Social Navigation

‘The Whale’ star Brendan Fraser on why his Oscar-nominated role was worth the wait: ‘I didn’t have the life experience’


“Sorry, I’m a few minutes late, I’m just trying to locate my dog,” Brendan Fraser apologizes from his upstate New York home. “Isn’t it funny that in this age of Zoom, we can’t pretend we’re not home anymore,” he laughs.

Being home must have been nice for the actor after spending countless days on the road attending events and international premieres to promote his critically acclaimed role in Darren Aronofsky. Whale. In it, Fraser plays Charlie, a 600-pound writing professor trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter before it’s too late. It’s the awards tour that allows Fraser to not only graciously accept the awards, but also reflect on the experience of shooting this movie during the worst of the pandemic.

“I’m so glad I’m getting to grips with all of this, but this is more than just touring,” says Fraser. “My cast mates and I gave it our all because it was a movie that was made in Covid and we didn’t know if it was going to be there tomorrow. In my opinion, years from now, we’ll be looking back at the movies that were made.” [during the pandemic] And we’ll see some kind of secret ingredient to all of them. Everyone lived under an existential threat, a sincere concern for each other’s well-being and that will be seen in these shows.”


Brendan Fraser with Rachel Weisz mummy.

Universal / Everett Group

before WhaleFraser spent most of his years in the 1990s and early 2000s as a staple of physical comedy such as Encino Man And George of the Jungle Before landing the part of beloved hero Rick O’Connell mummy series. Although he received critical acclaim in 1998’s Bill Condon Gods and monstersHollywood tends to trash Frasier for taking lighter fare, and underestimating his abilities. Fraser has acted regularly over the past decade, appearing in such series as TV series affairs And Doom Patrolbut nothing engenders the same kind of fervor as his blockbuster past.

Then, director Darren Aronofsky surprised Fraser by reaching out to him about playing Charlie, an adaptation of the Samuel D. Hunter play, Whale. “The word on the street was that Darren was making a movie, and he wanted to meet you,” Fraser recalled. My answer is… yes. I am a little surprised that he even knows who I am, and I made it to his office without a modicum of creative intimidation on my end.

“I was so happy to see him as a gentleman starting conversations in the middle,” says Fraser. “It gets right to the core, which was telling me it was about a man living alone who is incredibly grieving since the death of his partner and regretting the decisions that left him on the other side of custody of his child.

“It was very exciting because it was an opportunity to play a character looking for redemption. Then he told me that Charlie’s body weighs hundreds and hundreds of pounds with a health condition where he would die of congestive heart failure very quickly.”

The dramatic mix-up would be an enormous uphill battle for any actor to take on, but Fraser was more than happy and grateful to be considered for the opportunity. “Darren has been very vocal about finding an actor who can physically create the role on the outside, but also deliver a performance that has emotional depth,” says Fraser. “He was showing me his chessboard on how to approach it, and I immediately wanted to stand by him and help him figure out how to get all the pieces to work together.”

“Then March 2020 came around, and we all know what happened,” Fraser recalls. “We came home to put on our comfy pants.”

Fraser assumed the project was over. Then, months later, plans began to make the film possible with comprehensive safety protocols. But there was a problem with getting it to actually fit into the suit.

Instead of going through a normal makeup process to create a mold for my face, Adrien Maurot [prosthetic makeup designer] “It was done in my driveway by Jeremy,” says Fraser [Dawson, producer], who showed up with an iPad, but my dog ​​kept lunging at my ankle. However, the result is smooth, right down to the tiny size of Charlie’s pores.”

“When we finally got together to make the movie, I did my first make-up test in the suit, and Darren looked over my shoulder and said, ‘For the rest of your life.’ I knew then that if I wanted to be ready for that audition, I had to own it. So, from that point on, I learned how to be Like Charlie in a five-point harness suit that was a weight-matching unit with tubes that ran cold water through. I also worked with movement coach Beth Lewis, and we worked out the centers of gravity, the inertia of standing, and the support conditions that obese people have to live in. She was It’s my job to sell it because, up until this point in the movies, we’ve never seen a costume and makeup done with this kind of dignity and respect.”

Considering Fraser’s most popular performances, his gritty physique played a huge role in the characters he played. This list now includes Charlie. “I’ve always strived to find a physical, physical goal in everything I do. If it’s an action movie, I’ve found it’s best to play the next scene, not the one you’re in. In other words, if you’re in a movie where the end goal is to get to the car, all the scenes that I encounter beforehand leads to that ultimate goal. So, for Charlie, I must get to the end of the hallway to the bathroom, not to use it, but not let my daughter see me cry.”

Brendan Fraser

Fraser as Charlie V Whale.

Although the physical side of Charlie needed improvement on screen, Frasier had to figure out how to deliver a respectable performance that honors the character. “Charlie has a secret superpower,” says Fraser. “He is able to bring out the good in others even when they cannot see it in themselves or feel irredeemable. He appreciates the beauty in the humanities and is a composite of the people I knew; teachers I was dealing with that day, drama teachers I worked with, friends I gained them and lost them.”

Playing Charlie has also allowed Fraser to collaborate with the Obesity Action Coalition to understand the daily battles faced by obese people. “Obesity is an affliction and a disease for people who deserve our sympathy, our help, and our respect. Because the way they give to the world means they can’t get enough health care. It’s outgrown and minimized in societal settings and it’s laughed at in the media. You can really harm someone’s health by the way you Talking it out to him.I know a lot of people who struggle with obesity have said when they were children, that something they were told triggered a cycle in their lives.In fact, a woman wrote to Darren last week and said she was afraid of having bariatric surgery and that she would now go After watching the movie. It’s going to save her life. That was the hope we went for, to change some hearts and minds in a way that’s unwelcome, non-cynical, and cathartic.”

Fraser also admits that he couldn’t have played Charlie earlier in his career. “I didn’t have the life experience or the heartache. I haven’t been a dad in 10 years enough to appreciate what it’s like to have a guy in your life.”

But the memory of Charlie is still part of Frasier’s. “When that movie ended, I had the unexpected reaction of taking Charlie’s body off one last time; I was really emotionally affected. I felt a strange sense of survivor’s guilt because I was able to take him off at the end of the day, and I’ve met people who live like this until they don’t live anymore.” mused Fraser. “I had to take a page from my sermon and rethink if I was guilty or offended and just ignore them. Even if I did it by mistake, I don’t want to do it again moving forward.”

Read the digital version of Deadline’s Oscar Nominees case here.

when Whale Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, a video clip of an emotional Fraser receiving a six-minute standing ovation instantly put him at the forefront of the awards conversation. But as an actor with over 30 years of experience under his belt, his response to all of this was very humble. “I approached this movie like I would never be called to do it again,” says Fraser. “I have made myself vulnerable to all, and I find it liberating because I have nothing to hide or prove. I have nothing but respect for all who see it, even people who disagree with the material artistically.”

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.