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Brendan Fraser on 'heartbreaking' role in The Whale: 'Could save lives'

The actor spoke with Yahoo Lifestyle about his Oscar-nominated performance and his Hollywood comeback.

Brendan Fraser was one of the most famous faces in Hollywood in the 90s and early 00s. However, the star, now 54, decided to step back from Hollywood in the mid-2000s for a number of reasons.

The Mummy star revealed in a 2018 interview with GQ that one of the reasons he stepped out of the limelight was for health reasons - after years of stuntwork, his body wasn't quite the same, and he was forced to undergo numerous operations to repair the damage – but there was one other major reason.

Brendan alleged during the interview that he had been groped and assaulted by Philip Berk, a former president and member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organisation behind the Golden Globes, in 2003, with the star saying he was overcome by fear over the encounter. This experience, Brendan believes, led to him getting fewer roles and left him retreating from the spotlight.

Brendan Fraser is firmly back in the spotlight after giving the performance of a lifetime in The Whale. Photo: Getty
Brendan Fraser is firmly back in the spotlight after giving the performance of a lifetime in The Whale. Photo: Getty

Now, Hollywood is experiencing what fans are calling a 'Brenaissance', with Brendan firmly back in the spotlight following the release of his film The Whale, for which the actor is nominated for an Oscar.

In The Whale, Brendan stars as a 270kg man named Charlie, who is desperate to reconnect with his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) before his impending death. The actor gives the performance of a lifetime, undergoing a dramatic transformation for the role, wearing 135kg worth of prosthetics and padding to get the look just right.

Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle, Brendan shared that he was "floored" when he found out director Darren Aronofsky was interested in working with him on the film.

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"I'm just happy to have a job, to tell you the truth," he said self-deprecatingly. "It's a really good script, and I really wanted to work with Darren – everyone talented wants to work with Darren Aronofsky. He's a world-class filmmaker.

"When I heard that he was interested in meeting me, I was floored! I didn't know much about this project, apart from it was about a man who had been living alone. He had been harming himself by overeating, overconsumption and that he had a daughter who he was estranged from, and he very much needed to reconnect with her. And that he had only days left, really. I mean, that's the substance of a really good movie and it takes place in one location."

Fans will remember Brendan from George of the Jungle and The Mummy. Photo: Disney/Universal Pictures
Fans will remember Brendan from George of the Jungle and The Mummy. Photo: Disney/Universal Pictures
Brendan undergoes a dramatic transformation for the role, wearing 135kg worth of prosthetics and padding. Photo: A24
Brendan undergoes a dramatic transformation for the role, wearing 135kg worth of prosthetics and padding. Photo: A24

Speaking of his transformation for the film, which is based on a play of the same name, Brendan shared that prosthetic moulds were designed virtually and printed using 3D technology, with the process of putting on the prosthetics taking many hours every day.

"It took hours and hours, like the first test was six hours to get into, we got it down to four... and it took about an hour to get out of it," he explained before jokingly adding, "I might not be smart, but I'm strong, I love making movies and I love the process and all the crafting that goes into it."

When asked about the first time he saw himself as Charlie, Brendan said he was "very pleased" to know they got the character right.

"The first time I saw myself as Charlie would have been the test. I remember Darren looking over my shoulder in the mirror and he went, 'Take a good look, because it's for the rest of your life'," the actor said with a laugh. "I was very, very pleased that we got it right. You know, it didn't look like makeup. It didn't. You never see the seams, you never see the construction lines, it's not a digital creation, as has been falsely reported in the media, it's all an actor in makeup and costume."

Samuel D. Hunter, Sadie Sink, Darren Aronofsky, Hong Chau and Brendan Fraser
Brendan at the Venice International Film Festival last September with playwright Samuel D. Hunter, co-star Sadie Sink, director Darren Aronofsky and co-star Hong Chau. Photo: Getty

Brendan also shared that even when the makeup came off, he still felt like he was wearing it, explaining, "It was almost like a kind of vertigo. You ever get off a boat and step on a dock, and you still feel it? Something stayed with me, physically stayed with me. I was not expecting that."

He continued, "But what I took from that was that I can take it off, but there are those who cannot. And I learned quickly that you need to be incredibly physically strong to live in that body. And I certainly learned from an emotional standpoint that you need to be just as strong, if not more so given the circumstances that people who are living with obesity and those who are affected by it go through."

Speaking about what has surprised him the most about the worldwide fan reaction and his comeback to Hollywood, Brendan shared that he was surprised that he didn't need to make a movie with "a lot of decoration and bells and whistles" that one might expect you'd need to capture attention after taking a long break from the spotlight.

"I'm surprised that this little movie, with its five characters in search of salvation in a two bedroom apartment is having the overwhelming response that we're seeing from audiences all over the world," the actor said. "It's immensely rewarding. And it's not an easy watch, but I think it's an important piece of cinema, and I'm not just saying that because I'm in it, or anything like that, but seriously, I think it's a movie that can do a lot of good."

The Whale starring Brendan Fraser
Brendan shared that he was told The Whale could 'save lives'. Photo: A24

Brendan continued, sharing that before he began work on the film, he consulted with an advocacy group called the Obesity Action Coalition and spoke with members to ensure he was doing right by his character.

"They gave me their whole life stories, and it was heartbreaking," he shared. "And I learned from them that they need this movie to tell their story with dignity and with respect, in a way that we haven't seen this character portrayed ever on the big screen.

"And it's their strong opinion, and I was really touched by this, that they believe that this character could actually save lives. And it's not a public service message or anything like that you know... but it's everyone's story in some way, we all feel like we know this guy."

Surprisingly, Brendan told us he doesn't have his next gig lined up. However, he has been busy since The Whale finished shooting in early 2021 and its release in cinemas now, with the actor having worked on several films, including Martin Scorsese's upcoming crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon, in which he starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

Brendan Fraser at the Critics Choice Awards
Brendan tearfully accepted the Best Actor award at Critics Choice Awards earlier this month. Photo: Getty

"It seems like the way Hollywood works is no one takes off their Halloween costume until after New Year's, so not much gets really booked," he joked. "And then once everyone's back in January, until after the award season, that's when all the decisions get made. So right now, it's actually kind of seasonally quiet to tell you the truth, and that's normal. So I really have not seen that much work for that reason coming across my desk, but hey, I'm looking for a job, that's for sure!"

When we told him it gave him more time to practise his Oscars acceptance speech, he laughed and responded, "Let's just take it a step a time."

He added a thank you to the fans sharing their overwhelming support, saying with a smile, "I'm grateful, right back at you. I love you too."

The Whale is in cinemas from February 2.

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