At GQ, Zach Baron has a profile of actor Brendan Fraser, who was popular in the ’90s for movies like School Ties, and who has been making something of a comeback since he was cast in The Affair in 2016.
Fraser tells Baron that in 2003, he was touched inappropriately by Philip Berk, a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The incident left him feeling violated and insecure. Adding insult to injury, his reporting of it seems to have gotten him blacklisted for years.
The story he wants to relay took place, he says, in the summer of 2003, in the Beverly Hills Hotel, at a luncheon held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that hosts the Golden Globes. On Fraser’s way out of the hotel, he was hailed by Philip Berk, a former president of the HFPA. In the midst of a crowded room, Berk reached out to shake Fraser’s hand. Much of what happened next Berk recounted in his memoir and was also reported by Sharon Waxman in The New York Times: He pinched Fraser’s ass—in jest, according to Berk. But Fraser says what Berk did was more than a pinch: “His left hand reaches around, grabs my ass cheek, and one of his fingers touches me in the taint. And he starts moving it around.” Fraser says that in this moment he was overcome with panic and fear.
“Am I still frightened? Absolutely. Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely.”
Fraser eventually was able, he says, to remove Berk’s hand. “I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry.” He rushed out of the room, outside, past a police officer he couldn’t quite bring himself to confess to, and then home, where he told his then wife, Afton, what had happened. “I felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me,” he says now. (In an e-mail, Berk, who is still an HFPA member, disputed Fraser’s account: “Mr. Fraser’s version is a total fabrication.”)
In the aftermath of the encounter, Fraser thought about making it public. But ultimately, “I didn’t want to contend with how that made me feel, or it becoming part of my narrative.” But the memory of what had happened, and the way it made him feel, stuck with him. His reps asked the HFPA for a written apology. Berk acknowledges that he wrote a letter to Fraser about the incident but says, “My apology admitted no wrongdoing, the usual ‘If I’ve done anything that upset Mr. Fraser, it was not intended and I apologize.’ ”
According to Fraser, the HFPA also said it would never allow Berk in a room with Fraser again. (Berk denies this, and the HFPA declined to comment for this story.) But still, Fraser says, “I became depressed.” He started telling himself he deserved what had happened to him. “I was blaming myself and I was miserable—because I was saying, ‘This is nothing; this guy reached around and he copped a feel.’ That summer wore on—and I can’t remember what I went on to work on next.”
He knows now that people wonder what happened to Brendan Fraser, how he went from a highly visible public figure to practically disappearing in the public mind, and he’d already told me most of it. But this, he says, is the final piece. The experience, he says, “made me retreat. It made me feel reclusive.” He wondered if the HFPA had blacklisted him. “I don’t know if this curried disfavor with the group, with the HFPA. But the silence was deafening.” Fraser says he was rarely invited back to the Globes after 2003. Berk denies that the HFPA retaliated against Fraser: “His career declined through no fault of ours.”