‘The Whale’ star Brendan Fraser hopes to be the voice of the voiceless in new film about obesity

Brendan Fraser as Charlie in 'The Whale' film.

‘The Whale’  tells the story of a morbidly obese reclusive teacher who is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter whom he abandoned years prior, before it’s too late.

The film directed by Darren Aronofsky, and written by Samuel D. Hunter, is based on a 2012 play of the same name.

It stars Brendan Fraser, best known for his portrayal of Rick O’Connell in The Mummy as Charlie, in his first leading role in 10 years, alongside Sadie sink (Stranger Things) who plays his daughter, Ellie.

Charlie, grieving from the passing of his lover, begins to ‘self-medicate’ with food, and becomes trapped in his own home, and body, due to his obesity which eventually becomes life-threatening.

In support of the millions of Americans dealing with obesity, Fraser has spoken publicly about the stigma, discrimination, and injustice surrounding the disease and has advocated for better access to obesity care.

Obesity-related conditions including heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death in the US and people who live with obesity often find that to qualify for lifesaving weight loss surgery they must first lose weight to gain insurance approval which can be prohibitive.

Speaking about society’s treatment of people with the disease, he has also encouraged empathy and compassion for those suffering with the disease which currently affects a staggering 42% of American people.

He said: “We can often lose sight that those are human beings with thoughts and feelings and hearts and families and everything. And it’s a story that’s being played out behind closed doors…. Fundamentally, being hurtful towards one another with what we say can have real life health concerns. And it seems like a simple enough thing we can do better to change that.’

In developing the Charlie’s character in ‘The Whale’, Fraser researched the part thoroughly, interviewing patients who currently live with obesity, those who have successfully overcome the condition and psychologists who treat the patients.

He said: “I met with people who live with eating disorders. They were open-hearted in telling me how they came to the point in their lives where they were so heavy, they were bedridden. The common denominator was that someone spoke cruelly to them when they were very young. Years ago, I was in Bangkok visiting a temple, and there was a small sign that said, “Painful Indeed Is Vindictive Speech.” I thought of that often. Because there are serious ramifications when our confidence gets challenged by others who speak in a recriminating way. It can reinforce habits that could lead to real consequences. But it gave me a sense of purpose to be the voice for those we so often disregard in our society”.

While Fraser’s raw and moving portrayal of obesity has earned the ‘The Whale’ critical acclaim, it has also attracted some criticism, with controversy around the use of prosthetics and claims that it is ‘fatphobic’ and feeds into negative stereotypes.

For the role of housebound Charlie, as well as gaining a huge amount of weight, Fraser wore a 300lb fat suit, which he says gave him an appreciation for the strength of those who live with obesity.

He said: “It was appropriately heavy and that really made the experience of playing the part, I think, a lot closer to what it would be like to live in a body of a man that size, for me personally…It also let me know that to be a person that size, you really have to be very strong, physically and emotionally. And I grew to appreciate that by having played this part.”

Fraser hopes that ‘The Whale’ will challenge viewers pre-conceived notions and opinions about those who live with obesity.

He said: “He’s a human, a person, he’s not how he merely presents. We are so quick to be cynical and dismiss people who live with obesity, and we can do better…I hope we can change some hearts and minds. I know it’s just a movie, but it’s a powerful medium, that changes the conversation and shapes the culture we live in.

‘The Whale’ is released in UK cinemas on 3 February. Watch the trailer here:

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