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Forest Whitaker shares wit, wisdom in discussing latest film

Kam Williams | 2/27/2014, 6 a.m.

What steps do you take to understand and become “Repentance” character Angel Sanchez? How do you prepare for a role?

I read a number of different books and articles on mental illness … about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, medications and issues surrounding those topics. And I also did some interviews with people dealing with those things. So, that helped shaped part of Angel. For the rest of it, I tried to look at grief and pain. I wanted to understand the stages of grief, and the escalation that might happen if this person was in deep pursuit of the truth about the loss of his mother, and then you put the other stuff on top of that. So, I just kept piling it on until it started to leak out in the movie.

What consideration enters into your decision to take on a role?

I think every character bears it, but I’d like to know that the movie’s going to shed some more light on our humanity, and open up another door for me. I think the biggest thing that motivates me when I’m choosing a part is a role that will help me continue to grow as a person and as an artist, and a role that will deepen my understanding of humanity, and my connection to it.

Is there a particular role that you would like to do next, if you could choose any one you want?

Well, I’ve been playing around and toying with doing the Louie Armstrong story. I’ve developed a script we’ve been working on. It still may happen. That’s interesting to me. Otherwise, I’m just looking for characters that continue to make me stretch and grow and learn more about the human condition.

How has being an actor made you a better person, and how difficult is it to balance a personal life with the life of a working actor? Do relationships and family suffer?

I think it’s allowed me to understand more about myself, and to understand more about others. In that way, it has helped me better myself, and expand myself. As far as family, it’s always difficult to be away, which a film career calls for. You’re often away for months at a time. You have to try to find a balance by having your loved ones on location with you or you can go back to visit them. There’s also the phone, Skype and other things of that nature. It’s a struggle, but this isn’t the only profession that has to deal with adverse conditions. For instance, I met a cab driver who hasn’t been back home for years. I’m lucky that I don’t have that kind of distance from my family.

What did you learn from being directed by Clint Eastwood in “Bird.”

I think Clint trusts himself completely. I came to appreciate that kind of trust that he has in the artists and his choices that allows you to feel like you’re walking in some form of grace. I think the other thing would be that he’s worked with his crews for so many years, for 15, 20, sometimes 25 years. As a result they truly operate like a well-oiled machine. That’s a great insight to learn about the relationships you want to nurture and maintain.