Darren Aronofsky on Fat Suit Criticisms Around ‘The Whale’: It “Makes No Sense to Me”

Darren Aronofsky on Fat Suit Criticisms Around ‘The Whale’: It “Makes No Sense to Me”

Criticisms of The Whale‘s representation of bigger-bodied people through its themes and the use of a fat suit for star Brendan Fraser caught director Darren Aronofsky off-guard.

In a recent interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, the director responded to critical backlash about how the film represents and explores the story of Charlie, a middle-aged man who after the death of his boyfriend, experiences significant weight gain over several years until his estranged daughter show’s up on his doorstep and he attempts to repair their relationship.

The film’s title alludes to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a book referenced in the film, and the role — for which Fraser was recently nominated for a Golden Globe — required the actor to use a fat suit, the use of which has increasingly faced backlash with actors including American Crime Story star Sarah Paulson, This Is Us‘ Chris Sullivan and Renee Zellweger in The Thing About Pam, among those more recently facing pushback.

In September, Mean Girls star Daniel Franzese said that he’s a fan of Fraser, but questioned why Aronofsky hadn’t just hired a gay bigger bodied man for the role. “He’s a lovely man. And it’s great. But why? Why go up there and wear a fat suit to play a 400-lb. queer man?,” the Looking star asked. “Who knows more about being an obese queer man than an obese queer man?”

Aronofsky, “insists he didn’t see coming when he first cast Fraser in the part,” according to Yahoo!, and argued that “actors have been using makeup since the beginning of acting — that’s one of their tools.”

“And the lengths we went to portray the realism of the make-up has never been done before,” he added. “One of my first calls after casting Brendan was to my makeup artist, Adrien Morot. I asked him, ‘Can we do something that’s realistic?’ Because if it’s going to look like a joke, then we shouldn’t do it.”

The director also defended his characterization of Charlie and his casting of Fraser, stating that the character is not one-dimensional, and for that reason avoids falling into fatphobic territory.

“People with obesity are generally written as bad guys or as punchlines,” Aronofsky said. “We wanted to create a fully worked-out character who has bad parts about him and good parts about him; Charlie is very selfish, but he’s also full of love and is seeking forgiveness. So [the controversy] makes no sense to me. Brendan Fraser is the right actor to play this role, and the film is an exercise in empathy.”

Fraser underscored the director’s stance, saying that Charlie is not only a “well-rounded character,” but “is not the person he presents” and that, ultimately, the film’s empathetic lens is what separates Charlie from a fatphobic narrative treatment.”

“He’s not the person who we so often dismiss. He’s a man who lives with obesity, but he’s also a father and he’s also a teacher,” he said. “The empathy that I think we all felt shooting this movie and telling Sam Hunter’s story is something that’s intensely personal to all of us.”

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