The long-overdue renaissance of Brendan Fraser reached a new high point last night at the Toronto International Film Festival, a homecoming in some ways for the Canadian actor. Fraser received one of TIFF’s highest honors, the Tribute Award for Performance, in recognition of his starring turn in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. Based on a 2012 play by Samuel Hunter, The Whale follows Charlie (Fraser), a 600-pound English teacher who struggles to heal (and maintain) the minimal relationships left in his largely reclusive life.
Ahead of its December wide release, the film has been receiving both critical acclaim and consumer criticism. Both Fraser and Sadie Sink’s performances have been thoroughly lauded, and the film debuted to a 6-minute standing ovation at Venice. But some critics have also lamented the monotony of yet another prestige physical-transformation piece and pointed out the overt fatphobia in some of the film’s most glowing reviews.
While accepting his award, Fraser holds back tears while lauding the “cool, creative, and very very lucky” people he was able to work with on The Whale, and thanking Aronofsky and Hunter for taking a chance on him. When he spoke about The Whale’s unrelentingly painful storyline, he evades focusing on Charlie’s weight, instead highlighting the film’s “redemption story.”
“[Charlie]’s gone through significant life changes, and he’s forgotten about who he is to the ones he loves, and he’s running out of time to tell him that if he can at all,” Fraser muses. “But he has a superpower, Charlie can see the good in others when they can’t see that in themselves. He can bring that out in them.”
Fraser continues: “I am a firm believer that we need a little bit more of that in the world. Because it’s the audience that gives cinema life, so I must thank you for keeping me in the job that I love, because it’s nice work if you can get it.”
As most would, Fraser favors a move to lightness after the emotional screening, and concludes his speech with an “up-cycled” quote from Herman Melville: “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I will go to it laughing.”
“TIFF 2022, thank you,” Fraser says. “Have a laugh on me, you’ve earned it.”
The Whale will arrive in theaters on December 9.