Brendan Fraser, the Hollywood protagonist who has largely disappeared from the big screen in recent years, landed at the Lido in Venice on Sunday to discuss what’s already being tipped as a potential career comeback project, Darren Aronofsky’s A24 film. The whale.
A lively parliamentary piece about a reclusive 600-pound man struggling to find redemption, the film received an enthusiastic response during its first press screenings in Venice this weekend.
During the press conference prior to the film’s world premiere Sunday night, Fraser was asked where The whale suits the different phases of his long career and the many characters he has inhabited over the years – starting with early physical comedic roles such as Encino Man (1992) and George of the Jungle (1997), extendable to the mummy franchise (1999-2008) and more dramatic turns in titles like Gods and monsters (1998) and The Silent American (2002).
“I looked different back then,” Fraser said. “My journey to where I am now has been to discover as many characters as possible. And this [film] was the biggest challenge for me, and that’s what I wanted. I think Charlie is by far the most heroic man I’ve ever played. Because his superpower is to see the good in others and bring it out in them. And in that process he is on his salvation journey.”
The whale is an adaptation of a play of the same title by Samuel D. Hunter. The film opens with Charlie, an online writing instructor who never turns on his webcam while teaching. He makes excuses and is so good-natured that no one seems to suspect anything, but the real reason for his invisibility is his appearance – he weighs over 600 pounds and can’t leave his house. His obesity begins to pose a serious threat to his health and his only friend, Liz (Hong Chau), a nurse, begs him to go to a hospital, but also recognizes that it may be more important to just offer support.
Charlie’s status quo is shattered by the return of his long-estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), whose sudden willingness to resume a relationship with him seems more motivated by his offer to pay her and ghost-write her school essays than the desire. to a fresh connection. Meanwhile, Charlie is visited by a door-to-door evangelist (Ty Simpkins) who draws him into a dialogue about redemption that, despite Charlie’s lack of religious inclination, proves surprisingly resonating. The film revolves around the question of hope – and whether a tender man who has lost everything can find a way to bring it back to the hurt and cynical people he cares about most.
When asked if his deeply empathetic performance as Charlie could mean some sort of comeback in his career, Fraser protested.
“I’m just trying to stay in the present,” he replied. “So I think everything I’m dealing with… [right now] is for the most part your good self. Thank you for the warm welcome. I look forward to seeing how this film will make a deep impression on everyone, as it does on me.”
Fraser said he sees his character as “a light in a closed dark space” – one that finds special resonance in our current international moment of turmoil and insidiousness.
“I find it poetic that the trauma he carries with him manifests in the physical weight of his body,” he explains. “I had to learn to move absolutely in a new way. I developed muscles I didn’t know I had. I even felt a sense of giddiness, as at the end of the day all the devices were removed, just like you would feel as if you were stepping off the boat onto the dock here in Venice – that undulating feeling. And I say this because he gave me appreciation for those whose bodies are similar, because I learned that you have to be an incredibly strong person physically and mentally to live in that physical being. And I think so is Charlie.”
Produced by A24, The whale next travels to the Toronto International Film Festival ahead of its North American release on December 9.