Darren Aronofsky interview: ‘The Whale’

When “The Whale” had its New York premiere in early December, it was nearly 10 years to the day that director Darren Aronofsky had first seen Samuel D. Hunter’s acclaimed stage play performed in the same city.

“It was very unexpected to feel so much,” Aronofsky says now in an exclusive video interview of his first experience seeing “The Whale.” “In two hours, I laughed, I cried. It made me think, it made me connect with people I never thought I could connect with. And it was something I had never seen before. It was a character I had never seen before. And being kind of let into his humanity was a great gift from Sam. And it felt like it’d be an incredible opportunity to help amplify that story for the cinematic universe.”

Adapted for the screen by Hunter and starring Brendan Fraser in an acclaimed turn that has awards pundits and observers predicting at least an Oscar nomination for Best Actor if not more, “The Whale” is about Charlie, a morbidly obese man in the final days of his life as he tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. Fraser leads the film’s cast as Charlie, with support from Sadie Sink as his onscreen daughter and Hong Chau as Charlie’s best friend.

Asked if he was trying to “reintroduce” an actor in the role of Charlie, something Fraser himself had said in an earlier interview, Aronofsky says that wasn’t true. “I was looking for the right actor at the right time in the right place,” Aronofsky says. During the 10-year development process, the filmmaker says he thought about “every actor that I could imagine” to play Charlie, “but none of them really sparked for me or got me excited to get out of bed and do it.”

It wasn’t until Aronfosky says he stumbled onto the trailer for 2006’s “Journey to the End of the Night,” a Brazillian film that featured Fraser in a supporting role, that he thought of the former ‘90s star.

“It was clear that he hadn’t been given an opportunity in a very long time and he had a lot to show and he wanted to share it,” Aronofsky says of Fraser. “For me, that’s the most exciting place to be as a director – to have an actor who just wants to work. And I knew that the part of Charlie was not just technically going to be very difficult because of all the makeup, but emotionally, it was going to be a huge challenge. And it just all lined up.”

Fraser is just the latest actor to find career-defining success with Aronfosky, who has directed Ellen Burstyn, Natalie Portman, Mickey Rourke, and Marisa Tomei to Oscar nominations in the past and himself was an Oscar nominee for Best Director for “Black Swan.” (Of that group, Portman won Best Actress for “Black Swan.”)

“I’m not like a father figure stuff in this, I just try to be the actor’s best friend – where they’re challenging me to do good work and I’m challenging them to do the best work they can. And so it just becomes like a jam session,” he says when the subject of his ability to draw out acclaimed performances is broached. “I was just thinking about this the other day. The time between action and cut – which is this incredible moment of time that is so exciting, because basically, the actors find this moment of honesty, and all these different crafts, and artists are coming together to create this one bead of truth. But if you actually look at the amount of time between action and cut, compare it to the amount of time it takes from the beginning of the idea to the delivery of the film, it’s the smallest amount of time. It’s like .05 percent of the time of making a film. But it’s why we all do it. It’s why actors do it, why I do it. And so I love doing another take, why not?”

“The Whale” is out in theaters on Friday in limited release.

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UPLOADED Dec 9, 2022 10:30 am