Brendan Fraser wants to make a massive statement: “The Whale” does not exploit obesity.
Fraser, who stars in Darren Aronofsky’s drama based on Samuel D. Hunter’s semi-autobiographical play of the same name, spoke to Vanity Fair about how the physical transformation for the role is part of his reintroduction to Hollywood. Fraser’s turn as Charlie, a reclusive and obese English teacher who tries to repair his relationship with his daughter (Sadie Sink) over the course of five days, landed him a TIFF Tribute Award. A24’s “The Whale” makes its world premiere at the 2022 Venice Film Festival on September 4 before debuting at TIFF and later opening in theaters December 9.
“I learned quickly that it takes an incredibly strong person inside that body to be that person,” Fraser said of donning the 50- to 300-pound prosthetic suit, depending on the scene. “That seemed fitting and poetic and practical to me, all at once.”
Fraser worked with the Obesity Action Coalition to further understand the different body types, calling his prosthetic suit “beautiful” and “arresting” enough for him to feel it belongs in London’s Tate Modern museum. The suit was crafted by director Aronofsky’s frequent collaborator, Oscar-nominated digital makeup artist Adrien Morot. The film barely uses CGI and instead opts to utilize prosthetics modeled via digital sculpture and 3D-printed.
“I looked at other body suits that had been used in comedies over the years, usually for a one-note joke,” Fraser explained. “Whether intended or not, the joke is, it defies gravity. This was not that.”
While Fraser noted the suit was at times “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable,” he marveled at its artistry. “The torso piece was almost like a straitjacket, with sleeves that went on, airbrushed by hand, to look identical as would human skin, right down to the hand-punched hair,” he added.
Fraser called the role a “risk” but a necessary one for his path back to Hollywood after disappearing from the limelight.
“I want to learn from the people I’m working with at this point in my career,” the “No Sudden Move” star said. “I’ve had such variety, a lot of high highs and low lows, so what I’m keen for, in the second half of my time doing this, is to feel like I’m contributing to the craft and I’m learning from it. This is a prime opportunity. I wanted to disappear into it. My hope was that I would become unrecognizable.”
He added, “I wanted to know what I was capable of.”
Director Aronofsky shared, “Unfortunately, so many characters portrayed in the media who are living with obesity are treated awfully — either they’re humiliated, made fun of, or just living in squalor. That was never Charlie. Obesity is just part of what Charlie is. After 10 minutes of spending time with Charlie, that’s the breakthrough that we hope the film has [for viewers].”
Playwright Hunter said of his own story, “I arrived at it through my own personal struggles with it, as I used to be a lot bigger. This is just my story—plenty of people out there are big and happy and healthy and just fine and worthy of respect. But I was self-medicating with food, and it was hard for me to live in the world as that person. I’d never seen that story precisely told.”