The Last King of Scotland
“I didn’t have an image of him other than a postage-stamp image of this mad general dictator. I knew he wasn’t a caricature. … I knew he was a complete human being. So when I was looking at the project, it was an opportunity to explore. As an artist, it is great to play a character like that.” Forest Whitaker on the challenge of playing Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland
A Golden Globe Award-nominated actor of film, stage and television, as well as a producer and director Forest Whitaker more recently wowed critics with his starring role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland (2006), from which he won a Boston Society of Film Critics Award, a Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award, a National Board of Review Award, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a Satellite Award and a Southeastern Film Critics Association Award, and a Golden Globe nomination. The same year, he also enjoyed success in the small screen, thanks to his portrayals of a besieged internal affairs cop in FX’s series “The Shield” (2006) and a carpenter who ends up being paralyzed by a stroke after being disclosed for a cough in NBC’s “ER” (2006-2007). For his work in these three projects, Whitaker was named The Magazine’s “Actor of the Year” in their review issue in 2006, an honor he also received from the 2006 Hollywood Film Festival.
Whitaker is also memorable for playing roles in such films as Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986), Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986), Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Clint Eastwood’s Bird (1988, netted a Cannes Film Festival Award and a Sant Jordi Award), Robert Altman’s comedy Ready to Wear/Pret-a-Porter (1994, received a National Board of Review Award), Phenomenon (1996, earned a Blockbuster Entertainment Award), the David Finch thriller Panic Room (2002), Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002) and American Gun (2005, nabbed an Independent Spirit nod). He also took home a Black Reel Television Award for his work in the 2003 Showtime movie Deacons for Defense, and won an Emmy Award for his producing in the made-for-TV-film Door to Door (2002). Behind the camera, Whitaker is probably best known as the director of the Toronto-screened Strapped (1993), a HBO Urban drama which won the director’s award for best first feature in the film festival. He also helmed Waiting to Exhale (1995), Hope Floats (1998), Black Jaq (1998, TV) and First Daughter (2004).
As for his personal life, Whitaker, who is a vegan, has spent his life outside the spotlight with his wife of 11 years, fellow actress Keisha Whitaker. He is the father of three children, daughters Sonnet and True (mother Keisha) and son Ocean (from a former relationship). He also has a stepdaughter, Autumn, from a previous relationship of Keisha’s. The owner of a black belt in Kempo Karate, Whitaker, was once romantically involved with actress Raye Dowell (born 1961).
Childhood and Family:
Forest Steven Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas to Forest Whitaker, Jr. and Laura Francis Smith. While raising her, his mother placed herself through college and received two Master degrees. Forest’s brothers, Kenn (born June 8, 1963) and Damon (born October 21, 1971), are both actors.
Moving to Los Angeles at young age, Forest was educated at Palisades High School, in Los Angeles, California, and later won an athletic scholarship to study at California Polytechnic Institute in Pomona, California. An excellent football player, he left football due to his disappointment with his coach and then transferred to the University of Southern California, where he studied drama and opera. Forest also studied acting at the Drama Studio London, Berkeley Branch in Berkeley, California.
On May 4, 1996, Forest was married to Boston, Massachusetts-born actress Keisha Simone Nash (born March 8, 1972). Together they have two daughters, Sonnet Noel Whitaker (born October 3, 1996) and True Isabella Summer Whitaker (born on July 2, 1998). Forest also has a son named Ocean Alexander Whitaker (born 1990), from a previous relationship, and a step-daughter, Autumn, through his marriage with wife Keisha. Forest has a Black Belt in Kenpo Karate.
Forest Whitaker gained an extensive stage exposure after college by performing in multiple productions in Los Angeles, including “Swan” at the Inner City Cultural Center, “School Talk” at the Mark Taper Forum, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Beggar’s Opera” at California Youth Theater, as well as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “The Greeks” at Drama Studio London. He entered the film industry as a high school football player in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was written by Cameron Crowe and starring Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and followed it up with memorable supporting roles in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986, as an adorably deceitful billiards opponent of Paul Newman), Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and Barry Levinson’s Good Morning, Vietnam (1987, as Robin Williams’s aide). However, Whitaker did not reach leading man status until 1988, when director Clint Eastwood had him play the role of jazz legend Charlie Parker in the biography film Bird. The role brought the actor a Cannes Film Festival for Best Actor and a Sant Jordi for Best Foreign Actor, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama. In between his busy film schedule, Whitaker also did several television projects, making guest appearances in such shows as “Hill Street Blues” (1984), “Different Strokes” (1985) and Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” (1986), and playing Cuffey in the miniseries “North and South” (1985) and its sequel “North and South: Book II” (1986). He also found himself helming his first major stage production, “Dreams Across the Realm” (1986).
