Brendan Fraser on the role of the obese character in “The Whale”

Brendan Fraser.
Photo: A24

In great news for people who like to shout about movies on Twitter (guilty), Darren Aronofsky emerged wet and dripping with Mother! lake to direct his first film since 2017. Called The whale, the drama is an adaptation of a Samuel D. Hunter Off Broadway play of the same name about a 600-pound at-home English teacher named Charlie living with obesity and crippling grief who attempts to reconcile with his estranged daughter before almost inevitably dying too young. Aronofsky will stay true to the room’s stuffy setting by setting the entire film in Charlie’s house. The action revolves entirely around this character, his perspective and his pain.

Of course, it’s a dream role for any serious actor who wants to give a great deep and important performance. And of Classes of course, as is almost always the case, the role will be played by an actor, Brendan Fraser, in a fat suit and prosthetics. Fraser is less slender than many leading men in Hollywood, but he also doesn’t weigh 600 pounds and a first article in vanity lounge depicts his intensive process of transformation into Charlie. The article goes to great lengths to call the prosthetics “empathetic” and “naturalistic,” and Fraser says it’s nothing like “other bodysuits that had been used in comedies over the years, usually for a one-note joke,” and that he “learned quickly that it takes an incredibly strong person inside of that body to be that person.

The message of this first look contradicts itself. On the one hand, Aronofsky and Fraser are at pains to emphasize their empathy, pointing out that Fraser has consulted with the Obesity Action Coalition and aims not to fall into the trappings of other pop-cultural portrayals of people with obesity. On the other hand, the article is teeming with technical details showing the weight and scale of the physical transformation with Fraser describing how “the chest piece was almost like a straitjacket” and that he felt dizzy after taking it off:

Fraser carried between 50 and 300 extra pounds during filming, according to Aronofsky, depending on the content of the scene; furthermore, Charlie is severely limited in his mobility. (Several people were always on hand to help Fraser get up, sit down, roll him up the roughly 70 steps between the studio and the make-up room.) Early in production, Fraser spent five to six hours in a makeup chair, every day, to become Charlie; in the end, they got this countdown to two to three.

It’s clear that Aronofsky, Fraser and the A24 publicity team are trying hard to show how The whale will not reduce this character to the spectacle of his size, and yet he is still presented as an object of fascination that will surely fuel conversations around Fraser’s performance once the film finally premieres at TIFF on September 11, where it will receive the Tribute Award for Interpretation. Additionally, the character is eerie and mourns the loss of his soul mate, a Mormon named Alan. It’s a whole other representational quagmire. Still, we have faith in Fraser, who is expected for another serious and celebrated star turn, but was it to go through Christian Bale-ification? Pumpkin Spice Season May Be Here, But Awards Season Isn’t enough Again. Prepare for the speech while you can.

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