This Forest Whitaker is on Fire!

Kam Williams | 8/29/2013, 6:01 a.m.
A versatile talent, Forest Whitaker is one of Hollywood’s most accomplished performers, receiving such prestigious honors as an Academy Award ...

How did you prepare for the role of Cecil Gaines?

I trained with a butler coach for quite some time. And I studied the history and, of course, tried to make that a part of my own emotional understanding of the time period and the presidency. In terms of the aging process, I particularly had to work on movement and mannerisms. I also tried to understand the dialect and speech patterns. And I worked on how I could communicate my thoughts more clearly without words. I wanted to fill myself up enough so that you would be able to feel my thoughts, even in scenes where I would say nothing.

That hard work paid off. I cried about a half-dozen times during the film.

It’s very moving because it deals with so many primal issues: loss, degradation, even joy. Lee painted a picture that allows you to get in touch with many different emotions.

What was it like acting opposite Oprah?

Oprah just really committed completely to the movie. She was startling, at times, in how deeply she was into the authenticity of the scenes. For instance, there was a big emotional moment that wasn’t shown completely in the film where she screamed and fell to the ground, letting out a piercing wail that went through my bones. It had me trying to figure out how to comfort her, because it’s hard to find the proper emotion to respond to pain that overwhelms.

Whitaker as Idi Amin, former Ugandan dicatator and rumored cannibal, in The Last King of Scotland.

courtesy of Film Four & DNA Films Ltd.

Whitaker as Idi Amin, former Ugandan dicatator and rumored cannibal, in The Last King of Scotland.

Is there a story about an icon that you would like to direct and star in?

Yes, there’s a film I’ve been developing about Louie Armstrong that I’d like to direct and star in. I wrote the script and really believe in it. I think it’s something I’ll probably do next year, although I haven’t made a final decision about whether I should direct it or not. It’s a really special story.

How did it feel when you were just breaking into the industry to receive such a glowing acknowledgment from a seasoned and respected actor like Sean Connery for your work in The Crying Game?

I didn’t even know until now that Sean Connery had commented about my work in The Crying Game. A lot of Brits believed that I was British for quite some time after that film. So, I can see how Sean Connery might have said something. That’s nice.

You produced the extraordinary Fruitvale Station. Is this a new role you see for yourself?

The truth is, I produce one or two movies every year, both independent and studio films. I’ll continue to produce. In fact, I have a documentary that just came out about the Rwandan National Cycling team called Rising from Ashes.

You are a true Renaissance man. Besides acting, you write, direct, narrate and produce. You’re like a latter-day Oscar Micheaux.

Oscar Micheaux reshaped the black film movement. Those are some great shoes to fill. I can only take that as a compliment. That gives me something to live toward, because it’s a lot.