Brendan Fraser was on his second cowboy shirt of the day, and also sporting a cowboy hat. “I’m confident with looking good in my hat,” he told IndieWire, before pulling an assortment of objects out of his pockets — wallet, cell phone, and… not a handkerchief, but a proper cowboy bandana.
He’s committed to his role on FX’s limited series “Trust,” and that level of commitment can be seen on screen, in every detail that came about thanks to the collaboration between Fraser, director Danny Boyle, and writer Simon Beaufoy.
At the Television Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year, Boyle called the actor “extraordinary,” and was clearly even familiar with his earlier work. “I’ve always thought he was a wonderful actor,” he told IndieWire. “I used to watch him in ‘George and the Jungle.’ He’s a proper good actor, inside that silliness.”
And perhaps that attitude led to the freedom that came with Fraser’s major entrance into the show. In the drama, Fraser plays James Fletcher Chace, the ex-CIA agent (a composite character) sent to track down the kidnapped grandson of J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland).
[Editor’s note: Mild spoilers for the beginning of “Trust” Episode 2, “Lone Star,” follow.]
For his first big scene in Episode 2, Fraser walks out a door and down a street, drinking from a bottle of milk as he talks directly to the camera. It’s a bold narrative choice both Beaufoy and Boyle credited as being inspired by Fraser. “It was his take on it, really,” Boyle said. “I went into his hotel on a Sunday afternoon for tea just to talk to him. And he was full of this stuff about the guy, and it was a wonderful take on it. It liberated [the show] from any resemblance left to a factual account. He was like, ‘we need that.'”
Beaufoy described Fraser’s input on the show as follows: “He said, ‘I’m sort of a time traveler in this, aren’t I?’ And both Danny and I were like, “Oh no, we got an actor who’s gone mad.’ We don’t want any time travelers. But then he said, ‘I step outside of the story all the time, and I explain the weirdness.'”
Said Boyle, “If it’s a Shakespearean adaptation of a historical event, which is what this is, then you need a figure like that, who’s wise and a clown at the same time. It’s like this element that’s telling you, ‘Be reassured, this isn’t a story for you to enjoy’… You need that with this kind of story, otherwise it kind of becomes a bit pole-faced. Is it true? Was that real? I don’t know. Those characters say, ‘Relax. This is entertainment and a dramatization of things we know and things we don’t.'”
“It’s that sense where you can be very bold in TV and break that fourth wall and have him as a time traveler who steps out of the story and goes, ‘This is strange, isn’t it? Isn’t it funny how rich people are just as unhappy as poor people, just a different kind of unhappy?'” Beaufoy said. “And he becomes a sort of narrative voice that keeps us sane in what becomes an increasingly insane world.”
Boyle enjoyed the choice to break the fourth wall because “it’s the one thing you’re told never to do — in terms of the reception as viewers, the only time it’s ever done is newscasters. Newscasters talk directly to you all the time, and it’s part of our diet. It’s everyday on television. But otherwise anything to do with drama, no way, because it’s fatal.”
The director paced around the room, miming Fraser-as-Fletcher’s movements from the scene. “It’s like he catches you slightly unawares, whereas if he’d come out and said, ‘Hey listen,’ it wouldn’t have been there. I don’t know whether he’s aware of it or whether it’s instinctive, but he did it every time.”
Fraser does all of this with that cowboy hat on, an element that Boyle acknowledged was “absolutely alien” to him as a British man. Nonetheless, he added that “the idea of him in a Stetson is wonderful.”
It wasn’t Fraser’s only cowboy-related suggestion: “I was thinking about a horse,” Boyle said the actor told him. “And I was going, ‘What the fuck? I can’t get you a horse!’ But I went away and thought about it and I’d gotten to buy a kid’s toy of a cowboy on horseback and paint it as though it was one of the little architectural models. So the first time you see him with Donald [Sutherland], he puts the little cowboy on the horse and he goes ‘neigh.’ And I loved that. And that came out of him saying, ‘I was thinking of a horse.'”
Boyle continued, “That’s the cooperation you get with great actors — they have ideas which can on the face of it sound completely bonkers… But it was not, it was genius.”
As previously noted, the current plan for “Trust” is a three-season series that would move back and forth through different periods of the Getty family’s history. But that doesn’t rule out Fraser returning. “I think he has the license to do that because he is a time traveler I think, I’m all for that,” Boyle said. “There would be no better way of doing that, and he’s such a delight to be on set with as well.”
For Fraser, his approach to joining the cast of “Trust” was simple. “I came to it wanting and hungering for material that made me feel part of a project that I found myself caring about — rather than just wanting to be in it,” he said.
“Trust” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.