MIDDLEBURG, VA – Brendan Fraser had a new first-time experience in his 30-year film career when he watched “The Whale” alone in a screening room for the first time.
“I couldn’t place myself. “I had no idea what the man on the screen was going to say next,” says the actor. And it had less to do with the transformation of the 54-year-old Fraser into a middle-aged, 600-pound man than with the emotions left on screen. “I felt like I’d accomplished what I set out to do, which was to give it everything I had like it was the first and last time.
“There’s nothing else I can prove because I’m out of moves,” Fraser adds, laughing. “That is all I have.”
The drama, directed by Darren Aronofsky, stars Fraser as Charlie, a dangerously obese gay writing instructor with congestive heart failure who reaches out to his estranged teen daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) in an attempt to redeem himself in her eyes. The role has earned him rave reviews, as well as nominations for best actor from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards, putting him in the running for an Academy Award.
“It was a challenge in itself because once you start to overheat, the cold sensation of the water creates like a weather system: The cold front and the hot front collide, and then you’ve got a storm going on,” Fraser adds with a chuckle. “However, I just dealt with it. It worked because Charlie isn’t at ease. He has such difficulty getting to his feet no matter how he sits, which is a major plot point.”
When Fraser removed the suit at the end of the day, he would experience vertigo. “I felt this undulation that lingered for days after we finished,” he says. “I had a pretty close sensory understanding of what it is like to live with obesity,” he said, despite the fact that he could take it off. It did change me, and it made me realise that those who live in that body must be incredibly strong. I gained a respect I had not expected.”
Most importantly, “The Whale” needed to avoid what has happened in the past with depictions of obese people in films: “one-note, butt-of-the-joke characters who wore silly costumes filled with cotton batting that we use in stuffed animals so that an athletic performance could be given,” he says. “For whatever neurological reason, our brain responds with, ‘Oh, dichotomy, hilarious.'” However, it does not last. What we did was exactly the opposite.”