If Sunday night’s world premiere of “The Whale” at the Venice Film Festival is any indication, Brendan Fraser’s return to Hollywood will be greeted with much cheer — and even more tears. When the credits rolled on the Darren Aronofsky drama, in which Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man who sits in a wheelchair, the actor was overcome with emotion.
Fraser sobbed during the six-minute standing ovation, which will likely put him at the forefront of this year’s Oscars race for best actor.
Among those spotted at the Sala Grande Theater were Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Nick Kroll and Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, who sat a few rows behind Fraser and shed as many tears as he did. Many others in the theater also broke up a handkerchief during the film’s heartbreaking final scenes.
In “The Whale,” Fraser plays a severely obese man who struggles to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter, played by Sadie Sink, from the “Stranger Things” outbreak. The supporting cast also includes Hong Chau, Samantha Morton and Ty Simpkins. The film is based on the play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted the stage script from Aronofsky’s feature film.
To play the lead character in the film, Fraser wore a prosthetic costume that contributed anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds, given the scene. The actor spent a whopping six hours each day in the makeup chair to completely transform into the character. In an interview prior to the film’s Venice premiere, Fraser said his prosthetic suit was “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable,” adding: “The torso piece was almost like a straitjacket with sleeves that went on, airbrushed by hand, to look identical just like human skin, down to the hand-beaten hair.”
“I developed muscles I didn’t know I had,” Fraser told reporters at the Venice press conference about wearing the prosthetic suit. “I even felt dizzy at the end of the day when all the devices were removed; it was like stepping off the jetty onto a boat in Venice. That [sense of] wavy. It gave me appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. You have to be an incredibly strong person, both mentally and physically, to dwell in that physical being.”
In his review of “The Whale” from Venice, Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman called Fraser “smarter, more subtle, more terrifying than he’s ever been,” adding that he delivers an “intensely lived and moving performance.”
“The Whale” marks another vibrant premiere in Venice for Aronofsky, who has a rich history with the prestigious festival. Stumbling upon his first Venice with the premiere of “The Fountain,” he bounced back in 2008 when “The Wrestler” won the Golden Lion. “Black Swan” was one of the big hits of the Venice Film Festival in 2010 (and won Mila Kunis an emerging actor award), while “mother!” was all anyone could talk about at the 2017 fest.
Fraser became a major action star in the 1997 film “George of the Jungle” and the box office franchise “The Mummy”, but he relinquished his starring status in the 2010s when he took on minor roles (including a role on TV’s “The Affair”). Although Fraser had a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move” last year, “The Whale” marks a huge comeback for the actor in his first starring role in a movie since the 2013 direct-to-DVD action movie “Breakout.” In Fraser’s upcoming role is Martin Scorsese’s Apple western ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. His turn as Garfield Lynns/Firefly in the DC tent pole “Batgirl” will not be seen as Warner Bros. the film’s release has been cancelled.
A24 will release “The Whale” in theaters on December 9.