Q53:59Jay Ellis + Adrien Morot
Adrien Morot has received his second Oscar nomination (shared with makeup artist Judy Chin and hair artist Annemarie Bradley) for creating the prosthetic fat suit Brendan Fraser wore to play a 600-pound man in The Whale.
The Montreal-born makeup artist and prosthetic designer said it was the challenge of transforming Fraser into a larger man that drew him to the project, but it was a risk to take the job. He might have turned it down if it weren’t for his trust in director Darren Aronofsky, whom he’d collaborated with four times previously.
“When Darren calls, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’m jumping on that,” Morot said in an interview on Q with Tom Power. “In any other circumstances, I might have said, like, ‘Yeah, hard pass on this one.’ Because it’s a neck-breaker kind of job — [a] potentially career-ending kind of job.”
Morot has been working in special effects makeup since the early ’90s, but there were a few factors that made The Whale more daunting than anything he’d done before. Firstly, Fraser’s face and body prosthetics would be in almost every scene of the movie, so if they were made poorly, it would stand out. Ideally, audiences wouldn’t notice the makeup and prosthetics at all.
“You need to be able to look at Brendan at the beginning of the movie [and] think, like, ‘Wow. Oh my God, like, that was George of the Jungle?'” said Morot. “And once you’re past that initial shock, you move on, and you just see the character. And you need to forget about the fact that he’s completely covered in prosthetics.”
Secondly, the processes of developing and applying the fat suit were incredibly arduous, with the latter involving painstaking attention to detail that needed to be repeated each day on set.
“The first time we applied the makeup … it took seven hours,” Morot told Power. “But that’s doing lots of adjustment, finding the proper skin tone that’s going to look good under the lighting on set and that kind of environment, [and] finding the right placement for the prosthetics. By the end of the shoot, we got it down to two hours [and] 45 minutes, plus about 45 minutes to dress him up in the body prosthetics.”
Fraser’s fat suit weighed more than 90 kilograms and was more than 60 centimetres thick in some sections, requiring four crew members to apply it. Morot’s team used a harness “that looked like a parachute” to evenly spread the weight of the prosthetics across Fraser’s body.
Underneath the harness was a “cooling suit” devised to prevent Fraser from sweating off his makeup. Covered in a network of vinyl tubing, it allowed the crew to pump in ice cold water and lower Fraser’s body temperature. They housed the suit’s water tanks in hollow side tables on either side of the couch where the main character spends much of his time.
“In the early stages, when we did the first test, we unplugged the cooling suit to see how long he could be there,” said Morot. “In seven minutes, he had sweat off the whole makeup.”
If Fraser needed to take a bathroom break, the whole process had to be completed in reverse. The actor had to give the crew at least 30 to 45 minutes notice if he needed to relieve himself, at which point they would inform the first assistant director so that the next few shots of the film could be planned without him.
At the end of the day, Fraser’s body prosthetics were removed first, followed by the prosthetics on his face and then his wig. Morot said the hairs used to create the beard on the facial prosthetics had to be punched in one by one — and then after the shoot, those pieces would go into the garbage (a new set would replace them the next day). The final step was to repair the body prosthetics and prep everything for the following morning, which could take up to two hours.
As a seasoned makeup artist and prosthetic designer, Morot said he’s “pretty well versed” in the history of fat suits worn onscreen. He noted that they’re almost exclusively used in comedies and horror films that depict obesity in an unfair or mocking way. Occasionally, they’re used in historical recreations, like the prosthetics used to transform Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in the 2017 film Darkest Hour.
For The Whale, Morot took an innovative approach that he said aimed to be both realistic and respectful.
“[Darren] wanted something that was unlike anything that had been seen in movies before,” said Morot. “Because very often [fat suits] have been used for sort of gross-out comedies where the character is the butt of the joke. So he wanted stuff that was accurate … [and] that was done with care and with empathy.”
The full interview with Adrien Morot is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Mitch Pollock.