During the Sunday (September 4) night world premiere of A24’s The Whale at the Venice Film Festival, Brendan Fraser’s return to Hollywood was met with a cheering crowd — a moment that overwhelmed the actor to the point of tears. Fraser, who plays a 600-pound gay man confined to a wheelchair in the film, sobbed throughout the six-minute standing ovation.
Per Variety, among those spotted in the crowd were 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. Many others inside the theater also cried during the film’s heartbreaking scenes. Fraser hugged director Darren Aronofsky several times during the ovation. The actor tried to leave the theater at one point, the outpouring applause kept him longer and took a bow.
The Whale is a psychological drama based on Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 play of the same name. Fraser stars as Charlie, and his 17-year-old daughter Ellie, played by Stranger Things breakout Sadie Sink. Hong Chau, Samantha Morton and Ty Simpkins round out the rest of the supporting cast. Fraser wore a prosthetic suit that added 50 to 300 pounds given the scene, spending as much as six hours in the makeup chair each day to fully transform into the character. In an interview ahead of the film’s Venice premiere, Fraser shared that his prosthetic suit was “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable,” 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 did not know I had,” Fraser said during the Venice press conference about wearing the prosthetic suit. “I even felt a sense of vertigo at the end of the day when all the appliances were removed; it was like stepping off the dock onto a boat in Venice. That [sense of] undulating. It gave me appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. You need to be an incredibly strong person, mentally and physically, to inhabit that physical being.”
Aronofsky directed 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan and 2017’s mother! Fraser rose as an action star in the late ’90s with 1997’s George of the Jungle and The Mummy franchise. However, Fraser stopped getting leading roles and took on smaller ones. Though Fraser had a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move last year, Aronofsky’s The Whale marks a huge comeback for the actor in his first starring role in a film since 2013’s straight-to-DVD movie Breakout.
Fraser will also be starring in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Jesse Plemons, out next year.
The Whale is set to release in theaters on December 9.