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Forest Whitaker Poster

Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 15 July 1961Longview, Texas, USA
Birth NameForest Steven Whitaker
Height 6' 2" (1.88 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Forest Steven Whitaker has packaged a king-size talent into his hulking 6' 2", 220 lb. frame. He won an Academy Award for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, and has also won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. He is the fourth African-American male to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, following in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Foxx.

Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961 in Longview, Texas, to Laura Francis (Smith), a special education teacher, and Forest Steven Whitaker, an insurance salesman. His family moved to South Central Los Angeles in 1965. The athletically-inclined Whitaker initially found his way into college via a football scholarship. Later, however, he transferred to USC where he set his concentration on music and earned two more scholarships training as an operatic tenor. This, in turn, led to another scholarship at Berkeley with a renewed focus on acting and the performing stage.

Whitaker made his film debut at the age of 21 in the raucous comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) wherein he played, quite naturally, a footballer. He went on to play another sports-oriented student, a wrestler, in his second film Vision Quest (1985). He gained experience on TV as well with featured spots on such varied shows as Diff'rent Strokes (1978) and Cagney & Lacey (1981), not to mention the TV-movie Civil War epic North and South (1985) and its sequel. The movie that truly put him on the map was The Color of Money (1986). His one big scene as a naive-looking pool player who out-hustles Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felson was pure electricity. This led to more visible roles in the "A" class films Platoon (1986), Stakeout (1987), and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), which culminated in his breakout lead portrayal of the tortured jazz icon 'Charlie "Bird" Parker' in Clint Eastwood's passion project Bird (1988), for which Whitaker won the Cannes Film Festival award for "best actor" and a Golden Globe nomination. Whitaker continued to work with a number of well-known directors throughout the 1990s.

While his "gentle giant" characters typically display innocence, indecision, and timidity along with a strong underlying humanity, he has certainly not shied away from the edgier, darker corners of life as his occasional hitmen and other menacing streetwise types can attest. Although in only the first section of the film, he was memorable as the IRA-captured British soldier whose bizarre relationship with a mysterious femme fatale serves as the catalyst for the critically-lauded drama The Crying Game (1992). Always a willing participant to push the envelope, he's gone on to enhance a number of lesser films. Among those was his plastic surgeon in Johnny Handsome (1989), gay clothing designer in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear (1994), alien hunter in Species (1995), absentee father confronted by his estranged son in Smoke (1995), and Mafia hitman who models himself after the samurai warrior in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), among many others. As would be expected, he's also had his share of epic-sized bombs, notoriously the L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi disaster Battlefield Earth (2000). On the TV front, he was the consulting producer and host of a revamped Rod Serling's cult series classic The Twilight Zone (2002), which lasted a disappointing one season.

In the early 1990s, Whitaker widened his horizons to include producing/directing and has since gained respect behind the camera as well. He started things off co-producing the violent gangster film A Rage in Harlem (1991), in which he co-starred with Gregory Hines and Robin Givens, and then made his successful directorial debut with the soulful Waiting to Exhale (1995), showcasing a legion of distaff black stars. He also directed co-star Whitney Houston's music video of the movie's theme song ("Shoop Shoop"). He also helmed the fluffy romantic comedy First Daughter (2004) with Katie Holmes and Michael Keaton. Whitaker also served as an executive producer on First Daughter. He had previously executive produced several made-for-television movies, most notably the 2002 Emmy-award winning Door to Door, starring William H. Macy. He produced these projects through his production company, Spirit Dance Entertainment, which he shut down in 2005 to concentrate on his acting career.

In 2002, he co-starred in Joel Schumacher's thriller, Phone Booth, with Kiefer Sutherland and Colin Farrell. That year, he also co-starred with Jodie Foster in Panic Room.

Whitaker's greatest success to date is the 2006 film, The Last King of Scotland. His performance earned him the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, For that same role, he also received the Golden Globe Award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, a BAFTA Award, and many critical accolades. He has also received several other honors. In September 2006, the 10th Annual Hollywood Film Festival presented him with its "Hollywood Actor of the Year Award," He was also honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2007, receiving the American Riviera Award. Previously, in 2005, the Deauville Festival of American Film paid tribute to him. In 2007, Forest Whitaker won the Cinema for Peace Award 2007.

