When Brendan Fraser took on the role of Charlie, a father and English teacher living with obesity in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, he says he knew he had a lot of work to do.
An unflinching study of a man running out of time, The Whale – adapted by playwright Samuel D Hunter from his play of the same name – follows Charlie through five days in his life as he deals with his heart failed and he agreed with that. the fact that he does not have much time left to make peace with his life.
Candidate Oscar Fraser, 54, said he had to do extensive research to ensure that his portrayal of Charlie and his situation was not only accurate, but reasonable and honest.
“Everything I needed to know about Charlie is in Sam Hunter’s play and screenplay,” says the star. “I talked to the Obesity Action Coalition, which is an advocacy group for people living with obesity, and they helped me a lot in terms of being sympathetic to the player.
“They gave a great insight into the reality of make-up, and they made it clear to us how important it is to do that.”
Creating Charlie for the Whale required the use of many prosthetics, makeup and costumes, which Fraser had to learn to create and incorporate without detracting from the character.
“Charlie’s not a creature or an animal, he’s a man, and his body is north of 500 pounds, whatever, but he’s a big man … his walk will be influenced by that,” said Fraser, who spoke to people. living with obesity and eating disorders helps her understand Charlie.
But I think we were in good hands knowing that the make-up was done by Adrien Morot, who designed Charlie’s body almost, and from the materials that were 3D printed – ts It’s a great process that he’s leading – and from there, a mold can be made and then the materials from that can be placed on the face.”
This process is important, Fraser says, “because he had complete control over the size of the pores, the texture of the skin, the acne – everything , which gives Charlie realness on screen”.
“You’re asking the audience to suspend their disbelief in a way that works in a stage production, which it originally did, but on the big screen you have to meet Charlie as a person first,” he adds. And you can go on a journey with him after the first five minutes…
The whale is completely placed in Charlie’s small apartment, which gives the audience an idea of what life is like apart from the protagonist. “Charlie doesn’t travel a lot, so the storyline meant that we were going to be with Charlie and see what his life was like, and try to bring the audience to that kind of place, sticking,” says the director. Darren Aronofsky, 53 years old.
“And my challenge was to keep the audience interested, and to keep them excited to keep watching – but luckily, I had an amazing script for Sam and great actors. And I think to watch it, it takes you to another place, you get lost in the story.”
Fraser adds that she has been supported by mobility coach Beth Lewis to learn how to walk around the flat like Charlie does. “Something as seemingly simple as you and I getting out of bed is Herculean for Charlie to do, and also from a story point of view, it’s a big project,” says the actor. “The way you use his mobility, or lack thereof, is very important.”
Charlie teaches online English classes from his bed-like chair, always with the camera off, not wanting to reveal what he looks like to his students. His best friend Liz, played by The Menu’s Hong Chau, also acts as his nurse and carer, in a tough role that sees her scold and discipline him as he admits to a food addiction. and bring him fast food. .
Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink also stars as Charlie’s estranged daughter Ellie who, at 17, resents her father’s absence from her life since he left the family when as a child.
Samantha Morton also makes a brief but beautiful appearance as Ellie’s mother Mary, a former wife who is heartbroken by the protagonist but still feels sorry for him.
With The Whale, Aronofsky and Fraser both say they hope to foster understanding and compassion for people living with obesity — a reframing of beliefs and an end to prejudice.
Making the film a strong and complete character study was important to Aronofsky because, he says, “I just think any character that you don’t expect to connect with, and you connect with them , and they make you feel. in a deep way, it ultimately makes us more human”.
“I agree. Don’t judge a book by its cover,” Fraser adds. in this story. And I think that’s fine. I think we should be challenged in that way.
“Ending prejudice against those with Charlie’s body image is something we would do well to end.”
- The Whale is in cinemas from Friday 3 February