The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has, for the time being, ignored the work of Pauly Shore. The Oscars—though they’ve grown more open to idiosyncratic winners in recent years—have long been known to play it safe, and Shore is a polarizing figure. His string of 1990s comedies—movies like Son in Law, In the Army Now, and Bio-Dome, in which he played variations of his surfer-dude persona the Weasel—were panned by critics, but they were embraced at the box office, becoming generational touchstones.
The movie that vaulted Shore from MTV VJ to movie star was 1992’s Encino Man, a hit comedy about two high school best friends (Shore and Sean Astin) who discover a caveman (Brendan Fraser) frozen in ice. When the relic thaws out, he turns out to love dancing, breasts, and “weazing the juice” with his buddies, all of which helps him take his mind off his traumatic memories of his prehistoric past. The friends embrace the Stone Age man as their own and pass him off as an Estonian exchange student, showing him how to have fun in the titular Los Angeles neighborhood. Making a bit appearance in the movie is Astin’s Goonies co-star Ke Huy Quan, who gets a few lines as the high school computer club’s leader.
On Sunday night, the Oscars will give some belated recognition to Encino Man’s cast: Many awards watchers consider Fraser the front-runner to win Best Actor for his role in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, while Quan is favored to win Best Supporting Actor for his turn in Everything Everywhere All at Once. The two co-stars have also gone viral for their reunions on the awards circuit, particularly their hug at the Critics Choice Awards, during which they turned to each other and both said, “We’re still here,” more than 30 turbulent years after meeting on Encino Man.
I reached Shore in Las Vegas, where he was taking a brief break from his ongoing standup tour. We discussed the talent he witnessed on the set of Encino Man and whether he’d like to make his own awards-worthy dramatic turn. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slate: What’s it been like to watch your Encino Man co-stars go on to Oscar glory?
Pauly Shore: I’m not surprised. Brendan’s a talented guy, and he got the luck of the draw. The director came in. He had a great role. Timing was great. It’s like Mickey Rourke when he got that opportunity. Same thing. Simon Rex, he had that opportunity, and Brendan, another level—all the stars lined up for him. But I’m proud, obviously. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Most people don’t ever expect to get nominated for an Oscar, no matter how much work they do, and I’m stoked.
What do you think you saw in Fraser’s Encino Man performance that you saw in The Whale?
Well, he became the character. That’s what a good actor does. He’s not doing a caricature of—he didn’t do a caricature of either of the roles. That’s why he was so good in Encino Man. That’s why the comedy popped off him and why the story worked, because he locks into these characters. I know Ben Stiller auditioned [for Fraser’s part in Encino Man], and a lot of people were wanting to play that role, but you need a real actor to play a caveman so it doesn’t look stupid.
Yeah. I rewatched it this week to prepare for this interview, and I was telling people, Fraser is actually very good, transformative, in the movie. You believe him as a caveman.
That’s what good actors do. I don’t know what to tell you. Sean Penn did it in Dead Man Walking. There’s layers to it. It’s awesome.
Who do you think is the next Encino Man cast member you want to see recognized by the academy?
Who do you think?
Well, you. What do you think your biggest Oscar snub might have been? I think maybe In the Army Now. The academy is supposed to love war movies, right?
[Laughs.] Well, I’m an interesting bird. I was too famous and too big, so obviously they had to smack me down, but it was too much: MTV, movies, HBO, albums, touring. It was just—
They were like, “We need to cool it.”
The higher you rise, the harder you fall. But here we are. We dusted off many years later, and the movies hold up, and I sell out shows because of those films. It’s remarkable. I still pinch myself, and I’m still very taken aback by the love that people have for those films that I did back in the day. Even Bio-Dome, at the time when it came out, was totally snubbed [by everybody], and now it’s probably one of my biggest hits. It’s weird.
My brother and I saw Bio-Dome in theaters. My parents were nice enough to take us. We watched all your movies. You and Fraser have real chemistry, I think, in Encino Man. It’s very sweet. Speaking of which, you’ve mentioned in the past couple years that you’ve maybe wanted to make or talked about making an Encino Man sequel. I think with this recognition of Fraser, now’s the time. Has there been any progress on that?
Well, it’s a Disney thing. George Zaloom, the producer and creator of Encino Man, has had several meetings with them, but at the end of the day, they own the IP. Me and Sean are just waiting for the phone to ring, as long as the script’s right and it makes sense. But yeah, I mean, I’m down to do anything as long as the script’s good and there’s good support around it. It’d be awesome. I think people would love it.
A lot of people have talked about both Fraser and Quan’s turns in these movies as comebacks, even though each of them has given other performances recently. I know you’ve been doing a lot of things, but I’m wondering if, watching all this, you’ve imagined yourself at all making a similar kind of comeback. Is there a role that you’ve been gunning for that you think could attract a similar sort of attention and kick off a Paulyssance?
Well, my story is no different than anyone else’s. Everyone wants that call. Everyone wants to work with people that are going to elevate them. I’m an actor at the end of the day. I do standup, and that’s kind of fun, but acting, to me, is who I am. That’s where I belong. I belong on sets, and I belong supporting people with their vision. And even Guest House did really well for me, which came out, I think it was two years ago. It’s on Netflix now. I did the voice of Pinocchio and all that stuff.
I’ve been out in Vegas for a couple years, and I’m packing it up. I’m moving back to Hollywood right after South by Southwest. So, I want to put myself back out there. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be at Starbucks one day and some director’s putting a film together, and he is like, “Let’s do something different with Pauly Shore.”
I’m at that age now where I think with the right role, with the right director, with the right script, doing something against type would be really exciting. I think I would get a lot of attention doing something dramatic. I did something on my channel called Sin City Psycho. It’s a 10-minute short where I play a sociopath, and it’s totally against type. So yeah, my story’s no different than anyone’s story. Everyone wants that opportunity to get that call from Darren Aronofsky.
I think a lot of people would be thrilled for it.
Yeah, no, I never did anything to not have the opportunity. I just did the Weas’. I guess that’s my blessing and my curse. More of a blessing for sure.
The Weas’ is very powerful.
Yeah. No, I have my own thing. I definitely have my own thing, and I wouldn’t want to change anything.
Is there anything else you wanted to say about either the Oscars, Encino Man, Fraser, or Quan?
Well, like I said earlier, I’m not surprised, because at the end of the day, talent wins. Brendan was just so fortunate that this director went in there and knighted him and hit him in the head with a little pixie dust or whatever, and Brendan stepped up, and he had the emotion and he had the layers and he became this character. And I’m very proud of him. Both of the guys are—all their heart comes out in these characters. And that’s what it’s really about, is connecting with people with your heart. And they both accomplished it. So, whether they win, whether they don’t win, they’ve already won to me, because they did great work.