Brendan Fraser has officially solidified his Hollywood comeback as a newly minted Oscar winner.
The “Whale” star won Best Actor at the 2023 Academy Awards for his turn as a reclusive English professor grappling with his obesity and will to live. Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton also star in the Darren Aronofsky film. Samuel D. Hunter wrote the script based on his semi-autobiographical play of the same name.
Fraser beat out fellow nominees Colin Farrell, Austin Butler, Bill Nighy, and Paul Mescal to win the Best Actor Oscar.
“The Whale” debuted at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival and immediately was labeled as Fraser’s role of a lifetime. His performance received a six-minute standing ovation following the premiere.
“For Fraser, ‘The Whale’ is a confident leap forward into the movie-star status that he rightfully deserves,” wrote Leila Latif in her review for IndieWire, adding that Fraser’s emotional response to the film’s reception added to his endearing role. “For the normally more muted Venice audience who typically scramble for the exit the moment the film ends, just the sight of Fraser’s name at the end credits made the crowd turn back to the screen to cheer and applaud the actor’s triumphant return. If that rapturous applause carries on throughout awards season, that may prove the most wonderful and moving moment of this whale’s journey.”
Fraser went on to win the Critics Choice Award, Hollywood Critics Association Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.
Director Aronofsky revealed to IndieWire’s Eric Kohn that Fraser was destined to lead the film.
“There was really no actor that got me out of bed in the morning to make this film,” the “Mother!” helmer said. “He hadn’t been given many opportunities of late and he wanted to work. Emotionally, you have to do so much from joy to sadness to despair to selfishness without an ounce of cynicism. I knew I needed an actor who really wanted to get back to work.”
Fraser meanwhile told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson that he did not anticipate the indie film to “resonate with an international audience” and receive the global acclaim that it has.
“I allowed myself to acknowledge the little voice inside you that says, ‘You must do this,’” Fraser said. “This is the role that made my teeth sweat, that I knew I wanted. It would be the hardest, most challenging thing I ever have seen come near my radar.”
“The Whale” was met with criticisms in response to the depiction of obesity. Fraser, who transformed into a 600-pound man for the role by carrying between 50 and 300 extra pounds per scene, addressed the fatphobic backlash at the film’s New York City premiere.
“I think it’s one of the more exacting ways you can create a character and body, and in this case the mandate that the costume would respect the laws of gravity and physics as opposed to the many ways that we’ve seen that character depicted in films before as really a one-note joke,” Fraser told People, “and in a costume that’s just unfair.”
Fraser continued, “That’s a personal view, but we felt an obligation to ensure that it was cumbersome. It was accurate, that was what we strived for.”
Fraser worked with the Obesity Action Coalition to further understand the different body types, earlier calling his prosthetic suit “beautiful” and “arresting” enough for him to feel it belongs in London’s Tate Modern museum. The suit was crafted by Aronofsky’s frequent collaborator, Oscar-nominated digital makeup artist Adrien Morot. The film barely uses CGI and instead utilizes prosthetics modeled via digital sculpture and 3D printing.
Director Aronofsky also told Variety that it was “impossible” to cast an actor dealing with that level of mass in the role.
“It’s an impossible role to fill with a real person dealing with those issues,” the “Black Swan” filmmaker said. “From a health perspective, it’s prohibitive…There was a chapter in the making of this film where we tried to research actors with obesity. Outside of not being able to find an actor who could pull off the emotions of the role, it just becomes a crazy chase. Like, if you can’t find a 600-pound actor, is a 300-pound actor or 400-pound actor enough?”
Up next, Oscar winner Fraser is set to star in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Josh Brolin’s “Brothers,” and Dalibor Stach’s “Behind the Curtain of Night.” Fraser also led “Batgirl” prior to the film being indefinitely shelved by Warner Bros. Discovery in August 2022.