When the credits rolled on the Darren Aronofsky drama, in which Fraser plays a 600-pound gay man confined to a wheelchair, the actor was overcome with emotion.
Fraser sobbed throughout the six-minute standing ovation, which will likely put him at the forefront of this year’s best actor Oscars race.
Among those spotted inside the Sala Grande Theatre were Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Nick Kroll and Hillary Clinton staffer Huma Abedin, who was seated a few rows behind Fraser and shed as many tears as he did. Many others inside the theater also broke out a handkerchief during the film’s heartbreaking final scenes.
Fraser hugged Aronofsky several during the ovation. He tried to leave the theater at one point, but the outpouring of clapping was so loud, he stayed longer and took a bow.
“The Whale” stars Fraser as a man living with severe obesity who struggles to reconnect with his 17-year-old daughter, played by “Stranger Things” breakout Sadie Sink. The supporting cast also includes Hong Chau, Samantha Morton and Ty Simpkins. The movie is based on the play of the same name by Samuel D. Hunter, who adapted the stage script into Aronofsky’s feature.
To play the lead character in the film, Fraser wore a prosthetic suit that added anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds given the scene. The actor spent as much as six hours in the makeup chair each day to fully transform into the character.
In an interview ahead of the film’s Venice premiere, Fraser shared that his prosthetic suit was “cumbersome, not exactly comfortable,” adding, “The torso piece was almost like a strait jacket with sleeves that went on, airbrushed by hand, to look identical as would human skin, right down to the hand-punched hair.”
“I developed muscles I did not know I had,” Fraser told journalists at the Venice press conference about wearing the prosthetic suit.
“I even felt a sense of vertigo at the end of the day when all the appliances were removed; it was like stepping off the dock onto a boat in Venice. That [sense of] undulating. It gave me appreciation for those whose bodies are similar. You need to be an incredibly strong person, mentally and physically, to inhabit that physical being.”
In his review of “The Whale” out of Venice, Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman called Fraser “slyer, subtler, more haunting than he has ever been,” adding that he gives an “intensely lived-in and touching performance.”
“The Whale” marks another buzzy Venice premiere for Aronofsky, who has a rich history with the prestigious festival. While he stumbled at his first Venice with the premiere of “The Fountain,” he bounced back in 2008 when “The Wrestler” won the Golden Lion. “Black Swan” was one of the big hits of the 2010 Venice Film Festival — and won Mila Kunis an emerging actor prize — while “mother!” was all anyone could talk about at the 2017 fest.
Fraser became a marquee action star at the movies with 1997’s “George of the Jungle” and the box office franchise “The Mummy,” but he relinquished his leading man status in the 2010s, as he took smaller roles, including a part on TV’s “The Affair.”
Although Fraser had a supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “No Sudden Move” last year, “The Whale” marks a huge comeback for the actor in his first starring role in a film since 2013’s direct-to-DVD action movie “Breakout.” On Fraser’s upcoming docket is Martin Scorsese’s Apple western “Killers of the Flower Moon.” His turn as Garfield Lynns/Firefly in the DC tentpole “Batgirl” will not be seen as Warner Bros. canceled the film’s release.
A24 will release “The Whale” in theaters Dec. 9.