Though Brendan Fraser is earning Oscar buzz for his portrayal of a 600-pound man named Charlie in The Whale, one of the major criticisms of the Darren Aronofsky film is that the actor had to wear a fat suit to portray his character. In an interview with Variety, the director defended his casting of Fraser instead of an obese actor, saying it was difficult to find someone who could pull off the role from an emotional perspective. Aronofsky also said it became “a crazy chase” to find an actor heavy enough for the role.
“There was a chapter in the making of this film where we tried to research obese actors,” Aronofsky told Variety. “Outside of not being able to find an actor who could pull off the emotions of the role, it just becomes a crazy chase. Like, if you can’t find a 600-pound actor, is a 300-pound actor or 400-pound actor enough?”
The director added that he thought an obese actor would struggle to keep up with the production schedule of The Whale. “From a health perspective, it’s prohibitive,” he said. “It’s an impossible role to fill with a real person dealing with those issues.”
Our review of The Whale breaks down how putting Fraser in a fat suit and Aronofsky’s directing decisions negatively impacted the film. “Aronofsky is so enthralled with the grotesque potential of the body at the heart of his film that he’s often unable to focus on anything else,” writes Sarah Kurchak. “Even Fraser’s excellent performance is diminished by the fat suit. Not because it limits his movement and expression, but because the fat suit and the way Charlie’s fatness is treated by the whole film undercuts every genuine moment he brings to the screen.”
Kurchak continues, “For every scene where his eyes seem to contain the entirety of human suffering or his wavering voice belies a broken hope, there’s a wolfing down of a bucket of chicken or a groaning and wheezing attempt to stand up that veers dangerously close to caricature.”
Elsewhere in the interview, The Whale playwright Samuel D. Hunter — who also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation — said the title “pokes at some people’s prejudices” but still admitted the story was not about “everybody who grapples with obesity.” In the past, Hunter has explained that he decided to make Charlie obese because a large portion of the audience has been “culturally trained” to put fat people at a distance and he wanted to create empathy that would erase that distance over the course of the play.
Neither Aronofsky nor Hunter truly answered the criticism levied at the film, but Fraser’s career renaissance is set to continue with a starring role in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon. Unfortunately, his turn as the villain Firefly in Batgirl won’t be part of his comeback after Warner Bros. Discovery canceled the project for tax write-down purposes.