“Trust’s” Brendan Fraser paints a striking figure as ex-CIA man and swaggering Texan James Fletcher Chase in FX’s drama about the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty III.
His formidable character is based on the role that real-life fixer/negotiator Chase played for the richest man in the world, John Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland). The senior Getty was notoriously frugal, so when his free-spirited, hippy grandson was abducted in Italy, it set off one of the wildest kidnapping-for-ransom stories of the 20th century.
“It’s a wild tale,” said Fraser. “The script said only the unbelievable parts of this story are true. … It was on the cover page. I hung on to that.”
Fraser, whose impressive career includes “The Mummy” franchise, “George of the Jungle,” “School Ties,” “Gods and Monsters” and more recently premium television series such as Showtime’s “The Affair,” wore a wide-brimmed Stetson hat for his visit to The Times video studio in the spirit of his “Trust” character.
“There is a James Fletcher Chase,” explained Fraser of the man his character is based on. “There’s not a lot known about him. He was CIA. Maybe his history was redacted so I didn’t have a lot to read about. I did hear from [executive producer] Danny Boyle who directed three episodes and from [screenwriter] Simon Beaufoy that Chase really impressed Getty because he was a Texan. But they didn’t know too much about him apart from maybe he wasn’t all that good in the CIA so he went to work for the richest man in the world.”
Fraser, who spends his free time practicing archery, said he didn’t know much about the Getty kidnapping before deciding to join “Trust.” But the more he learned about the Getty family dynamic, the more intrigued he became. Especially intriguing was the senior Getty’s tight relationship with the billions he’d amassed as an oil tycoon. “Getty washed his own socks,” said Fraser. “Do we really want to pay five bucks to get our socks washed in the hotel? No! He does them in the sink. It’s certainly an indication for the mind-set he had of ‘I earned it. I’m keeping it. I’m not giving it away.’”
Chase isn’t as much of a fixer for Getty as a “repairman,” said Fraser. He’s the story’s negotiator, but also serves as a sort of narrator in that he’s the only character in “Trust” who breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. “They ascribed the virtues of being a narrator of sorts to Chase, to bring people up to speed,” said the actor. It’s a move that “hints at a breaking of convention. It’s always exciting to me when the rule book of how to tell a story gets chucked out the window and suddenly the character who we are watching is talking directly to you.”
Fraser is renown for playing unconventional and eccentric characters throughout his two decades-plus career. He first made waves in the early 1990s playing a caveman who, after being frozen for centuries, is brought back to life. The film has since become a cult classic.
“I didn’t want to do ‘Encino Man,’ about a caveman who wrestles with plants … at least that’s what got me the job in the audition,” joked Fraser. “Then a point was made to me, ‘You know, kid, diversity is important.’ That’s why there’s a smiley mask and a frowny mask. Tragedy, comedy. You know, range.”
The explosion of quality, creative television series is not lost on Fraser, who now chooses projects across big and small screens alike. The industry has changed so much, he said, “we need to get on the wave or you’ll be crushed by it. With [long-form dramas] we’re able to tell stories over many chapters rather than inside the parameters of 120 minutes.”
Fraser explained that he had very different notions about acting when he was a student of “conservatory training” in late ’80s/early ’90s Seattle. “It was black turtleneck-serious,” he recalled. “I was getting a degree in acting. When I came to L.A. in the early ’90s, I brought my degree with me. No one even asked me for it. I realized then that this job is about storytelling. It’s about doing something for the first and last time you ever will because you might not be asked to do it again. That’s a notion I return to, or tell myself all the time.”
“Don’t tell anybody,” Fraser whispered from under his Stetson. “I would do this if they were paying me or not. I love my job.”
To see the whole conversation, watch the video below: