If the world premiere of “The Whale” at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday night is any indication, Brendan Fraser’s return to Hollywood will be met with applause — and even more tears.
The actor was overcome with emotion as the credits rolled on Darren Aronofsky’s drama, in which Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man confined to a wheelchair.
Fraser sobbed throughout the six-minute standing ovation, which will likely propel him to the top of this year’s Oscar race for best actor.
Inside the Sala Grande Theatre, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Nick Kroll, and Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, who was seated a few rows behind Fraser and shed as many tears as he did, were among those spotted. During the film’s heartbreaking final scenes, many others in the theater also pulled out a handkerchief.
Several times during the ovation, Fraser hugged Aronofsky. He tried to leave the theater at one point, but the applause was so loud that he stayed and took a bow.
“The Whale” stars Fraser as a man struggling to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter, played by “Stranger Things” breakout Sadie Sink. Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins round out the supporting cast. The film is based on Samuel D. Hunter’s play of the same name, which he adapted into Aronofsky’s feature.
Fraser wore a prosthetic suit to play the lead character in the film, which added anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds depending on the scene. Each day, the actor spent up to six hours in the makeup chair to fully transform into the character.
Fraser described his prosthetic suit as “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable” in an interview ahead of the film’s Venice premiere, adding, “The torso piece was almost like a strait jacket with sleeves that went on, airbrushed by hand, to look identical as would human skin, right down to the hand-punched hair.”
“I developed muscles I didn’t know I had,” Fraser said of wearing the prosthetic suit at a press conference in Venice.
“At the end of the day, when all the appliances were removed, I felt dizzy; it was like stepping off the dock onto a boat in Venice.” That [impression of] undulating. It made me appreciate those with similar bodies. To inhabit that physical being, you must be an extremely strong person, both mentally and physically.”
Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman called Fraser’s performance in “The Whale” out of Venice “slyer, subtler, more haunting than he has ever been,” adding that he gives a “intensely lived-in and touching performance.”
Aronofsky’s “The Whale” is yet another buzzy Venice premiere for the director, who has a long history with the prestigious festival. While he stumbled at his first Venice Film Festival with the premiere of “The Fountain,” he rebounded in 2008 with the Golden Lion for “The Wrestler.” “Black Swan” was a big hit at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, earning Mila Kunis an emerging actor award, while “mother!” was all anyone could talk about at the 2017 fest.
With 1997’s “George of the Jungle” and the box office franchise “The Mummy,” Fraser established himself as a marquee action star, but he relinquished his leading man status in the 2010s, taking smaller roles, including a role on TV’s “The Affair.”
Although Fraser had a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move” last year, “The Whale” marks Fraser’s first starring role since 2013’s direct-to-DVD action film “Breakout.” Martin Scorsese’s Apple western “Killers of the Flower Moon” is on Fraser’s upcoming schedule. His performance as Garfield Lynns/Firefly in the DC tentpole “Batgirl” will not be seen because the film’s release has been canceled by Warner Bros.
“The Whale” will be released in theaters on December 9th by A24.