Before Brendan Fraser was cast as the caveman Link in the classic 1992 film Encino manfilmmakers Les Mayfield And George Zaloom were possibly looking for a boy Ben Stiller in the role. The actor came in and auditioned and he even went so far as to do a screen test, but it didn’t really work out in the end because Stiller just wasn’t what they were looking for.
Speaking about Stiller’s audition, Mayfield said he “demonstrated the potential of the character and was absolutely fantastic. I remember when we set our start dates there was a conflict and it wasn’t available.”
Zaloom went on to say that Stiller is great and that they saw Fraser around the same time, saying: “He even went through a screen test. And he did a really good job. But eventually we had seen Brendan. Brendan just nailed it.
Mayfield added that Stiller “came in for nothing and did this film test and just kicked ass. He showed us where this character could go.” But in the end, they had to tell Stiller that he wasn’t the type. Zaloom shared, “It was hard telling Ben we didn’t want him. I wish that hadn’t happened.”
However, Fraser was so much fun in the role and they absolutely made the right choice with the casting! At the time, Fraser was a 22-year-old unknown actor. After graduating from Cornish College of the Arts in 1990, he moved to Hollywood because he was “tired of waiting for tables, parking cars and selling balloons”.
But when that role came up, he wasn’t interested in playing the caveman! Seeking more serious roles, he landed the coming-of-age boarding school drama School Ties in 1991. While testing for School Ties, he got the call for Encino Man, and speaking about it, he said, “At the time I was testing for School Ties. A call that came through my agent’s office said, “Listen, I understand he’s testing for school ties. Tell him we’re offering him the role of caveman if he doesn’t.” But I knew where my priorities were and I wanted to do a lot of school ties.”
Mayfield said they “chased Brendan very hard. He came in and auditioned. He owned the character. He was super intelligent and intuitive. He brought a multidimensional, rich, comedic character and brought it right into the room.”
Zaloom added: “He did it with movement. And his looks and all that. He adapted physically and became that character without even having to say anything.” Author Shawn Schepps says of watching the audition tape, “I watched audition tapes. And I’ve seen Brendan’s. I was overwhelmed and then I stopped the tape and ran out and said, “You have to come and see this guy! That’s the boy!”
That’s what Pauly Shore said of it: “When I saw his screen test, I was like, ‘Holy shit. This guy turned caveman! This is really shit! This is not a parody.’ I was very impressed by how convincing he was.”
It was very difficult for the creative team to persuade Fraser to join the film and he actually passed the opportunity along several times, but they were adamant and kept pursuing him. The actor was worried it would come across as silly and goofy and they kept trying to calm him down.
Mayfield said: “I remember having calls [with Fraser]. It was really debated, what is the film about? For me it was about family. And the idea of starting a family is the theme of the film for me. Hopefully that was part of what allowed him to make the decision to join us.”
Fraser eventually agreed to sign on and do it, and he co-directed the film back-to-back school ties.