Brendan Fraser says the role of dangerously obese teacher Charlie in the upcoming The Whale is “the biggest challenge” of his career.
The Whale premiered this weekend at Venice Festival, and Fraser spoke today of the “great opportunity to step into the physical being of another man and tell the rich internal life story that he carries.”
He said: “This presented the biggest challenge. Charlie is the most heroic man I have ever played because his superpower is to seek the good in others and bring that out in them. In that process, he’s on his journey of salvation.”
The Whale is a psychological drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky, from a screenplay written by Samuel D. Hunter, based on Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name. The story follows a reclusive English teacher living with severe obesity, who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.
The film stars Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins.
Wearing a prosthetic suit for the film, Fraser described the technique of acting an overweight man.
“I needed to learn to move in a new way. I developed muscles I didn’t know I had. I even felt a sense of vertigo at the end of the day when the appliances were removed, that undulating feeling and that gave me an appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. I learned that you need to be an incredibly strong person physically, mentally, to inhabit that physical being.”
Of the decision to cast Fraser rather than an obese person in the role, Aronofsky explained that it took 10 years in total for him to make the film, including the task of casting the lead role:
“Casting Charlie was a huge challenge. I considered everyone, all types of actors, every movie star, but none of it ever clicked, it didn’t move me. A couple of years ago, I caught a trailer from a low-budget Brazilian movie with Brendan, and a lightbulb went off.
We did a reading, and I got chills from the moment these two [Fraser and Sadie Sink, who plays Charlie’s estranged daughter Ellie] were interacting.”
Aronofsky said he was originally inspired by watching Sam Hunter’s play in New York and feeling “deeply moved” by its rich, deep, human characters: “I knew the seed material of the play could give us the realm to keep the camera moving and keep the audience interested.”
Fraser added: “Charlie’s physical mobility is limited to his home space, which is his couch. His story is told behind closed doors. He’s a light in a dark space. It’s poetic that the trauma he carries is manifest in the physical weight of his body.”
Asked about his own rollercoaster career which saw Fraser hit the heights as an action star in The Mummy and George of the Jungle, before withdrawing from Hollywood, followed by a recent comeback in TV series like The Affair and Trust and films including the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon, the actor sounded philosophical:
“I looked different in those days. My journey to where I am now has been to explore as many characters as I can. I’m looking forward to how this film makes a deep impression on everyone as much as it has on me.”
The Whale will be released in theaters on December 9, via A24.