This awards season, all eyes are on Brendan Fraser. The 54-year-old actor has appeared in dozens of movies, including The Mummy, Crash, George of the Jungle, and Encino Man, but for the first time in his career, he’s being inundated with nominations for all the major awards.
Brendan is receiving recognition for his heart-wrenching performance in The Whale. In the Darren Aronofsky-directed movie, he stars as a 600-pound man named Charlie trying to reconnect with his daughter played by Sadie Sink (Stranger Things). Brendan memorably received a 6-minute standing ovation when the film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, and the reception had him very emotional. Now that he’s nominated for his first-ever Academy Award, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more tears if he comes home the winner.
“I wanted to be reintroduced,” Fraser told Vanity Fair for a first-look feature on The Whale. Aronofsky said that he imagined “every movie star” in the role of Charlie, an English teacher grieving the loss of his partner and binge-eating to the point that he has become housebound. Only when he thought of Fraser, Aronofsky said, did the character of Charlie truly click. “I want to learn from the people I’m working with at this point in my career,” Fraser said. “I’ve had such variety, a lot of high highs and low lows, so what I’m keen for, in the second half of my time doing this, is to feel like I’m contributing to the craft and I’m learning from it. This is a prime opportunity. I wanted to disappear into it. My hope was that I would become unrecognizable.”
Fraser, who rose to fame in the ’90s with roles in the Mummy franchise and the acclaimed Gods and Monsters, had stepped back from stardom in recent years. After a series of surgeries and some major roles he missed out on, he told GQ, he was ready for a break. “I bought into the pressure that comes with the hopes and aims that come with a professional life that’s being molded and shaped and guided and managed,” he said. “I couldn’t be a part of it. I didn’t feel that I belonged.”
His role in The Whale, however, earned immense acclaim from the moment it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall. When The Banshees of Inisherin also premiered at that festival, and star Colin Farrell won the festival’s best-actor award, the Oscar race seemed down to Fraser, Farrell, and Elvis star Austin Butler. Bill Nighy for Living and Paul Mescal for Aftersun eventually joined them as Oscar nominees. The precursor awards, however, belonged to Butler—who won at BAFTA and the Golden Globes—and Fraser, who won at SAG and Critics Choice.
Despite some controversy over his casting as a 600-pound, suicidal, gay professor and the depiction of morbid obesity in the film (based on Samuel D. Hunter’s play), Fraser had won more than 20 lead actor prizes from critics’ groups including the Critics’ Choice Assn., and collected the most reliable Oscar precursor: the Screen Actors Guild Award.
Fraser has attributed his absence from the marquee in part to injuries suffered while enthusiastically filming his many action movies; he has also alleged that eight-term HFPA president Philip Berk sexually assaulted him. (Berk has denied the accusation, as well as the actor’s open question as to whether the Golden Globes had blacklisted him. Berk was later expelled from the organization when it came out he had sent an email calling Black Lives Matter a “racist hate movement,” spurring Globes broadcaster NBC to call for his removal.)
Fraser, meanwhile, ended up sweeping the American televised film acting awards this season — except for the Globes, which selected Austin Butler‘s highly praised turn as the King of rock ‘n’ roll in “Elvis.” Fraser had said in advance he would “not participate” in the Globes ceremony.
In a speech full of nautical references, Fraser said that “only whales can swim at the depth” of his co-star Hong Chau.
Referencing his 30-year career in Hollywood, Fraser said there were aspects of his journey that “I didn’t appreciate at the time until it stopped.”
With reddened eyes, he ended his emotional speech by thanking his children and his “best first mate,” partner Jeanne Moore.
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