Hong Chau didn’t need to do The Whale at first.
The actor had simply given beginning to her daughter in 2020 when her agent reached out to her a couple of new Darren Aronofsky script. They had been in search of an actor to play Liz, one of the best good friend to Brendan Fraser’s character, Charlie, a person with weight problems battling grief. Chau learn the script. “I used to be feeling very overwhelmed by simply the scope of it. There’s so many themes and massive concepts and massive swings that had been taking place within the story,” she remembers.
So she advised her agent she wasn’t in the correct place in her life to return to work. COVID-19 was nonetheless raging and she or he had an eight-week-old child at house. “And the opposite factor that made me really feel okay with saying that was I additionally didn’t suppose I had any shot at getting the half,” she provides. “It wasn’t a particularly Asian character. I felt just like the casting search have to be so large open for it. I simply felt that there have been different actresses who might do the function justice and had been most likely extra well-known than me.”
Little did she know that Aronofsky had her in thoughts for the half from the beginning. “I’ve been a fan of Hong’s for a very long time, simply because every thing she’s accomplished is so completely different,” Aronofsky tells Vainness Truthful. “I first noticed her in Downsizing, and thought she was outstanding. After which I noticed her in Watchmen and I used to be like, What, that’s the identical actor? I couldn’t consider it.” Aronofsky stored asking his casting agent the place Chau’s tape was.
Fortunately, a couple of week after she learn the script, Chau nonetheless couldn’t get it out of her thoughts, and eventually determined to place a scene on tape. “They’d requested for 3 scenes, however my child was not a great sleeper, and I used to be simply actually drained,” she says. “Simply the act of committing that monologue to reminiscence and determining every thing that wanted to be accomplished simply took a lot power.”
For Aronofsky, the tape was simply what he wanted to see. “It was outstanding as a result of not solely was she nice, however she truly used the digicam to dam the scene. And we’re speaking a couple of digicam on a tripod, so the digicam was nonetheless, however the best way she moved out and in was precisely what the textual content steered,” he says. “I used to be like, Oh, not solely is she an actor, however she’s clearly a director as properly, as a result of she’s excited about learn how to work with the digicam. In order that was actually spectacular.”
The function was hers, and for her portrayal of Liz, Chau earned Gotham, BAFTA, and SAG Awards nominations, alongside together with her very first Oscar nomination. However maybe extra importantly for her, The Whale was additionally her method again into appearing after having her child, with roles in Kelly Reichardt’s Displaying Up and The Menu to observe quickly after. “It was simply wonderful luck, the initiatives that got here throughout that point,” she says. However we’d argue that luck doesn’t have that a lot to do with it—as Chau proves over and over that she’s in a position to craft memorable, distinctive characters that steal each scene they’re in. Says Aronofsky of her work, “She’s simply extremely courageous and daring, and fearless and excited and sensible.”
Aronofsky organized for 3 weeks of rehearsal for The Whale, which Chau describes as “utterly crucial” as a result of the movie script so intently mirrors the Samuel D. Hunter’s play, contained to a single location. “Darren actually inspired us to behave as if we had been a theater troupe and to all be on the identical web page by way of what film we had been making,” she says, including that he had particular blocking in thoughts for lots of the scenes.
As for Chau, she took inspiration for Liz, who’s a nurse, from her personal current expertise within the hospital having her child. “That was my first time being in a hospital and actually seeing the lengthy shifts and the day-to-day that caretakers undergo,” she says. “And the way diversified their personalities are. I used to be at all times drawn to those who appeared just a little spicier than you’d think about a nurse or a caretaker could be.”
She requested Aronofsky if Liz might have some tattoos, and he agreed, although he reminded her that nobody within the viewers would most likely discover that element. For Chau, that didn’t matter, and she or he labored with the movie’s make-up artist Judy Chin to create just a few, together with a pair of fish on her arm and just a little star on the again of her neck. “I pictured Liz as being a little bit of a wild youngster in her youthful days, and in considered one of her methods of rebelling was getting tattoos,” she says.