Brendan Fraser caps comeback with Oscar nomination for The Whale

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Brendan Fraser has been nominated for an Oscar for his first lead role in a major film for 12 years, in The Whale.

Tuesday’s best actor nomination caps a comeback for one of Hollywood’s former leading men who has admitted he was left “in the wilderness” for a decade.

The Whale has now led film studios and fans to re-evaluate the Mummy and George of the Jungle star’s talents.

Fraser plays a reclusive and morbidly obese English professor who wants to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

The returning US-Canadian actor, 54, told BBC News he hopes the feature will help to “end the bias against those who live with obesity”.

Image source, Getty Images

Referring to his character, he said he felt the need “to be the voice for those who live the way that Charlie does”, and “to depict him with dignity and with respect in a way that we haven’t seen that character played on screen before”.

“We can often lose sight that those are human beings with thoughts and feelings and hearts and families,” he told BBC entertainment correspondent Lizo Mzimba.

“And this is a story that’s not often told in [the] media, and it’s a story that’s played out behind closed doors in two-bedroom apartments all across the country, the continent, the world.”

Fraser’s remarkable on-screen transformation was the result of heavy prosthetics, which he admitted was “a challenge”, physically and emotionally.

‘Ready to start again’

Fraser emerged as a major screen star playing George of the Jungle in 1997, then as heartthrob Rick O’Connell in the hit Mummy action trilogy from 1999-2008.

He took on further dramatic roles in Gods and Monsters, The Quiet American and Crash, as well as fantasy roles in Bedazzled and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

“Those films were fantastic to give me a foundation to work from,” he said.

But his film work slowed from the late 2000s, amid years of injuries sustained while performing stunts, which resulted in operations on his spine, knee and vocal cords.

And following the breakdown of his marriage, there was a child support payment legal battle, while he also made a sexual assault allegation against a leading Hollywood figure.

When the phone stopped ringing, he believes as a result, he found it tough to take. “Your sense of value comes from the work that you’re doing or if you’re able even to be asked or invited to come and do it,” explained Fraser, who has also made guest guest appearances on TV shows Scrubs and The Simpsons.

“I realised I needed to take care of some physical things and chips and hips and joints and all of that medical curio that I’d earned along my journey in making those films early on, and I’m [now] ready to start again.”

Image source, Getty Images

Late last year, Fraser confirmed he would not attend the 2023 Golden Globe Awards after accusing its former president Philip Berk of assault.

In 2018, he said Mr Berk, head of Golden Globes organising body the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), had groped his bottom in 2003. The HFPA found that Mr Berk “inappropriately touched” Fraser, but that it “was intended to be taken as a joke and not as a sexual advance”.

Fraser has previously said the incident “made me retreat” and “feel reclusive”.

He now believes the industry is on its way to improving practices around alleged abuse, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but that it “still has some work to do”.

“There are more legislated approaches now with hotlines [and] strict protocols that just didn’t exist 15 years ago… 10 years ago, even,” he said.

Image source, Niko Tavernise

Since his new film’s world premiere in September 2022, the star’s performance has been talked about as one of the most powerful of the year, and perhaps the best of his career.

In its review, the Telegraph awarded five stars, calling The Whale “a thing of beauty and power”. BBC Culture declared that the “captivating” Fraser “deserves an Oscar”.

The Guardian was less impressed, however, giving two stars for Fraser’s “disappointing return to movies”, describing it as “a hectoring invitation to blubber”.

Most critics loved it, though. And Fraser’s first Oscar nod comes a week after he received a Bafta nomination for the same role, as well as picking up the best actor prize at the Critics Choice Awards.

“I was in the wilderness,” said Fraser on stage during his emotional acceptance speech. “I probably should have left a trail of breadcrumbs. But you found me,” he added, in the direction of The Whale director Darren Aronofsky.

Fraser went on to also praise the film’s “incredible” ensemble cast, which includes Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton.

Image source, A24

Addressing the audience to a standing ovation, a tearful Fraser continued: “If you – like a guy like Charlie, who I played in this movie – in any way struggle with obesity, or you just feel like you’re in a dark sea, I want you to know that if you too can have the strength to just get to your feet and go to the light, good things will happen.

“This movie, The Whale, is about love,” he stated. “It’s about redemption. It’s about finding the light in a dark place.”

While the last decade may have been difficult, he says it’s great to now be riding the award season wave.

“It’s exciting, it’s rewarding,” he told the BBC. “It’s new to me and I’m keen to see what happens next.”

When asked by TV chat show host Graham Norton whether he approved of people calling this period his “Brenaissance”, Fraser replied: “You can call me whatever you like, just as long as you’re calling me.”

The Whale is in UK cinemas from 3 February, and the 2023 Oscars take place in Los Angeles on 13 March.


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