Q&A: Forest Whitaker
College athlete-turned-actor Forest Whitaker is currently the talk of Tinseltown with his powerful portrayal of real life White House employee, Eugene Allen in Lee Daniels’ The Butler in theaters now. The 52-year-old known for such films as The Color Of Money, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Panic Room, The Twilight Zone, The Great Debaters and his memorable work on TV series “The Shield”, has already garnered an Oscar nod in 2006 for best actor in Last King of Scotland.
Q: You have just made movie gold in The Butler, why have you said this role was intimidating?
A: I was concerned that I couldn't do it well enough. This is the most specific work I've ever done, and possibly one of the most difficult roles I've ever played. Part of that is because of the silence—I needed to convey what I was thinking and feeling without doing or saying anything. But honestly, I was grateful, because at that point I needed a challenge like this for myself as an artist. I needed to be afraid. Being afraid is good.
Q: Why don’t these stories get told more?
A: Sometimes people are afraid to look at the face of what’s going on. If you can’t accept that these things are going on, you’re living an illusion. So the question at this point is more of, how can we move the needle forward? Can we speak up? I think this film helps that in some way. It’s important for black youths, particularly, to be able to fill in the blanks of themselves so they can know completely who they are. How did we continue to grow to the place where we’re in right now? If there were no Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, would there be a Barack Obama?
Q: How did you get started in acting?
A: In high school I did some musicals, but I never took acting until college. I was studying opera, classical voice, and a speech teacher asked me to audition for this play and I got the lead. She helped me to get into a conservatory, with a scholarship as a singer, and then I was accepted into the acting conservatory. This agent saw me, the summer before I went to conservatory, and while I was in school, I started working right away. And it worked out.
Q: So you didn't pursue this as your one and only career.
A: Not at all. I was always kind of nervous that it wasn't the right thing for me. I could have done what I wanted. I had like a 3.8 average. My folks wanted me to be a doctor, but I figured it out and started to do it [acting].
Q: What was it that struck you about director of Fruitvale Station Ryan Coogler who your company helped produce the film?
A: Ryan is one of the true voices of the next decade. He has so much to offer because he understands about showing the face and the different sides of humanity. He really understands the making of film and does have his own style of storytelling. For me, it’s to be able to put a personal face on those people, in different walks, and to also not judge. To recognize that life is diverse, and that survival is the motivating force. Ryan does that.