Adrien Morot interview: ‘The Whale’ hair and makeup
“The Whale” Oscar nominee Adrien Morot has worked with director Darren Aronofsky on multiple projects – including “mother!” “Noah,” and “The Fountain.”
“When he calls, whatever I’m doing, I’m dropping it and I’m going to work him,” Morot tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview.
But when Morot first heard about “The Whale” early in the pandemic, he knew this time was going to be different. “It’s sort of like a career-breaker or it can be the end of the career if you don’t succeed with a project like that,” Morot says. “A sane person would have run in the other direction. But I was like, ‘Come on, bring it on. Let’s see what we’re gonna do with this.’”
Based on the play by Samuel D. Hunter (who wrote the film adaptation of his own stage work), “The Whale” focuses on the final days of a morbidly obese English professor named Charlie who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink) before his death. Brendan Fraser plays Charlie in the film and required hours of makeup and prosthetic work to believably embody a man who weighs north of 600 pounds.
“Charlie is the main character in the movie, he’s there in basically every scene, and he’s surrounded by a cast of people who are not wearing any kind of prosthetics,” Morot says of the challenge of creating Charlie’s suit. “So therefore, if it just comes off as a rubber head, you’re going to lose your audience immediately. It needs to be to a level of perfection never been achieved before – it can’t be distracting, it needs to be [realistic]. And in the research I was doing, I was realizing that every time that kind of character has been portrayed in movies, with the help of makeup, it’s always been done where the character is the butt of the joke – sort of like a crude comedy – or it’s a sci-fi movie where it’s like ‘The Blob’ or something like that. So it’s never been portrayed in very flattering terms. And this movie is completely the opposite.”
Morot adds, “We had a chance to do something that’s never been done in terms of portraying obesity with like under a more flattering light or a more accurate light and respectful than what’s been done before.”
Morot spent the early days of the production creating the prosthetics with 3D printers – a technique that hadn’t been done on this scale prior to “The Whale” – but says it wasn’t really until the first day on set that he knew the hard work would pay off.
“I took a few pictures with my iPhone just to check out the lighting on set as the lighting in the makeup room was quite different. So it was just to check out how it looked under the camera lens. I remember zooming in and looking at the photo. I was like if you didn’t know what what you’re looking at, you wouldn’t think twice that this is a real guy. That’s kind of exciting,” he says.
Morot, a previous Oscar nominee for “Barney’s Version” worked closely with Fraser throughout the production to create Charlie, often spending hours with the actor in the makeup trailer before the day’s scenes were shot. He calls the collaboration a “once-in-a-lifetime event” and says Fraser used the heavy suit – which itself weighed 200 pounds – to help inform his acclaimed performance.
“The first time that we tried the body for aesthetics on Brendan, although it looks right, it definitely looks heavy,” Morot says, noting that Fraser’s initial makeup test looked like an actor wearing prosthetics. But as time went on, Fraser – an Oscar nominee for Best Actor who just won that award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday – learned to move within the suit. “He created a character with it,” Morot says. “Not everybody that could have pulled that off.”
Morot recalls how for scenes where Charlie was seated and under clothing, the team initially made a lightweight suit for Fraser to wear. But when the actor had the choice between the two prosthetics, he chose the heavier frame. “He was like, ‘You know, that’s not Charlie,’” Morot remembers Fraser saying. “It was super rewarding because although it was ridiculously heavy and nobody else would have worn it, he actually used that as a tool to create a character. And that’s where I’m there as a tool for both the director and the actor. When that happens, I couldn’t ask for more.”