“Encino Man” proved a surprise hit for Disney, bringing in $40 million at the box office on a $7 million budget. But getting it made in the first place took some work. Writer/producer George Zaloom and director Les Mayfield initially approached their former agent, Dan Halsted, who had then stepped into a role as senior VP of production at Disney’s Hollywood Pictures. According to Inverse’s oral history of the making of “Encino Man,” Halsted’s initial response was that the movie’s premise was “the stupidest thing [he’d] ever heard.” Luckily, then-Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg loved it and got the ball rolling, even helping Mayfield and Zaloom secure a “Terminator” reference that was given the OK by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.
When it came to casting the all-important role of Link, Zaloom and Mayfield saw several actors, including Ben Stiller, who according to Zaloom even screen tested as the character. “He did a really good job. But at some point, we had seen Brendan [Fraser]. Brendan just nailed it,” Zaloom explained.
The story gets a little muddled here. According to Mayfield, while Stiller was “absolutely fantastic,” once the start dates for “Encino Man” were confirmed, “there was a conflict and he wasn’t available.” Meanwhile, Zaloom recalled how it was “hard to tell Ben that we didn’t want him,” adding that he “wish[ed] that didn’t happen.” Whether it was scheduling that forced Stiller to drop out, or the filmmakers had to tell him they didn’t want him after seeing Fraser, it seems the “Meet The Parents” star was about as close as he could have gotten to securing the role.