A24’s ‘The Whale’ follows the story of Charlie, a 600-pound man who is trying to reconnect with his daughter whom he hasn’t seen in eight years. The film also focuses on Charlie’s mental struggle, bringing his grief and loss to the fore. One of the most striking things, however, is his physicality. He towers over other people, owing both to his height and weight and things are so difficult for him that he cannot walk on his own. While bringing his complex emotions to the fore was a challenge for the actor, the simple act of transforming him for the screen was a challenge in itself. It makes one wonder how much transformation Brendan Fraser had to have to portray this role and how much of it was prosthetics. Let’s find out.
Did Brendan Fraser Wear a Fat Suit?
When initially casting the role of Charlie, the filmmakers looked for an actor that could not only fit the physical but also the emotional requirements to play that role. “There was a chapter in the making of this film where we tried to research actors with obesity. Outside of not being able to find an actor who could pull off the emotions of the role, it just becomes a crazy chase. From a health perspective, it’s prohibitive. It’s an impossible role to fill with a real person dealing with those issues,” Aronofsky said.
Once Fraser was cast, Aronofsky approached Adrien Morot, with whom he had collaborated on several of his projects before. They wanted to show Charlie in an empathetic and realistic light. Morot ended up using digital makeup effects, but the final product had very little CGI. He dived into research to create a model for the suit created for Fraser. He used the actor’s body scan to create a 3D sculpture. Parts of it were printed in resin cured with ultraviolet light and then injected with silicone, to give it the impression of human flesh. However, it turned out to be heavier than it looked. So, the torso of the body had to be made out of foam latex to make it lighter.
The entire suit ended up being 200 pounds. “In some places, the body was 2 ½ feet deep, so we needed to have a skin that was about a quarter of an inch thin and rest over a structure that needed to move like a real body,” Morot said. Fraser wore the suit with a parachute-type harness, and it ended up being a “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable” experience for the actor. Calling it “beautiful and arresting” the first time he saw it, Fraser recalled the torso piece being almost like a straight jacket. He needed the assistance of at least five people to wear it, and several were always around to help him move around the set.
Fraser ended up carrying about 50 to 300 pounds depending on the requirement of the scene. He would spend five to six hours getting his makeup done for the filming. The actor trained with a dance instructor for months before he donned the suit, in order to get a sense of the motion and the movement that the weight required. “I needed to learn to absolutely move in a new way. I developed muscles I did not know that I had. I even felt a sense of vertigo, when at the end of the day all the appliances were removed, just as you would feel stepping off the boat onto the dock here in Venice — that undulating feeling,” the Academy Award-nominated actor said.
Wearing the suit was physically taxing not just because of its weight, but also because it was very hot inside it. Fraser said that all of it gave him “an appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. I learned that you need to be an incredibly strong person physically and mentally to inhabit that physical being. And I think that is Charlie, also.”
Read More: Is The Whale Based on a True Story?