LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a beachfront hotel room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, actor Brendan Fraser is sipping a cup of tea and having an argument with a nearby lamp.
“Leave me alone!” he says. “I told you, you couldn’t come here today,” he pauses. “Well, go! Jerk.”
Fraser is demonstrating the basic principals of acting in effects-filled movies like this month’s family film “Inkheart,” which debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday. In it, Fraser plays Mortimer “Mo” Folchart, a man who can summon characters to life from the pages of books simply by reading aloud.
The actor is no stranger to the challenges posed by working alone on a studio soundstage against a green screen background, then having computer generated images (CGI) added into the scene at a later date by editors and technicians.
In fact, Fraser has made something of a specialty of working that way in CGI-heavy movies such as the three “Mummy” films, “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D.” He’s at it again in “Inkheart.”
“Me and my imaginary friends,” he called the CGI characters with whom he so often works.
“This actor got sent to the principal’s office frequently for that reason, and now they pay this actor to be that way,” the told Reuters, with a laugh.
As a child, Fraser said he always seemed to be the new kid in school, and he needed all the imaginary friends he could get. The fourth of four sons, he lived a nomadic life in the U.S., Canada, and Europe due to his father’s job with the Canadian government office of tourism.
As an adult, acting granted Fraser a sense of belonging that has extended well beyond the confines of Hollywood.
In 2002, best-selling German author Cornelia Funke sent him a copy of her young adult novel “Inkheart” with a surprising and flattering inscription.
“It said, ‘Dear Brendan, Thank you for inspiring the character of Mo. I hope that you will one day be able to read this to your children. Sincerely Yours, Cornelia Funke,’” Fraser recalled.
Fraser was so moved that he hopped a flight to Hamburg, where he spent the day with Funke, her husband, her daughter, her son, their Icelandic horse, and their “crazy dog Ludi who ate the tea cakes,” Fraser said.
When the time came to cast the film adaptation of the book, he was the first and only choice to play Mo.
Still, even though he was the inspiration for Funke’s fictional creation, Fraser didn’t think he could just be himself without doing any acting at all. “There’s a character,” he says. “I mean there’s a guy named Mo, Mortimer Folchart.”
Along with acting, came the CGI required to make “Inkheart” come to life. The film’s biggest sequence involved a battle between Mo and an evil, anthropomorphic shadow.
On the “Inkheart” set, Fraser couldn’t see the shadow, of course, because it would be added-in later using computers.
But director Iain Softley made sure Fraser had a clear idea of what the shadow would look like by showing him work by the 18th Century painter Francisco Goya, who during his later years produced frighteningly dark paintings of insanity and madness.
“There’s a series where some mythological creature or something — this harrowing image of a demonoid man who’s a giant — is eating humans, eating children. Horrible! The most unspeakable, atrocious act,” Fraser said.
While Fraser’s three children — ages six, four, and two — are slightly too young to watch a film that incorporates Goya imagery, they’ve had the chance to enjoy several of Funke’s books aimed at younger audiences.
“Some of them aren’t written in English, they’re in German,” says Fraser. “But Cornelia’s sent me copies that have been translated into English with a Sharpie and personalized so I can read them. And as much as I like to play Xbox 360, I think it’s good for the brain to pick up a book.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte