The Venice Film Festival has only just begun and already there's Oscar talk bouncing around the screening rooms, specifically for actor Brendan Fraser.
Though he's been active on television, Fraser, once an A-lister and '90s heartthrob, has been all but absent from the big screen in recent years. But his headlining performance in Darren Aronofsky's new film The Whale, though controversial, just might change that.
Social media has become captivated by a video showing Fraser tearing up as the Venice crowd thunderously applauded him for six full minutes at the conclusion of The Whale—and his emotion is so palpable it's hard not to tear up right along with him.
Fraser rose to prominence in the '90s as a muscle-bound hunk in teen comedies like Encino Man and George of the Jungle. He soon moved on to a mix of action blockbusters like The Mummy franchise and prestigious Oscar-bait fare like Gods and Monsters and 2005's Best Picture Oscar winner Crash.
But while he never stopped working, his status as a leading man soon began to erode. Multiple injuries from stunt work saw him in and out of hospitals for nearly seven years and unable to maintain his previously buff physique.
And he told GQ he suspects that going public about an incident of sexual harassment he suffered resulted in him being blacklisted in certain parts of Hollywood.
By all accounts, The Whale, an adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter's play of the same name, is a gate-crashing return to prominence for the actor that just might leave all of his tribulations firmly in the past.
Fraser plays Charlie, a reclusive English teacher who weighs 600 lbs and is trying to reconnect with his daughter, played by Stranger Things' Sadie Sink, despite being emotionally incapable of leaving his home.
In an interview, Aronofsky said it took him 10 years to get The Whale made, mainly because he couldn't find the right actor for Charlie. After looking at "every single movie star on the planet," he rediscovered Fraser in a low-budget Brazilian film and, as he put it, "a lightbulb went off."
The film has not been without its controversies. Activists for fat acceptance have called both the film and Fraser's casting fatphobic, especially because Fraser wears extensive "fat suit" prosthetics in the film.
Others have countered that the humanity of the story and the realities of being an obese person the film depicts supersede these criticisms—especially since the play is based on Hunter's own experiences with depression and "self-medicating with food."
Regardless of the controversy, the outpouring of support for Fraser and his tearful standing ovation has certainly tugged on social media's heartstrings
As for Fraser, he's taking his new moment in the spotlight in stride. He told the press in advance of the premiere, “I’m just trying to stay in today."