Brendan Fraser interview: ‘The Whale’
Brendan Fraser, whose performance in “The Whale” has left audiences around the world in tears so far this year, has said that being cast in the drama by Darren Aronofsky was maybe a matter of perfect timing. “[Darren] said he wanted an actor to reintroduce,” Fraser said in an interview over the summer. “And I wanted to be reintroduced.”
Speaking now, however, with “The Whale” on the doorstep of its release, Fraser tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview that his interest in the role was about so much more than just a comeback story.
“It moved me deeply,” Fraser says of the film, which finds the beloved actor playing Charlie, a morbidly obese man in the final days of his life as he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink). “What it stood for is what really got my engine going and gave me a sense of purpose, and I’ll just say: it gave me a sense of moral obligation. I wanted to play Charlie with the dignity that he deserves. He is not the physical manifestation of how he presents in his corporeal being. He is a human with his conflict, his darker shades, his mistakes, his hopes, his desires, all of that’s there.”
Fraser adds that his return to the big screen in a major fashion for the first time in more than a decade, “wasn’t a reintroduction” at all – especially since he never stopped working, appearing as a main cast member on “Doom Patrol” and the limited series “Trust” and in a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move.”
“For plenty of reasons, I needed to take some personal time in my career and in life,” he says of his pause in taking leading roles in films. “But memories are very short in this supersaturated world of personalities that we live in right now. So it was just practically, I think, a good choice to step into a role that would play counterpoint to whatever the expectations would have been for what people believed me to be capable of. I’ve always felt earlier in my career that diversity was key. And so I’d always try to make something wildly different. In this case, yeah, I didn’t want to take the obvious choice.”
Based on the acclaimed play by Samuel D. Hunter (who adapted his stage work for the screen) and directed by Aronofsky, “The Whale” is a family drama and character study that’s ultimately about forgiveness and understanding. To play Charlie, a 600-pound man who never leaves his apartment, Fraser underwent hours of prosthetic work and discussed the character’s condition with the Obesity Action Coalition.
“So many weight-gain costumes we’ve seen in films in previous years – which are normally in service of a one-note, mean joke – they just aren’t authentic,” Fraser says of undergoing the transformation, which was achieved with practical effects. “This is not that. … It was a process that took hours and hours to get into, but it was worth it. The sense of authenticity that you see when watching Charlie is eye-opening.”
Since “The Whale” debuted at the Venice Film Festival to a standing ovation for Fraser, the actor has been generous with praise for his costars: Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton and Ty Simpkins.
“We found it together,” Fraser says of how the cast gelled together.
Thanks to A24 and Aronofsky, the group had three weeks to rehearse the entire film before filming began. “I’m 53 years old. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still don’t know the components of the voodoo alchemy that goes into giving an actor’s performance and what makes it so-called ‘work’ or ‘not work,’” he says of his costars. “What I do know is this: The relationships that you build with the people that you’re working with, and the trust that you put in one another. In this case, I needed only to look into Hong’s eyes and just try and reflect the authenticity she has on board to work.”
Of Sink, he adds, “I got lost in those emerald green eyes of hers. Every day I would go up on my lines because I would become mesmerized just looking at her. She’s a jewel – you can look at his finely cut jewel and then turn it that way and you see another facet, again, again, and again. Sadie’s like that. And it’s thrilling to behold.”
But Fraser’s admiration doesn’t stop there. “Ty Simpkins earned his stripes in this movie. He really did. I saw him grow up on it,” he says. “Sam Morton, she was there for two days. For the time that we had her on set, she came in and had a 30-year relationship already in place to play Charlie’s ex-wife who he hasn’t seen for a long, long time on top of her just basically being brilliant. So we were very fortunate and you to have everyone together at the same place at the same time to shoot this intimate play about five characters on a quest to search for salvation.”
That kind of humility is what has audiences embracing Fraser this awards season. Not that anyone should be surprised by the support he’s earned thus far. As a leading man in the 1990s and 2000s, Fraser appeared in a number of major releases like “The Mummy,” “Bedazzled,” and “Blast From the Past” – films that his fans watched over and over again. But while “The Whale” is perhaps the most serious performance of his career thus far, it’s not that far removed from his breakout roles in “School Ties” and “Encino Man,” both of which turned 30 years old this year. In those films, like Charlie in “The Whale,” Fraser was cast as an outsider trying to find his place in the world.
“Those characters are essentially… they’re us,” he says of his past work. “They’re the people who have felt like they want to belong, they want to fit in. Charlie wants to be accepted by his daughter. And he doesn’t know if he can be – but for those watching, who want to see the film, answer that question. I think we did it.”
“The Whale” is out in theaters on December 9.