The Mummy's Hanging Scene Wasn't Entirely Fake For Brendan Fraser

Let it never be said that Brendan Fraser isn't willing to risk it all to inject a bit of realism into a role. Part of the reason we're seeing a "Brenaissance" revival at all today is because of the beloved memorability of his characters. From the delightfully naive George in "George of the Jungle" to the swashbuckling Rick O'Connell from "The Mummy." While his early typecasting as the handsome good guy often overshadowed just how much he made what could've easily been two-dimensional characters into lively and even nuanced ones.

But that kind of commitment almost got him into trouble while filming "The Mummy," a role he was only considered for because director Stephen Sommers saw him in "George of the Jungle." Early in the film Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) finds herself negotiating the release of O'Connell in order to enlist him in guiding her to the lost city of Hamunaptra. She keeps it up right until he's dropped from the gallows — though being the beefed-up adventurer he is, his neck doesn't snap — so the bargaining continues.

It's supposed to be a hilarious moment of black comedy that's made all the more farcical because the audience certainly knows O'Connell isn't going to die like this so early in the movie. But the same couldn't exactly be said for Fraser — although he and Sommers don't exactly see eye to eye on who's to blame for the whole scary incident.

Fraser's fake choking just wasn't cutting it for Sommers

Given how much detail Fraser gives in recalling the distressing memory, it's clear it left a lasting impression on him. "I did fully get choked out," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. "It was scary." Fraser went on to explain that a hanging stuntman with a harness sufficed for the scene's wide shots but he obviously needed to be the one in the noose for the close-ups. An illusion that was accomplished via the light suspension of a hemp rope tied around his neck.

"The first take, I'm doing my best choking acting," Fraser recalled. "Steve says, 'Can we got for another one and take up the tension on the rope?'" The director clearly thought the actor needed some motivational help with his acting but Fraser was starting to feel the effects of even a faux hanging. He told Sommers he'd only do one more take because "a noose around your neck's going to choke you in the arteries, no matter what."

But when the stuntman increased the rope's tension it forced the actor onto the balls of his feet — which is kind of surprising given he's 6' 2" — and then it went up again. "I'm not a ballerina, I can't stand on my tip-toes," Fraser said. It didn't take long for the actor to lose consciousness, which he compared to the "black iris at the end of a silent film" and like "turning down the volume switch on your home stereo, like the Death Star powering down." Two extremely illustrative and terrifyingly specific ways to describe those milliseconds. But it's also a chilling reminder of how quickly things can go wrong onset when it comes to stunts like this. Luckily, this anecdote has a much happier ending.

Fraser got a less-than-ideal reaction to being really choked onset

After losing consciousness Fraser was revived by EMTs and the first person who greeted him according to the actor was the stunt coordinator. To check up on him right? Not exactly. "The stunt coordinator came over, and he said, 'Hi! Welcome to the club, bro! Ha ha ha!'" Fraser told Entertainment Weekly. "And I was like, 'Ha ha, funny? Ha ha?' Like, What the hell? I want to go home!" That's definitely not the reaction Fraser should have received, though it's that kind of attitude that appears indicative of the carelessness that leads to stunt accidents

After nearly asphyxiating onset you'd think you'd such a request would be granted instantaneously. But according to Fraser, the director was a little less than convinced that anything serious had happened. "Steven — he and I disagree — but I think he was trying to go, 'Oh, that wacky Brendan, acting up a storm again!', or something like that," Fraser explained. "I was like, 'Hey, you guys think what you need to, but I'm done for the day.'"

When Sommers looks back on the moment he believes that the actor is "totally to blame." According to the director, it's because of Fraser's overzealous acting that he lost consciousness. "He tightens the noose, and then, as we're about to get the shot, he's trying to make it look like it's really strangling him," Sommers remembered. "I guess it cut off his carotid artery, or whatever, and knocked him out. He did it to himself." Although even if that's true it also doesn't change the fact that Fraser needed to be revived by EMTs. Despite the insane backward nature of having to provide proof beyond that in order to go home, good on the actor for putting his foot down.

Fraser bears some of the blame

But apparently, Sommers wasn't far from the truth in his perception — as Fraser himself revealed in that Entertainment Weekly interview. "Stephen needed to sell that Rick was actually choking, so, technically yes, it was my fault," he said. "That I was following direction from my director to sell it." Unfortunately, his need to really sell it led to him making one nearly "fatal error." Fraser continued: "You know what? To be fair to that remark, I did make one fatal error. I figured before the camera lands on me, I will take three really deep breaths, so my face turns purple and my veins pop out of my neck. I'll really f***ing sell it, you know! That had to have been a [lesson in how] to asphyxiate yourself. I mean, that had to have been it."

Given the noose's increased tension and an inability to keep his feet on the ground, those deep breaths and Fraser's vigorous squirming probably quickened his descent into unconsciousness. But in the end, he really did sell the hell out of it. As is ever the case in anecdotes like these, Fraser confirmed that the shot in which all hell broke loose ended up being the one used. Apparently, there were no hard feelings between Sommers and Fraser either because the actor returned to play O'Connell in "The Mummy Returns" along with most of the cast — though obviously minus any potential choking scenes.