Decade of Achievement in Film: Brendan Fraser

After a string of acclaimed roles in serious ensemble fare like “Crash” and “The Air I Breathe,” Brendan Fraser returns this year to the kind of bigscreen fantasies that made him an international star.

Seven years after he scored with “The Mummy Returns,” Fraser’s intrepid Egyptologist goes to the Far East in the third installment, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”

It has been a long wait. “I was always on standby,” he admits. “I was waiting for another call to play Rick O’Connell. You find a way to bring — as often happens — an actor’s tool kit to remain diverse in the role. He’s a great character who gets to do some kooky stuff. You can clobber him and he says, ‘Ouch!’ as he falls down, but he gets back up.”

Fraser’s other potential 2008 blockbuster, “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D,” was digitally filmed with cameras rented from James Cameron. It’s a film Fraser also executive produced. “You’re in for a ride,” he promises. “Why do they take huge life insurance policies on every actor until the end of the movie? Of course it’s dangerous!”

Fraser has managed a remarkable range since his feature film debut as Sailor #1 in the 1991 River Phoenix drama “Dogfight.”

“As I look back, I’ve been fortunate, first, to work and, second, to make a transition from smaller, more thoughtful dark pieces like ‘The Air I Breathe’ or ‘Gods and Monsters’ to larger ones like ‘Mummy’ and ‘George of the Jungle.’ It’s a way to strike a balance, and I’ve learned a lot.”

All in all, his acting chops were pretty much set even before he came to Hollywood.

“I grew up in Ottawa and later learned those movies I watched as a kid — it was Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin — those were on the Saturday morning programs,” he recalls. “I learned a great deal from watching Warner Bros. cartoons. I later had a professor at Cornish College who said, ‘Everything that can be learned about acting can be learned from Warner Bros. cartoons.’ It was the grand jete to work with Bugs and Daffy (in ‘Looney Toons: Back in Action’).”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more