Brendan Fraser receives 6-minute standing ovation for ‘The Whale’

American actor Brendan Fraser, returning to the big screen as a leading man after a nine-year absence, noted on Sunday that playing the obese hero of The Whale was the biggest challenge of his career.

The movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is receiving its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, with Fraser already being touted as an Oscar contender for his portrayal of Charlie, a gay, 600-pound man, desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

The role required Fraser to don prosthetics and makeup that could take up to six hours to apply, leaving him barely able to walk in the cramped confines of Charlie’s dilapidated home. “I needed to learn to absolutely move in a new way. I developed muscles I didn’t know I had,” Fraser told reporters ahead of the red-carpet opening.

“It gave me an appreciation for those whose bodies are similar, because I learnt that you need to be an incredibly strong person physically and mentally to inhabit that physical being,” he said.

The Whale is an adaption of Samuel D Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name, chronicling the rapid decline of Charlie, a gentle soul struggling to come to terms with the death of his partner and eating himself to death in his distress.

Despite the pain and anguish, Charlie’s compassionate heart, trapped beneath a wheezing mountain of skin, shines out as he looks to rekindle his relationship with his daughter, a deeply troubled teenager, played by Stranger Things star Sadie Sink.

“By far and away I think Charlie is the most heroic man I have ever played because his superpower is to see the good in others and bring that out,” said Fraser.

He added that he had put his all into the part, “My journey to where I am now has been to explore as many characters as I can. This [role] presented the biggest challenge to me.” However, Fraser’s dedication to the role paid off as he received a six-minute standing ovation for his performance in the psychological drama film.

Aronofsky, whose movie The Wrestler won Venice’s main Golden Lion award in 2008, said a line in the script, “People are incapable of not caring”, inspired him to make the film. “[It] is the most important message to put out in the world right now. Everyone is leaning into cynicism and darkness and giving up hope. That is exactly what we don’t need right now,” Aronofsky explained.

Aronofsky, who spent a decade searching for the right lead actor, cast Fraser after spotting him in a trailer for a low-budget Brazilian film. Fraser has suffered his share of darkness over the past decade, with his glory days starring in films such as The Mummy and George of the Jungle appearing to be well behind him. “I looked different in those days,” he said on Sunday.

Fraser’s comeback role is all the more meaningful after the career setbacks the actor began to face, which escalated in 2018 after he alleged he was sexually assaulted by Philip Berk, former Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) president, at a luncheon in the summer of 2003.

Speaking to GQ magazine, the actor claimed that Berk groped him at the luncheon in the Beverly Hills Hotel, and although he was able to remove Berk’s hand from his backside, the incident left him terrified.

“I felt ill. I felt like a little kid. I felt like there was a ball in my throat. I thought I was going to cry,” he said, adding that he could not bring himself to confess to a police officer standing outside the venue. As he rushed home and told his then-wife, former actor Afton Smith, he “felt like someone had thrown invisible paint on me.”

Fraser revealed how he considered going public with his story shortly after it happened, but ultimately decided not to. “I didn’t want to contend with how that made me feel or it became part of my narrative,” he said. However, at the time his representatives asked the HFPA for a written apology, which Berk told GQ that he wrote.

Berk also told GQ that Fraser’s allegation is “a total fabrication,” resulting in irreversible damage to Fraser’s career that he has only now begun to overcome. “Am I still frightened? Absolutely. Do I feel like I need to say something? Absolutely. Have I wanted to many, many times? Absolutely. Have I stopped myself? Absolutely. And maybe I am overreacting in terms of what the instance was. I just know what my truth is. And it’s what I just spoke to you,” the Breakout actor concluded.

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