In 2007, Whitaker co-starred in The Great Debaters with fellow Oscar winner Denzel Washington, and in 2008, Whitaker played opposite Keanu Reeves in Street Kings and Dennis Quaid in Vantage Point.

In 2009, Forest co-starred in the Warner Bros. film "Where the Wild Things Are," directed by Spike Jonze, which was a mix of live-action, animation and puppetry as an adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic children's book. Around the same time, he also starred in "Repossession Mambo", with Jude Law, "Hurricane Season", "Winged Creatures", and "Powder Blue". He appeared in the Olivier Dahan film "My Own Love Song", opposite Renee Zellweger, and was part of the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009, in Nigeria.

He is married to former model Keisha Whitaker and has three children by her. His younger brothers Kenn Whitaker and Damon Whitaker are both actors as well.

Forest was given a star on the Hollywood Walk in April of 2007. In November 2007, Whitaker was the creative mind behind DEWmocracy.com, a website that let people decide the next flavor of Mountain Dew in a "People's Dew" poll. He directed a short film and created the characters for the video game. Whitaker has done extensive humanitarian work, he has been involved with organizations like, Penny Lane, an organization that provides assistance to abused teenagers. PETA and Farm Sanctuary, organizations that protect animals' rights. Close friends with Neurosurgeon Dr. Keith Black, Forest has helped raise awareness and funds for Dr. Blacks research. During the last couple of years, he has become a spokesperson for Hope North Ugandan orphanage and Human Rights Watch. In the year 2001 Forest received a Humanitas Prize. He was recently honored by The City of Los Angeles with the Hope of Los Angeles Award. And his entire clan received the LA BEST Family Focus Award. Last year he joined forces with "Idol Gives Back" and "Malaria No More"; he has become a GQ Ambassador supporting and fundraising for Hope North. He was a Surrogate for Barrack Obama's campaign supporting him across the United States.

Whitaker's multimedia company, Spirit Dance Entertainment, includes film, television and music production. He works closely with a number of charitable organizations, giving back to his community by serving as an Honorary Board Members for Penny Lane, an organization that provides assistance to abused teenagers, the Human Rights Watch and The Hope North organization.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net and The Whitaker Team

Spouse (1)

Keisha Whitaker (4 May 1996 - present) (2 children)

Trade Mark (3)

His left eye, which can not open fully due to the hereditary condition ptosis.
Often plays characters that are, or are inspired by, historical figures
Often plays military/political/law enforcement roles

Trivia (25)

Brother of actors Kenn Whitaker and Damon Whitaker.
Was set to direct a live-action film version of Fat Albert (2004) but disagreed with Bill Cosby and has since left the production. [April 2002]
Attended University of Southern California (USC) School of Theater.
Is a vegetarian.
He is the father of three children. He has two daughters, Sonnet Noel Whitaker (b. October 3rd 1996) and True Whitaker (b. July 2nd 1998), by his wife, Keisha Whitaker and a son, Ocean Whitaker (b. 1990), from a previous relationship. He also has Autumn (b. 1991), a stepdaughter through his marriage with Keisha.
Born with an eye condition called ptosis, which translates to "drooping eyelid."
Originally cast in the role of "Sawyer" on Lost (2004), but opted out of the role when 20th Century Fox green lighted his film First Daughter (2004).
Brother-in-law of Jeffrey Nash and Kidada Jones.
In 2003, Whitaker became Executive Director of the Nodance Film Festival, a festival that celebrates the alternative digital film culture with an emphasis on first-time filmmakers and digital filmmaking. Originally held in Park City, Utah, Nodance has recently relaunched in Los Angeles and holds the distinction of being the world's first DVD-projected film festival.
He tried to be as bulky as possible to play Big Harold in Platoon (1986), but the vigorous boot-camping training, bad food and rough shoot caused him to lose a lot of weight. When he noticed Whitaker was getting thinner, Oliver Stone said to him, "What are you doing? You're supposed to be 'Big' Harold".
Raised in Los Angeles by an insurance-salesman father and schoolteacher mother, the high school football star ditched his jersey and helmet after catching the acting bug in a production of Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood".
Whitaker hosted Saturday Night Live (1975) on February 10, 2007, during which his singing talent was featured in several sketches.
Met his wife actress Keisha Whitaker, nee Nash, on the set of Blown Away (1994).
Spent a total of three and a half months in Uganda researching and filming The Last King of Scotland (2006). Uganda was his ever first visit to Africa.
He and his daughter, True Whitaker, have recorded a public service announcement promoting vegetarianism on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Was member of the dramatic jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003.
Won 23 major awards for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (2006) including all the awards that are considered the biggest (except Cannes). He was also nominated for one more award, and won BET's "Best Actor" for the same year (presumably for the same film).
He was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in March 2004 in Austin, Texas.
Attended Cal Poly Pomona University, just like fellow actor Eric Martic.
Presented French actress Marion Cotillard with the Best Actress Oscar for her lead in La Vie en Rose (2007).
(March 27, 1993) Attended the 8th Annual Independent Spirit Awards.
Is one of 8 actors to have won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same performance. The others in chronological order are Geoffrey Rush for Shine (1996), Jamie Foxx for Ray (2004), Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005), Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men (2007), Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood (2007), Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008), and Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009).
Holds a Black belt in Kenpo Karate.
Lives in Los Angeles, California.
He is a supporter and public advocate for Hope North, a boarding school and vocational training center in northern Uganda for escaped child soldiers, orphans, and other young victims of the country's civil war. He met the school's founder during the filming of The Last King of Scotland.

