The Whale Producer Responds To Backlash Over Brendan Fraser's Casting

Brendan Fraser in The Whale
(Image credit: A24)

Since its premiere at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, Darren Aronofsky's The Whale has earned a great deal of acclaim, but it's also been the subject of a lot of controversy. Some have accused the movie of being fatphobic in its storytelling, and the casting of Brendan Fraser in the lead role has received criticism because of the prosthetics and make-up that he required for the part. The feature is now up for multiple Academy Awards – including Best Actor and Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling – but the filmmakers are still being put in the position of defending key choices that were made early in production.

The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke with The Whale producer Jeremy Dawson, and the interview touched on the complicated discourse surrounding the film. In response to critiques that the movie perpetuates stereotypes about the obese, the filmmaker said that the goal was to show the humanity in Brendan Fraser's character, and he also spoke to the intentions with which the story was originally written. According to Dawson,

The key thing for us was to show somebody who was just a human who had things he was dealing with, that we would want to have empathy and love for him at the same time, as [well as] understanding, empathy and love for all these other characters he’s interacting with. [Screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter] had extrapolated out from some of his own personal experiences and kind of took it from there. We just want to be honest and truthful.

Based on the play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, The Whale stars Brendan Fraser as Charlie – a 600 pound man who is slowly dying from congestive heart failure. In the final days of his life, he attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink) by offering to help with her school work so prevent her from flunking out.

Brendan Fraser has previously defended his role in The Whale, describing himself as "not a small man" and refusing to refer to the prosthetics and costuming he wore as a "fat suit." In the recent trade interview, Jeremy Dawson explained that there was a long search for an actor to play the role of Charlie, and Fraser ultimately won the part because he was the person who was going to do the best job and do so respectfully. Said Dawson,

Darren [Aronofsky] considered everybody, and over different phases of the film, different people and ideas were looked at. Ultimately, he just wanted to find the best person who’s going to do this and do it in a respectful manner. You’re always going to have different reactions to everything.

Whether or not the controversy surrounding The Whale will end up impacting its chances at the Oscars is unclear. Brendan Fraser has already won multiple trophies for his work in the last few months, including the Critics Choice award for Best Actor. In addition to Fraser, Hong Chao has also been nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Check out our rundown of the 2023 Academy Award nominations to discover the competition that The Whale faces in the three categories in which it is nominated, and our 2023 Oscars streaming guide will fill you in on how to watch the film before the ceremony. The show will be held in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 12, an stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more awards season coverage.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.