them. I liked The General – Buster Keaton – with his deadpan on the train. I mean, those guys really did that stuff. Nowadays you can do anything, but they really, really did. Harold Lloyd, dangling by his fingertips off the clock [in Safety Last!] – those guys were touchstones, of what I personally started seeing as a kid.
Would you say that they were your inspiration for becoming maybe an actor in the first place?
It must’ve factored into it. I think I was inspired by seeing plays in the West End at the time I developed mentally as a kid. I started being asked, ‘what are you gonna be when you grow up?’ at around the age of five, six, seven, eight. And you know, I have three sons, and they’re asked that frequently too. You know, everyone has astronomical aims, and some of them come to fruition and some of them go off in completely different tangents – but having been asked that as a child, I don’t think I’d ever have said ‘actor’. I probably would’ve said something like ice cream tester. At the time, I was with my family living in Europe – it was last century, in the 1970s – and we would take holidays and see big shows, like A Chorus Line and Oliver Twist and Mousetrap when it was in its third year, and Jesus Christ: Superstar and a lot of rock operas and just huge stuff, man. I can just remember being gobsmacked as that was the first time I was ever interested in proper theatre – I think films, for sure [inspired me], but it just never had [that much of] an impact on me.
And I was always fascinated with animation and the infinite possibilities of it – and then live action, and then the real-time ritual of going to the theatre and just sitting there with other living, breathing human beings. And just between the three of those, I made up my mind after I had left what we call high school, and I studied in a conservatory in my home town of Seattle, Washington, for four years to earn the degree as a bachelor of fine arts. And I took it very seriously, and I found it was something that I could do; I could be challenged, I could learn from it, I knew it was infinite, and I knew that it was also risky – which I kind of liked. And so, I think that that was my mindset, when I knew that. I mean, here I am in the here and now, I wouldn’t know if I’d make the same choices knowing what I know now. That was a lot of time to answer what a simplistic question you asked!
For my last question –
Gary, I just want you to know that I think your work on Escape from Planet Earth was fantastic.
That’s very kind Brendan – it was a pleasure working with you too! One last question: If you had to choose between becoming a full-time ice cream tester or a full-time actor, what would you choose now?
Now? Oh, ice cream. Totally. I didn’t even know what sorbet was in those days, but I think I would probably narrow it down to ices, sorbets and Daiquiri in particular. And those Italian ones that are frozen into a piece of fruit – those I love.
Those are delicious. I was always a fan of Cherry Garcia, myself.
You know what, that’s always a good fallback. That and the Chunky Monkey – always works. But I’m going to go with ‘ice cream tester guy’ – as I look out over this frozen tundra that is New York outside of my office window… Well, thanks for the career advice!
Escape from Planet Earth is out on 7th March.