Brendan Fraser’s transformation in “The Whale” is part of one of the most talked-about performances of the year.
In the Darren Aronofsky-helmed film, Fraser plays Charlie, a house-bound 600 lb. English teacher who teaches students virtually with his camera blacked out. He’s also working to salvage his relationship with his estranged daughter, played by Sadie Sink.
Fraser gained some weight for the role, but prosthetics makeup designer Adrien Morot was tasked with transforming the actor much more dramatically.
Morot relied on 3D printing technological advances to print the suit.
Six hours of makeup and prep later and wearing prosthetics that weighed up to 300 pounds, Fraser transformed into Charlie.
The application process eventually whittled down to four hours. For the latest Creative Collaborators, Fraser and Morot discuss their collaboration and how ice bags and a racecar driver cooling suit system kept the actor cool during the intense shoot.
Brendan, what did you have to do to become Charlie, and what conversations did you have with Adrien?
Brendan Fraser: It starts with the story. [Screenwriter] Sam Hunter gave us a beautiful screenplay about a man who has been living alone for a considerable amount of time. He’s been harming himself by overeating and overconsumption, and his health is severely compromised. He certainly regrets some life choices that he has made or that life has made for him. Nevertheless, he needs to reconnect with his daughter in a bid for redemption, and he has five days, from Monday to Friday to do so.
Adrien is one of Darren’s longtime collaborators, and he has a proven track record working with very talented people. He was able to say, “Look, I need to create a makeup and costume using prosthetics and here’s the actor that I have. I want him to inhabit the body of a man who weighs hundreds and hundreds of pounds. What is important is that the design of the makeup and all the accompanying apparatus obey the laws of gravity and physics. It has vitality, and it has a sentience to it so that when an actor wears it, it doesn’t look like a Halloween costume makeup, you can see the artifacts and the performance comes through.
Adrien Morot: We always start with doing a live cast of the actor which means putting alginate (molding powder) on the actor’s head down to doing a plaster copy of the actor’s head and body sculpting in clay. Then you make molds to create prosthetics.
We didn’t have access to Brendan the way we normally would because of the pandemic. So, we had been tinkering with and doing a bunch of tests for years, testing the limits of 3D printing and doing realistic characters that had never been done before.
With the help of an iPad, our producer did a scan of Brendan in his garage and he sent me the data. We cleaned it up and we sculpted in the same way we would do with clay.
All the facial and body prosthetics were all done on the computer, the same way you would do them physically. That gave us a lot of freedom because we were able to modify them quickly. We gave them to Darren and he was able to do quick tweaks.
It was difficult because having never met Brendan in person and only exchanged text messages or met via Zooms, I was asking him to take photos of rulers stuck to his forehead to ensure the scale of the prosthetic was perfect.
Once we had the character that we thought we wanted Charlie to be, we divided the sculptures into large high-definition printers and printed out his entire body.
What it all gave us was this detail that’s almost impossible to obtain with more traditional means of sculpture. In the digital world, I could blow the eye bag up on a giant monitor and texture map everything to add in all these details.
The approach was that we needed to forget what Brendan was wearing.
Fraser: Adrien, how does Charlie’s design hold up against other creations of yours?
Morot: That was the biggest challenge I’ve ever had in my career.
Fraser: Is that because it was really good character makeup?
Morot: This movie is about Charlie’s story with his daughter. That’s really what it is. The makeup cannot be a distraction in any way despite what the character is. So, how do you create a character that is like Charlie and not cartoonish and not come off as a one-note joke? It was about finding a fine line between where you see it and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s Brendan Fraser’ and then you forget about it because you get so engaged in the story.
Many people don’t realize, but with prosthetics, you’re starting with new pieces daily since it can’t be reused. How many were you applying daily?
Morot: We ended up shooting for 45 days and 45 days of torturing poor Brendan.
The facial pieces were goners, In the movie when you see him with that growth of hair. That was not a fake beard, each piece was glued on one by one and shaved away so there was this native growth image. It was heartbreaking to peel that off and throw it away.
Also, Charlie’s health declined. We made different sets of arms and there was a graduation in his skin color and complexion to show the decline of his health. We also had that for his legs and arms and body parts.
Fraser: The pieces that were created went on like a glove, and I was in this five-point harness. We learned a lot as we went along about the legs, which were like boots that went to about mid-thigh.
Underneath was a body-sculpted costume that was modular, and there were several layers and a cooling suit similar to what racecar drivers wear. It’s tubes that are crisscrossed and run cold water over your body. Mastering the right temperature was a challenge.
How many pounds or bags of ice did you go through a day?
Morot: It’s those big bags you get at gas stations. I think we went through four or five per day.
Fraser: My body melted eight bags.
What was it like becoming Charlie for the first time on day one with Adrien’s makeup?
Fraser: it started in the early winter of 2021. With a test that took six hours to get into. I had to get the tactile experience of actually wearing the gear. I had to learn how to walk and move because Charlie’s mobility is limited. It informed us a great deal about what was possible, what would work and what wasn’t working.
Adrien, what was it like working with Darren again and working on this character with Brendan?
Morot: When you start with it inanimate matter, like silicone, and you’re in moles, and you see the entire process and then you glue it onto your actor’s face, it’s often hit or miss. When you work with someone like Brendan, it hits it out of the park. It became so real, and his ability to inhabit the character of Charlie, it’s restrictive of all that material on your face and head. But Brendan is such a brilliant actor, that he just made it come alive. That was such a joy to see on a day-to-day basis because you completely forgot how covered he was.