Hollywood stars slammed for 'dehumanising' transformations

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Brendan Fraser’s long-awaited return to Hollywood has been tainted by fan backlash after promotional photos from his upcoming film, The Whale, appear to show the actor wearing a fat suit.

Fraser is playing a middle aged man who weighs 270kg and is estranged from his teenage daughter in the Darren Aronofsky-directed movie which is based on a play by the same name.

Brendan Fraser wears a fat suit in The Whale
Brendan Fraser appears to be wearing a fat suit in photos from upcoming movie, The Whale. Photo: A24

While there’s a lot of excitement about Fraser’s career resurgence, many fans have taken issue with the use of a fat suit, questioning why directors are using prosthetics to change the bodies of slim actors rather than simply casting larger actors.

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“I love Brendan Fraser. I do not love this. It’s 2022, just hire a fat actor,” one person wrote on Twitter, while another said, “Constantly torn between ‘I’m so happy Brendan Fraser is making a comeback’ and ‘would it kill Hollywood to hire one (1) actually fat person to play a fat person?’.”

Brendan Fraser attends 'No Sudden Move' during 2021 Tribeca Festival at The Battery on June 18, 2021
The 53-year-old actor is making a comeback after years out of the spotlight. Photo: Getty

Fraser, who is heavier now than he was at the height of his career almost two decades ago, isn’t the only actor to draw controversy over the use of a fat suit in recent years.

In the late nineties and noughties, fat suits were worn in a number of comedies including by Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal, Ryan Reynolds in Just Friends, Eddie Murphy in Norbit and The Nutty Professor, and Courteney Cox as ‘Fat Monica’ in Friends, in a way that explicitly ridiculed and humiliated larger bodies.

These days, they’re mostly being used to make slimmer actors appear heavier when portraying real-life people in dramas based on true stories. However, those who call for the retirement of the fat suit say its use - and the way many actors speak about it - still contributes to fatphobia in society and the exclusion of larger actors from mainstream media.

two tweets about fat suits in brendan fraser movie
There’s been backlash against the use of a fat suit and the way the film’s story uses weight. Photo: TwitterThere’s been backlash against the use of a fat suit and the way the film’s story uses weight. Photo: Twitter

Seven times slim actors have worn fat suits in recent years

Emma Thompson, Matilda The Musical, 2022

Netflix’s upcoming reboot of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, has drawn heavy criticism after a trailer showing Emma Thompson wearing a fat suit as villain headmistress Miss Trunchbull, was released last month.

The decision to include a fat suit has been described as “dehumanising” and “degrading” on Twitter, with Sydney Morning Herald journalist Rebecca Shaw adding in an opinion piece, “Fat suits are never worn to praise or appreciate us, or portray us in kind and loving ways. We are clowns, we are comedy, we are gross and lazy and sad and unfulfilled.”

“It’s hard enough to live in this body without the added insult of thin people trying it on for a bit, usually to our detriment.”

​​Emma Thompson in Matilda The Musical left and on a red carpet right
​​Emma Thompson’s use of a fat suit in Matilda The Musical is angering many. Photo: Netflix and Getty

Renee Zellweger, The Thing About Pam, 2022

Renee Zellweger famously gained weight to star in 2001 cult favourite Bridget Jones’ Diary, but to play the role of convicted murderer Pam Hupp in the true crime mini-series The Thing About Pam, she used a fat suit.

Speaking about her decision to wear a body prosthetic, she told Entertainment Tonight, “The idea is to be accurate.”

"I think, especially in the case of telling this story, it was really important to as closely resemble Pam Hupp as we possibly could, because she seems so familiar, she seems like someone that we recognize, and we know."

Renee Zellweger in The Thing About Pam left and on a red carpet right
Renee Zellweger said she wore a fat suit for accuracy in The Thing About Pam. Photo: NBC and Getty

​​Sarah Paulson, Impeachment: American Crime Story, 2021

Sarah Paulson donned prosthetics to embody the role of American civil servant Linda Tripp, the whistleblower who exposed the affair between President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the late nineties, in season three of TV drama, American Crime Story.

