'The Whale' Director Darren Aronofsky Says Backlash to Brendan Fraser's Casting 'Makes No Sense to Me'

"Brendan Fraser is the right actor to play this role, and the film is an exercise in empathy," said The Whale director Darren Aronofsky

The Whale Director Darren Aronofsky Says Backlash to Brendan Fraser's Casting 'Makes No Sense to Me'
Darren Aronofsky (L); Brendan Fraser in The Whale. Photo: Unique Nicole/FilmMagic, A24

Darren Aronofsky is standing by Brendan Fraser's casting in The Whale.

In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment published Friday, the 53-year-old director touched on the backlash that has come from some over Fraser, 54, wearing prosthetics to play a 600-lb. man in the newly released film.

"[The controversy] makes no sense to me," said Aronofsky. "Brendan Fraser is the right actor to play this role, and the film is an exercise in empathy."

He explained of the context and Fraser's character, "People with obesity are generally written as bad guys or as punchlines. We wanted to create a fully worked-out character who has bad parts about him and good parts about him; Charlie is very selfish, but he's also full of love and is seeking forgiveness."

For Aronofsky, it was important to focus on making Fraser's portrayal of Charlie "realistic" from the get-go.

"The lengths we went to to portray the realism of the makeup has never been done before," he said. "One of my first calls after casting Brendan was to my makeup artist, Adrien Morot. I asked him, 'Can we do something that's realistic?' Because if it's going to look like a joke, then we shouldn't do it."

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The Whale Director Darren Aronofsky Says Backlash to Brendan Fraser's Casting 'Makes No Sense to Me'
Brendan Fraser and Darren Aronofsky. Taylor Hill/WireImage

The Whale, written by Samuel D. Hunter and based on his 2012 play of the same name, stars Fraser as Charlie, a reclusive writing instructor who tries to repair his relationship with his daughter (Stranger Things star Sadie Sink) as his health begins to fail.

While Fraser appears to be an early favorite this awards season — he's nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance, and took home an actor award at the Toronto International Film Festival's TIFF Tribute Awards — some have expressed concern over his casting as an obese man and whether the film's title is intended as an insult.

However, Hunter told Variety in a recent interview that the title is intended to refer to Charlie's obsession with "a particular paper on Moby Dick," explaining that it "deliberately pokes at some people's prejudices."

"I wasn't surprised by the blowback, because of the history of the way that obesity is treated on film. And we live in cynical and reactionary times," added Hunter, who also wrote the film's script.

He also told Entertainment Weekly in October that he understands some of the reaction to The Whale, as "the history of portraying people suffering with obesity in cinema is not good — they are fundamentally objects of derision or jokes, or they're completely one-dimensional."

Hunter added that he wants the film to be "an invitation" for viewers "to walk in this door and be with this guy," explaining, "If you do take that invitation and go inside, I think you'll find that this is the diametric opposite of the way obesity has traditionally been portrayed and dealt with in cinema."

In the same cover story for Variety, Aronofsky said the search for an obese actor to star in the movie became a "crazy chase" before Fraser was ultimately cast.

"There was a chapter in the making of this film where we tried to research obese actors," the director said. "Outside of not being able to find an actor who could pull off the emotions of the role, it just becomes a crazy chase. "Like, if you can't find a 600-lb. actor, is a 300-lb. actor or 400-lb. actor enough?"

Aronofsky added that "from a health perspective, it's prohibitive," saying, "It's an impossible role to fill with a real person dealing with those issues."

Fraser himself said he spoke with people who have experienced struggles with eating issues about their diet and "how obesity had affected their lives in terms of their relationships with loved ones" to prepare for the role.

"It was heartbreaking, because very often these people were mocked and made to feel awful about themselves. Vindictive speech is painful," The Mummy star told Variety. "And it does damage because it feeds into the cycle of overeating. I just left those conversations thinking, 'Hey, this is not your fault. This is an illness. This is an addiction.' "

"I don't want to call out colleagues by name," Fraser added of how obese characters are treated in other films. "But a lot of those movies are one-note and depict obesity with crude jokes."

The Whale is in select theaters now.

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