Actor Brendan Fraser said playing an obese man taught him that those with similar bodies are “incredibly” strong people, both mentally and physically.
The Whale, which premieres in competition at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, has caused quite a stir with speculation that it may be on the path to Oscar success.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, who won the Festival’s Golden Lion in 2008 for The Wrestler, and based on the Samuel D Hunter play of the same name, tells the story of Charlie – a reclusive English teacher near the end of his life who attempts to reconnect with his estranged character. A teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.
Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, Fraser — one of the stars of the 1990s and early 20th century who has been largely absent from major projects for the better part of two decades — said the role was a learning curve for him. “She has given me my appreciation for those whose bodies are the same. I have learned that you need to be an incredibly strong person, both physically and mentally, to live in this being,” he said.
“Charlie’s bodily movement is confined to the space of his home, which is his sofa. His story is told behind closed doors. He is a light in a dark place. I think it is poetic that the trauma he carries is shown in the physical weight of his body.”
“I needed to learn how to move in a whole new way. I developed muscles I didn’t know I had. I even felt dizzy at the end of the day when all the devices were removed, feeling like stepping off a boat to the pier here in Venice.”
The movie stars Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau and Samantha Morton from Stranger Things. Aronofsky said he was “deeply moved” when he first saw Hunter’s play in New York. But it took the director another 10 years to produce the film, “Because it took me about 10 years [it],” He said.
“Choosing Charlie’s acting was a huge challenge for a lot of different reasons. I thought of everyone, all different types of actors. Every movie star on the planet. But none of them ever clicked, didn’t move me, didn’t feel right. Two years ago, I picked up a trailer for a low-budget Brazilian movie, saw Brendan in it and the lamp went off.”
Speaking about his career, Fraser, who is known for his roles in The Mummy, George of the Jungle, and Gods and Monsters, said that this role represented his biggest challenge.
“I looked different in these [George of the Jungle] days. My journey to where I am now has been to explore as many characters as possible, and that’s the biggest challenge for me.
“I believe by far that Charlie is the most heroic man I have ever played, because his superhuman strength is to see the good in others, and bring that out into them. In the process he is on his journey to salvation.”
Hunter, who adapted the script, remembers that when he originally wrote the play 12 years ago he was a college teacher who was begging his students to write something honest and truthful. “From this I was getting these wonderful and amazing things. I was like, ‘I want to write a story about an English teacher who desperately seeks to connect with someone younger…I think literature has always been imbued with it, I wanted Charlie to be a man of literature and a voracious reader.'” “
Aronofsky added, “In the past few years, a lot of us have lost a lot. There’s been such a separation in human connection. Cinema is about human connection. It’s about the opportunity to slip into someone else’s shoes and get two hours of empathy and another person’s mind, and I think that’s it.” Exactly what the world needs.