The actress later said she regrets her decision to wear a fat suit and upon reflection, would not make the same choice again in future.

“There’s a lot of controversy around actors and fat suits, and I think that controversy is a legitimate one,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I think fatphobia is real. I think to pretend otherwise causes further harm.”

Sarah Paulson in Impeachment: American Crime Story left and on a red carpet right
Sarah Paulson regrets wearing a fat suit in Impeachment: American Crime Story. Photo: FX and Getty

Jared Leto, House of Gucci, 2021

To play the role of Paolo Gucci, the grandson of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci and a former vice-president of the fashion label, Jared Leto was transformed beyond recognition by the film’s hair, makeup and costume departments.

He wore a fat suit and facial prosthetics including a receding hairline that took six hours to complete before filming.

The Gucci family has criticised the way their relatives were portrayed in the film with Paolo’s daughter Patrizia describing Leto’s character’s hair and lilac suit as, “Horrible, horrible,” saying, “I still feel offended.”

Fashion designer Tom Ford also took issue with Leto’s portrayal and said, “Paolo, whom I met on several occasions, was indeed eccentric and did some wacky things, but his overall demeanour was certainly not like the crazed and seemingly mentally challenged character of Leto’s performance.”

Jared Leto in House of Gucci left and on a red carpet right
Jared Leto’s role in House of Gucci wasn’t received well. Photo: Universal Pictures and Getty

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, 2020

Viola Davis gained weight to play iconic 1920s Blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, in the 2020 film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, however she still wore a fat suit to complete the transformation.

“I tried to gain as much as I could but she was really big, close to 300 pounds [136kg]. I got close to 200 [90kg],” Davis told IndieWire.

The actress, who said, “I felt very sexy with that fat suit,” added that the character’s body was actually based off of Aretha Franklin’s measurements rather than Rainey’s.

“Ann Roth, the great costume designer, she said, ‘Viola, what body do you want to look like?’ And the body that I loved — once again I grew up with a lot of big woman that I thought were the most beautiful woman in the word. So for me it was Aretha Franklin. I wanted that body.”

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom left and on a red carpet right
Viola Davis asked for the fat suit she wore to be modelled off Aretha Franklin’s measurements. Photo: Netflix and Getty

John Lithgow, Bombshell, 2019

A six-piece fat suit that included jowls and a double chin was used to transform John Lithgow into Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who was accused of sexual harrasment by several female employees, for the 2019 film Bombshell.

The character’s weight was used to emphasise his grotesqueness with Lithgow saying, “We spent hours and hours getting that big fat body right.”

“If you look very closely, halfway through the shooting we decided that he really needed man boobs. We said, it depends on his mood, in some scenes he has man boobs and in some scenes he doesn’t.”

The actor also joked that he now uses the fat suit as pyjamas.

John Lithgow in Bombshell, left, and on a red carpet, right
John Lithgow kept the fat suit he wore for Bombshell. Photo: Lionsgate and Getty

Chris Hemsworth, Avengers: Endgame, 2019

A crucial part of Chris Hemsworth’s Avengers character Thor is his ripped body, so when the god of thunder gains weight in the 2019 movie Endgame, his larger body is used as comic relief.

Speaking of his transformation into “fat Thor”, the actor said, “The prosthetic suit, particularly for the shirt-off scene, that was a big silicone that weighed about 90 pounds [40kg]. It was certainly exhausting. I had weights on my hands and ankles just to have my arms and legs swing differently when I shuffled along through the set.”

Hemsworth added that he felt and was treated differently while wearing the suit, saying, “People just kept coming up and cuddling me like a big bear or rubbing my belly like I was pregnant. Or trying to sit on my lap like I was Santa Claus. You get a lot of affection. I felt like an old man, an old grandpa, with a bunch of kids around.”

Chris Hemsworth wearing a thor fat suit left, and on a red carpet, right
Chris Hemsworth said he was treated differently while wearing the fat suit. Photo: Marvel and Getty

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