‘The Whale’: Darren Aronofsky Considered ‘Every Movie Star’ in Hollywood Before It Finally ‘Clicked’ With Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser is gearing up to make his comeback as the leading man in Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming drama The Whale. Although The Mummy star’s return to the big screen has already garnered widespread critical praise following its premiere at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, Fraser wasn’t exactly Aronofsky’s first choice.

Here’s why the director struggled to find an actor to play the character of Charlie in his newest film and how he eventually landed on Fraser.

‘The Whale’: cast, story, and critical reception

The Whale is the latest project from Aronofsky, who’s best known for directing Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Noah, and Mother!, among others — many becoming the subject of rave reviews. 

Director Darren Aronofsky and Brendan Fraser smile at each other at "The Whale" premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival
Darren Aronofsky and Brendan Fraser at The Whale premiere | Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

It follows the story of Charlie (Fraser), a reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity. In one last attempt to redeem himself, Charlie tries to rekindle his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). The Whale is based on the play of the same name, written by American playwright Samuel D. Hunter. 

As for the cast, most will recognize Fraser from his role as Rick O’Connell in The Mummy trilogy. He also starred in the medical comedy Scrubs from 2001-10, in addition to playing the titular character in 1997’s George of the Jungle.

Sink is best known for playing Max Mayfield in Netflix’s hit sci-fi series Stranger Things. Additionally, she appeared in the music video for Taylor Swift’s All Too Well: The Short Film in 2021. The Whale also features Hong Chau as Liz, a nurse and Charlie’s best friend, Samantha Morton as Charlie’s ex-wife Mary, and Ty Simpkins as religious missionary Thomas.

The Whale premiered at the recent Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2022. Videos from the event showed attendees giving the movie a seven-minute standing ovation. In an especially heartwarming moment, cameras caught Fraser in tears; he was visibly moved by the applause. So far, the film has earned 84% on Rotten Tomatoes

Darren Aronofsky struggled to find the right actor for ‘The Whale’ before Brendan Fraser came to mind

The Whale is shaping up to be a serious contender in this year’s awards season. Fraser is already receiving widespread critical praise for his portrayal of Charlie. Many speculate that the performance will land him a Best Actor nomination at the 2023 Academy Awards Ceremony. 

Fraser also recently received the TIFF Tribute Award for his leading role in the film. During his acceptance speech, the 53-year-old actor expressed gratitude toward Aronofsky, saying, “Art is about taking a risk, and you should know that they took a chance on me.”

But despite the current buzz surrounding his performance, Fraser didn’t immediately come to mind when Aronofsky was casting for The Whale. “I thought about every movie star playing Charlie, and it never made sense or clicked,” Aronofsky told Vanity Fair. But eventually, the director found the perfect man for the part.

A big part of the appeal to casting Fraser was that the actor hadn’t appeared in many high-profile projects, after being a megastar of ‘90s and early ‘00s blockbusters. “He said he wanted an actor to reintroduce,” Fraser told the publication. “And I wanted to be reintroduced.”

Hunter also had a say in the casting process. He explained that was initially hesitant about the idea of casting Fraser, as he could only remember the actor for his more lighthearted roles. But he eventually came around to the idea after recalling Fraser’s dramatic performances, such as his part in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters.

Darren Aronofsky spent 10 years developing ‘The Whale’

For Aronofsky, making The Whale was just as much of a passion project as Fraser’s long-awaited return to the big screen. The veteran director spent over 10 years developing a film adaptation of the play.

Aronofsky first saw The Whale on stage in 2012 and was instantly moved by the story, according to Vanity Fair. He then reached out to Hunter to create a screenplay. However, the process wasn’t a smooth one.

Issues started to arise after Aronofsky felt determined not to leave Charlie’s home in the movie version or abandon the play’s stationary conceit — things that are easily captured in a play, but not in a feature-length film.

Ultimately, they settled on the version currently making the rounds across the festival circuit. Aronofsky stressed the importance of honoring Hunter’s original work, while still wanting to create a different story. Now, 10 years of work cuminates with The Whale‘s wide release on Friday, December 9, 2022.

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