The 600-Pound Gay Man: How Actor Scott Greer Bares It All in The Whale

Scott Greer in "The Whale."

Scott Greer in “The Whale.”

Imagine eating yourself to death. Sounds dreadful. That’s what Charlie, the protagonist in the darkly humorous and poignant play The Whale, essentially does: After the death of his partner, Charlie balloons to 600 pounds, refusing to leave his house due not only to his depression, but his size. As his estranged daughter attempts to reconcile with Charlie, we get to see how family takes on a variety of meanings.

And, yeah, we get to see that 600-pound costume, too, a custom-made suit that takes an extraordinary amount of time for actor Scott Greer to get in and get out of. Greer stars in the production at Theatre Exile, and took the time to chat with us about what its like to play the monstrous character, and what kind of reaction someone like Charlie would get in the modern gay “community.”

Obviously, this is a play, but there’s so much to be said about body image in the gay community. How do you think 600-pound Charlie would be viewed by other gays?
Charlie doesn’t really have a community. His situation is unique. He is gay, but he was married to a woman and has a daughter. He left them for a man who later died. He hasn’t been with anyone since. Being 600 pounds is obviously an extreme state of affairs. I think gay or straight, he’s pretty much had body issues all the time.

What has been the most difficult part of playing this role for you?
I’ve had to learn two parts: Charlie and his body. I have an amazing suit, built by Allison Roberts and Jill Keys. Much of the process has been connecting the suit and the labored breathing to the rest of the character. Charlie wasn’t always this big. What are the remnants of his life before the weight? That’s been the biggest challenge.

Greer getting "fitted" for the huge costume.

Greer getting “fitted” for the huge costume.

Let’s talk about that suit, because it’s kind of like its own character: What is that like? How do you physically adapt to wearing that giant thing?
The suit is by far the biggest curve ball. It weighs about 50 pounds. It’s heavy and hot. It’s a little like learning to operate a puppet from the inside. The costumers and Theatre Exile worked hard so that I could have it when we started rehearsals. That is unusual, and was totally necessary for this process.

Do you think Charlie ever comes to accept the passing of his partner?
No. If he does, there isn’t a play.

What do you hope audiences “get” from The Whale?
I believe the play is about compassion. I think each character offers the audience an opportunity to dislike them and to empathize with them. I think that is what makes it such a good play. It’s easy to feel compassion for beautiful, likable people, or victims of fate. It’s also easy to sit in judgement. This play gives compelling reasons to do both, and I love to explore that tension.

You can catch The Whale at Theatre Exile February 5th through March 1. For more information, click here.