Personal Quotes (27)

I can play a man who's despicable. But I'll still look inside him to find a point of connection. If I can find that kernel, audiences will relate to me.
[on his character in The Shield (2002)] I'm always blown away by people's negative reactions to Kavanaugh. He's a highly moral man who's brought to the breaking point. To me, he's like an angel. Yes, he's obsessive. Anal. Intense. But his goal is to get Vic Mackey off the street. This is somebody who beats people up on a weekly basis, steals money, blackmails people. But I'm the bad guy?
My parents moved to Los Angeles when I was really young, but I spent every summer with my grandparents, and I'd stay with my grandfather on the farm in Longview {Texas]. He was retired from the railroad, and he had a small farm with some cows and some pigs. I remember part of my youth was feeding hogs and plowing fields and stuff, so that's a part of me. And my parents raised me to say "sir" and "ma'am"' to open doors, things like that. That's the way I was brought up. Also, unfortunately, I was taught not to question too much. I didn't really question my mom and dad. That's usually what they told me to do.
[on being a black actor] I have friends, African-American actors, who've had more of a struggle; hopefully they're starting to see some air and light now. But in my directing career, in my acting career, in my producing career, I haven't been bound by a lot of limitations. When I first started doing these kinds of unique characters, these diverse characters, there was hardly anybody doing them. So I had this open road.
[on his children's names - True and Ocean - and his name and how it affected his childhood] I want those names to be their destiny, for my daughter to be honest and my son to be expansive. I try to be like a forest, revitalizing and constantly growing . . . . Kids would tease me, calling me Little Bush". But . . . I thought being called Forest helped me find my identity.
[in 1998] As a kid, I never had dreams of becoming an actor or director. Even when I was already working professionally, it took me a long time to know whether this was what I really wanted to be. Now I feel comfortable about what I'm doing, but I see that I can continue to make it better, that I can create a deeper balance in my life, and I'm still working on that. I didn't plan for things to turn out this way at all. But I have to say, I feel good about it. I do.
[on the most interesting actor he has worked with] Mickey Rourke, I thought, was really interesting. I did a movie called Johnny Handsome (1989) that Walter Hill directed. I had a scene with Mickey in which he says goodbye to me, and I learned something very powerful. He didn't say anything. I don't know if his thoughts were so powerful or my imagination was so large, but I could swear I could hear him speaking to me. It was like he was saying, "I want to tell you thanks--you know, I'm about to disappoint you, but you did a good job". And then, finally, he says, "Thank you". I was just like, "Whoa!" He's an amazing actor.
[on his best work] If I were to mark three, I'd mark Bird (1988), because I grew immensely as an artist--I learned a lot--and also, I think, it was when people started to take me more seriously. I'd also mark Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), because I started to understand something about myself in silence, how I'm capable of communicating certain things without doing much. And then I'd probably mark The Last King of Scotland (2006), which marries the internal and the external in a strong way and brings together all of the things I've learned about my work into one character.
[on his career] As an actor, I've always wanted to do characters that would help me find my connection with others and connect all of us together. You always want the energy of the character, the spirit of the person, to enter you. I've been doing this for 26 years and some of the things I've done are always with me. Maybe it's a word; maybe it's a gesture; maybe the sound; maybe it's a new understanding about something. I look at it like a past life because I keep going over and over what I have done.
[on choosing studio or independent films] I go back and forth between indie and studio because I feel like it, not because I feel obligated to do one or the other. The only reason to make a decision like that is financial, you know, you can't live. That doesn't make my decision for me, I do what feels right for me. I'm not going to do a bad movie just because it's a studio movie or an indie film, and there are hordes of bad independent movies. People tend to think that indie movies are always good, but I've seen horrific ones, just as well as I've seen horrific studio films. So I just go by how I feel, it's the only way you can figure it out. Otherwise you get lost in the maze of trying to second guess the people, the studio, how you can make your career long or short. It's easy to get lost in this maze, called life, really, you know what I mean?
