Brendan Fraser Triumphs in “The Whale” After Decades-Long Struggle With Depression

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Brendan Fraser was moved to tears after receiving a five-minute standing ovation at the London Film Festival during a screening of his movie “The Whale” on Tuesday, per People. The emotional response was in reaction to Fraser’s incredible achievement: a triumphant return after decades of struggling with depression.

Known for starring in hit movies in the 1990s and early 2000s, like “The Mummy” and “George of the Jungle,” Fraser’s career took a sharp decline after he was allegedly sexually assaulted by the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Philip Berk. In a GQ article, Fraser questioned whether he had been “blacklisted” by Hollywood due to the allegations. In a different GQ article published in 2018, he also cited the injuries from doing his own stunts, subsequent surgeries, his divorce, and his mother’s death as additional reasons he stepped away from movies.

The actor fell into a severe depression – which can include symptoms like trouble sleeping, changes in appetite or weight, loss of energy, and feeling worthless, according to Harvard Medical – that left him incapable of working. After spending two decades away from acting and focusing on his mental health, the 53-year-old has taken the stage again in the upcoming psychological thriller “The Whale,” where Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man who uses a wheelchair who attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter, played by Sadie Sink.

This isn’t the first ovation Fraser has received since his “comeback.” He also received a similar response at a screening at the Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 4. In an interview with Variety, he said, “It felt so affirming. I was emotional because it was acknowledgement that what we did made an impact. And that kind of response feels completely new in my professional life.” And at the London Film Festival, Fraser wasn’t the only one crying in the theater; one Twitter user wrote, “Brendan Fraser gives the performance of a lifetime in #TheWhale. Never heard so many people crying in the cinema at once.”

While the film has been well-received by audiences, some have questioned why director Darren Aronofsky didn’t cast a fat and/or gay actor to play the role, especially during a time when the onscreen representation of marginalized communities is so strongly advocated for. Instead, Fraser wears a 300-pound prosthetic or “fat suit” and is a straight man. Aronofsky told Variety, “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.” Ultimately, he says they wanted someone “who could pull off the emotions of the role.” Per Variety, Fraser also did extensive research to prepare, consulting with the Obesity Action Coalition and talking with people who experienced eating issues.

“They let me know what their diet was and how obesity had affected their lives in terms of their relationships with loved ones,” Fraser said. “It was heartbreaking because very often these people were mocked and made to feel awful about themselves. Vindictive speech is painful. 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.'”

“The Whale” will premiere in theaters on Dec. 9.

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