After portraying a gently plastic surgeon in Johnny Handsome (1989), Whitaker could be seen in such movies as the Bill Duke-directed A Rage in Harlem (1991, also co-produced), Diary of a Hitman (1991, released in USA in 1992), acting coach Roy London’s feature directing debut Consenting Adults (1992) and Neil Jordan’s highly admired The Crying Game (1992, as a British soldier kidnapped by IRA terrorists). In 1993, the actor made his TV-movie directorial debut with the HBO urban drama Strapped, featuring Kiefer Sutherland. The courageous film screened at diverse international film festivals and nabbed the director’s award for best first feature at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival. He rejoined Sutherland that later that same year by co-starring in Sutherland’s directorial debut, Last Light (also for HBO).
Flooded by offers to direct, Whitaker stayed a proverbial face on screen while planning his filmmaking future. He acted in the low-budget Body Snatchers (1993) and the big-budgets Blown Away (1994) and Species (1995), and made his return to the world of jazz by playing trumpeter Buddy Chester in the Showtime film Lush Life (1993), opposite Jeff Goldblum and Kathy Baker. He touchingly played physically and mentally disfigures fathers in Jason’s Lyric (1994) and Smoke (1995), and was effective as a realistic designer in the Robert Altman comedy Ready to Wear/Pret-a-Porter (1994), from which he jointly received a National Board of Review for Best Acting by an Ensemble.
1995 saw Whitaker helm his first film, Waiting to Exhale, the Black female ensemble adapted from a best seller book by Terry McMillan. Starring Angela Bassett and Whitney Houston, the movie was released to mixed reviews and healthy box office. He fared well in front-of-the camera as the best friend of John Travolta in 1996’s Phenomenon, from which he was awarded a 1997 Blockbuster Entertainment for Favorite Supporting Actor-Drama. Whitaker returned to the director’s chair in 1998 for Hope Floats, a drama/romance starring Sandra Bullock. Although similar to Waiting to Exhale in its story of a character attempting to salvage belief in herself, the film was far less convincing than its predecessor. Aside from helming a 1998 busted ABC pilot “Black Jaq,” Whitaker had remained in front of the camera since Hope Floats.
Whitaker costarred with Usher Raymond in the drama Light It Up (1999), played a Federal Marshall in HBO’s Witness Protection (1999), starred in the titular character of a hit man in Jim Jarmusch’s whimsical Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and was cast as Ker in Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2000, reunited with Travolta), which was adapted from the novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. He then had a supporting role in the Sundance-screened The Green Dragon (2001), starred along side Jeremy Irons in the John Irvin thriller The Fourth Angel (2001), and was featured as Daguerreotypist Picard in the CBS TV miniseries “Feast of All Saints" (2001), based on the Anne Rice horror novel. The following year found Whitaker in a couple of films, the David Finch thriller Panic Room, opposite Jodie Foster, and Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth, playing a sympathetic police captain who comes to the aid of a man (Colin Farrell) ensnared in a telephone booth by a mystifying sniper. Still in 2002, he hosted and narrated “The Twilight Zone,” the classical mystery television series which lasted one season, and served as co-executive producer of 2002’s telepic Door to Door, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Made for Television Movie in 2003.
In 2003, Whitaker gave an impressive portrayal as Marcus Clay, the founder of the segregation-opposed organization of the 1960s, in the Showtime fact-based film Deacons for the Defense, where he took home a Black Reel for Best Actor as well as a Best Actor SAG nod. He returned to filmmaking as the producer of the Latina-centric comedy Chasing Papi (2003), and after a six-year hiatus, he was back to the director’s chair for 2004’s First Daughter, a comedy/drama starring Katie Holmes. He could be seen acting in a variety films released in 2005, including the Italian-released Mary, the low-budget thriller A Little Trip To Heaven and American Gun, where he also executive produced and earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead for his performance.
Whitaker joined the cast of the 2002 FX cop serial “The Shield” in 2006 in the regular role of Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh, a cop from internal affairs out to investigate Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and his corrupt Strike Team. The role brought the actor a 2006 Satellite nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He went on to appear in six episodes of the NBC popular medical drama “ER” (2006-2007), playing a carpenter who finishes up being paralyzed by a stroke after being admitted for a cough. Meanwhile, on the silver screen, the actor provided the voice of Lonnie Brewster in the uninspired animated film Everyone’s Hero (2006), supported Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito in crime/drama Even Money (2006) and costarred with Justin Louis and Gabrielle Anwar in the horror/thriller The Marsh (2006). However, it was Whitaker’s performance in director Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland (2006), starring as Idi Amin, the compelling, but wicked dictator of Uganda, that garnered him a number of recognition and acclaim. For his significant effort, Whitaker picked up a Boston Society of Film Critics, a Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, a National Board of Review, a Los Angeles Film Critics Association, a New York Film Critics Circle, a Satellite and a Southeastern Film Critics Association for Best Actor. He also received a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination.
The productive performer has completed 2006’s drama Ripple Effect, starring Philippe Caland as fashion designer Amer Atrash, and the crime/drama film The Air I Breathe, starring as Happiness. Directed by Jieho Lee, the film is set to be released in May 2007. He is also schedule to star in the drama/thriller Vantage Point (2007), opposite Matthew Fox and Dennis Quaids and Sigourney Weaver, and play the voice role of Wild Thing in the Spike Jonze animated Where the Wild Things Are (2008).