The comeback is complete: Brendan Fraser won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his transformative role in The Whale on Sunday.
“So this is what the multiverse looks like!” Fraser said as he took the stage, his eyes red and filled with tears. “My goodness. I thank the Academy for this honor and my studio A24 for making such a bold film.”
He then filled his speech with whale-inspired references and thanked the people who made the film.
“I’m grateful to Darren Aronofsky for throwing me a creative lifeline and hauling me aboard the cruise ship The Whale. It was written by Samuel D. Hunter who is our lighthouse,” he said before acknowledging his fellow nominees: “Gentlemen, you laid your whale-sized hearts bare so we could see into your souls like no one else could do and it is my honor to be named alongside you in this category.”
“I want to tell you that only whales can swim at the depths of the talent of Hong Chau,” he continued, referring to his castmate.
Fraser also took a moment to reflect on his lengthy — and at times rocky — movie career.
“I started in this business 30 years ago, and things didn’t come easily to me, but there was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time until it stopped,” he said. “I just want to say thank you for this acknowledgment because it couldn’t be done without my cast.”
“It’s been like a diving expedition on the bottom of the ocean, and the air on the line to the surface is on a launch being watched over by some people in my life,” he added before thanking his family and colleagues.
Fraser hugged his wife and children while taking the stage to accept his award from Halle Berry and Jessica Chastain.
It was the first-ever Oscar nomination and win for Fraser, who, after spending years as a box office hero retreated from Hollywood for a half-decade after the then-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association sexually assaulted him in 2018.
Even before The Whale debuted at the Venice International Film Festival, Brendan Fraser’s turn as a reclusive, obese man who seeks to reconnect with his estranged daughter was viewed as an instant award-season favorite; the actor — coming back in recent years following his own estrangement from Hollywood — was lauded with a lengthy standing ovation following its Venice premiere.
Fraser would go on to win Best Actor at the Critics Choice Awards, Hollywood Critics Association Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and countless film societies… but not the Golden Globes, likely due to Fraser’s refusal to even attend that award show given his well-reported history with the Hollywood Foreign Press.
The Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Golden Globe — and another forecaster, the BAFTA for Best Actor — would ultimately go to Austin Butler, who emerged as Fraser’s biggest competition following a portrayal of Elvis Presley that was so nuanced and perfected, the actor infamously had difficulty shaking his “Elvis voice” months after shooting.
Given the Oscars’ decade-long trend of rewarding actors who portrayed real-life people — wins for Will Smith playing the Williams sisters’ father in King Richard, Rami Malek playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, etc. — Butler made it a neck-and-neck race for the statue. By the time the Academy Awards finally took the stage on Sunday, Butler was perhaps the perceived favorite in the category.
In the end, it was Fraser who took home his first Academy Award.