VENICE, Italy (AP) — Brendan Fraser spends some time at the Venice International Film Festival.

The once ubiquitous movie star of ‘The Mummy’ franchise and ‘George of the Jungle’ had, over the past decade, slipped away from the limelight. But Fraser is planning what could be a big comeback, starting with her transformative role in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale,” which had its world premiere Sunday night at the festival.

As the credits rolled into the Sala Grande theater, the audience gave the film a long standing ovation as Fraser, on the balcony alongside his director and co-stars, wiped away tears.

Fraser plays Charlie, a reclusive English teacher with a kind soul who weighs 600 pounds (270 kilograms). While the film already has pundits predicting Oscar nominations, Fraser tries not to wonder if the awards are in his future.

“I’m just trying to stick around today,” Fraser said before the premiere.

Aronofsky has been trying to do “The Whale” for about 10 years. He vividly remembers reading the New York Times review of Samuel D. Hunter’s play, going out to see it, and knowing he had to meet the writer.

One line in particular came to mind: “People are incapable of not caring.” That’s why, he says, he had to make the film.

But the casting presented a challenge.

“For a lot of Sam Hunter pain, it took me 10 years to make this movie and that’s because it took me 10 years to cast,” Aronofsky said. “Casting Charlie was a huge challenge. I considered everyone. Every movie star on the planet. But none of it really clicked. … It didn’t move me. didn’t seem well.

Then, a few years ago, he saw a trailer for “a low-budget Brazilian movie” starring Fraser and “a light bulb went out,” he said.

Fraser, who also has a role alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ said he “doesn’t know an actor in my peer group who is worth his weight in salt. and who wouldn’t want to work with Darren.

Also: “I think Charlie is hands down the most heroic man I’ve ever played,” Fraser added. “His superpower is to see the good in others and bring it out.”

Prosthetics were used to transform Fraser into Charlie, who rarely leaves his couch.

“I needed to learn how to move in absolutely a new way. I developed muscles that I didn’t know I had. I even felt a dizzy feeling at the end of the day when all the devices were pulled out, like you would feel stepping off a boat in Venice,” Fraser said. “It gave me an appreciation for those with similar bodies. … I learned that it takes an incredibly strong person, physically, mentally, to inhabit this body.

Beyond his physique, Charlie is also a character with a deep empathy and love for everyone around him, including his estranged daughter, Ellie, played by “Stranger Things” star Sadie Sink.

“She’s got a lot to say, so she’s hot. But I think what she doesn’t expect is someone who cares about her that much,” Sink said. “For someone like Charlie to see that there’s good in someone like Ellie is to make her run in circles.”

Hunter, who also wrote the screenplay, said his play was personal. He started it 12 years ago when he was teaching a compulsory explanatory writing course at Rutgers University that nobody wanted to take and everyone wanted. He also drew on his own background, setting the play in his hometown of Moscow, Idaho, and weaving in his story of depression, self-medicating with food, and going to high school. religious fundamentalist as a gay teenager.

“I was afraid to write it down,” he said. “I thought the only way to do that was to write it from a place deeply filled with love and empathy. … I wanted (Charlie) to be a beacon in the middle of a dark sea and dark.

“The Whale” was Aronofsky’s favorite kind of challenge – in that it had so many limitations. He learned long ago on “Pi” in 1998 that limits are “your gateway to freedom.” On this movie, he only had $20,000 and a dream. In “Mom!” he was limited to one house. And, in “La Baleine”, it’s not just a single apartment, it’s also a character who doesn’t move much.

He and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose friendship dates back to their days at the American Film Institute in 1990, spent quite a bit of time talking about “how to turn theater into cinema” and “how to make it engaging. and exciting”. In the first cut, Aronofsky said he was relieved to find he didn’t feel claustrophobic.

Fraser added that the film is “a piece of cinema. Real cinema. »

Venice is a regular stop for Aronofsky, who won the Golden Lion in 2008 for ‘The Wrestler’ and also debuted ‘Black Swan’ and ‘The Fountain’ at the Lido. He said the festival felt like home.

Aronofsky and his cast could also be set to walk away with trophies in hand this year. “The Whale” is part of the festival’s official competition, which will be decided by a jury led by Julianne Moore on September 10. And A24 plans to release it in theaters on December 9. But he is especially happy to be back with his first film since “Mother!” in 2017

“Over the past few years, many of us have lost so much. … Filmmaking is about human connection. It’s about the chance to step into someone else’s shoes and have two hours of empathy in someone else’s mind. I think that’s exactly what the world needs. I’m so happy to be back,” Aronofsky said. “It’s a great moment for me and, I think, for the cinema.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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To find out more about the Venice Film Festival, go to: www.apnews.com/VeniceFilmFestival