If Matthew McConaughey had the McConaissance, then Brendan Fraser must be enjoying The Next Frase. The former George of the Jungle actor has emerged from Hollywood obscurity and exploded back into the limelight with a triumphant turn in Darren Aronofsky’s film The Whale. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, the upcoming epic was lauded for its bold and gripping take on the drama genre, however, it was Fraser’s performance as Charlie, a reclusive English teacher living with severe obesity, that captured the audience’s attention. For six uninterrupted minutes, the Sala Grande was filled with the sound of applause and admiration, a response that visibly moved the actor to tears.
For months, fans have been eagerly awaiting the premiere of the psychological drama, which promised to show Fraser as he’d never been seen before, but more importantly, put him back on the map. The former action/adventure star had a string of hits in the late ’90s and early ’00s with titles such as The Mummy, Airheads and Crash, however, a series of health issues forced the much-loved actor out of the public eye. In a 2018 interview with GQ, Fraser revealed that he’d been in and out of hospitals for seven years, undergoing multiple surgeries on his spine, a partial knee replacement, and treatment for injured vocal cords.
“I felt like the horse from Animal Farm, whose job it was to work and work and work,” said Fraser. “Orwell wrote a character who was, I think, the proletariat. He worked for the good of the whole, he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t make trouble until it killed him.”
A subdued return saw Fraser take roles in TV series and small film parts over the past few years, however, his casting in The Whale signalled a full-scale resurgence. With the first official premiere of the Aronofsky-led drama done and dusted, it suffices to say Fraser is back. The actor’s performance as a 600-pound man attempting to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption is garnering critical acclaim, with Deadline‘s Damon Wise noting that Fraser’s “all-in performance… makes adjectives such as ‘brave’ and ‘fearless’ seem almost meaningless”.
Fraser himself described the role of Charlie as “the biggest challenge” of his career, saying that the character “is the most heroic man I have ever played because his superpower is to seek the good in others and bring that out in them. In that process, he’s on his journey of salvation.”
“It gave me an appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. I learned that you need to be an incredibly strong person, physically, mentally, to inhabit that being,” he told critics at a press conference for the film. “Charlie’s physical mobility is limited to his home space, which is his couch. His story is told behind closed doors. He’s a light in a dark space. I think it’s poetic that the trauma he carries is manifest in the physical weight of his body. I needed to learn to absolutely move in a new way. I developed muscles I did not know I had. I even felt a sense of vertigo at the end of the day when all the appliances were removed, as you’d feel stepping off a boat onto the dock here in Venice.”
In a sense, Charlie’s path to redemption mirrors Fraser’s own voyage back to the limelight. Several health battles forced him to take a step back, becoming a reclusive figure on the Hollywood scene, but a dramatic and brilliant return could fuel a second coming, and he’s got an outstanding supporting cast on his side. The Whale is an adaptation of MacArthur-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter’s acclaimed 2012 play of the same name and is directed by fan favourite Darren Aronofsky. The filmmaker previously won the festival’s Golden Lion in 2008 for The Wrestler, which completed revitalised ’90s star Mickey Rourke’s career and catapulted him back into Academy Award contention.
Now, Aronofsky is delivering similar results for another former star. BBC film critic Nicholas Barber has already claimed that Fraser “richly deserves to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar”, noting that it is “hard to imagine anyone being as captivating in the role”. The Whale also stars Stranger Things Sadie Sink as Charlie’s estranged daughter, alongside Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins. The Whale is set to premiere in US theatres on December 9, however, no official release date has been named for Australia. The comeback trail is officially on, set Frasers to stun.