The actor stars as a recluse gay instructor named Charlie affected by obesity in the drama directed by Darren Aronofsky. For the film, Fraser donned prosthetics to portray Charlie at 600 pounds, which has been met with a mixture of pushback over not hiring an obese actor and praise for Fraser's performance. At the film's New York premiere on Monday night, Fraser explained to PEOPLE the decision to use prosthetics, and said he would be open to transforming again for another role. "I think it's one of the more exacting ways you can create a character and body," he said of the transformation process.
"And in this case," Fraser said "the mandate that Charlie's 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, and in a costume that's just unfair. 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."
A24 Brendan Fraser as Charlie in 'The Whale'
Aronofsky previously called the task of finding actors to take on the role a "crazy chase," sharing concerns over whether a 600-pperson with Charlie's health issues could perform under such circumstances. "From a health perspective, it's prohibitive," he told Variety last month. "It's an impossible role to fill with a real person dealing with those issues." Writer Samuel D. Hunter has also defended the casting in the adaptation of his play.
"I understand why people have some of those reactions because, look, the history of portraying people suffering with obesity in cinema is not good," he recently told EW. "They are fundamentally objects of derision or jokes, or they're completely one-dimensional. I understand when presented with this at face value, a lot of people have a reaction." The film, Hunter said, is "an invitation" for viewers "to walk in this door and be with this guy" as an exercise in empathy and compassion.
"If you meet that invitation with a furrowed brow, then we're kind of at an impasse," he said. "But, if you do take that invitation and go inside, I think you'll find that this is the diametric opposite of the way obesity has traditionally been portrayed and dealt with in cinema."
Fraser previously told EW at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival (above) that the role "gave me an appreciation for the incredible courage" that people with larger body types "have to possess themself with for their very survival, and it takes an incredibly strong-willed and physically strong person to live inside a body that is, in Charlie's case, hundreds and hundreds of pounds."
"It's important to have respect for those who do have that corporal being," he added. "I learned almost in a way, poetically, that you need to have incredibly strong will of spirit and body to inhabit a body the size of Charlie's, and that's an appreciation that I grew to respect more and more each day."
The Whale arrives in theaters on Dec. 9.
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