[on filming the Panic Room (2002)] The guys on the set, Dwight [Dwight Yoakam], Jared [Jared Leto] and me, would work for a day, and then the next day Jodie [Jodie Foster] would work. We rarely worked together, so it was all about getting to know some of the guys. With the way scheduling was, she's not in the small frame as all of us. They never did it that way. The thing about the film was you did become closer with some people in ways because it took so long. This is the longest shoot I have ever had. It was about 145 shooting days. We also had rehearsals before that. I think it took so long because of the shots taken. It was the most planned movie I've been involved with.
[on his role in The Last King of Scotland (2006)] It was an experience that changed my life and my thoughts. I went there with the purpose of understanding what it was like to be Ugandan, and I wanted to understand the food, the life, the way they deal with children and wives and with authority figures. I sat with Idi Amin's brother underneath a big mango tree and he told me stories about what Idi was like and how he used to come to town and pull together soccer or rugby games. It all helped me with figuring out the way he behaved and the way he thought, so that 24 hours a day, even in my dreams, I was totally consumed by the character of Idi Amin. It wasn't until the movie was over that I decided I could let go of the character, so the first thing I did was take a shower because I figured I could wash him off by scrubbing myself. I was in a room by myself, so I started yelling to get his voice out of me and get my own voice back.
[.on getting into acting] 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. And 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.
[on his role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) and how he prepared] I started reading "The Hagekure" and other books, including one called "The Code of the Samurai", and I watched a lot of films. I tried to find his mindset more than anything. It's more like a trance-like state for this character than it is anything else, based in the ancient book that he follows. But I did a lot of different types of research.
Until film is just as easily accessible as a pen or pencil, then it's not completely an art form. In painting you can just pick up a piece of chalk, a stick or whatever. In sculpture you can get a rock. Writing you just need a pencil and paper. Film has been a very elitist medium. It costs so much money. It doesn't allow everyone who wants to tell stories tell stories. The great storytellers, however, are going to rise to the top, no matter what. That's why independent film is very important to me.
My eye? It's a genetic thing. My dad had it and now I have it. You know, I just found out that it may be correctable a little bit, because it does impair my vision. When I look up, I lose sight in this eye. I think maybe for other people, it informs the way they see me. But I don't really think about this eye, other than the times people talk about it, or when people take photographs of me sometimes they might say stuff about it. I don't think it makes me look bad or anything. It just is.
[on his role in The Last King of Scotland (2006)) I did a massive amount to prepare for this. First of all I started learning Swahili, learning the accent, then I had to do study all the recording as well as all the books, tapes, documentaries. When I went to Uganda I met with his [Idi Amin's] brother, sister, his ministers, his generals and even to the Ugandan king. I did more research for this role than any other character I've probably ever played.
[in 2006] I think that there's an awakening inside of me really honestly, and I honestly believe that the best work of my life is about to happen. I'm finding a balance in myself as an artist from the external and the internal, and so as a result the characters I play are going to be quite different. So what's going to happen is that it's going to lift up the characters I play, we're going to start to see it and I think it's going to change the face of my career.
[in 1996] Directing is more comfortable for me, because as an actor there's always something inherently false. Because I'm not that person. I can spend a week in jail, but I'm still leaving. I once talked to a shaman who said, "What makes you think these characters you play aren't real? I think you should examine that.' But it has always been my great frustration as an actor that I can't go deep into the thoughts, feelings and history of the character. As a director. I feel like it's real. I get caught up in the emotions and the story. I like being a storyteller.
[on 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'] Sometimes in one day I might play three different ages - a 90 year old and a 50 year old and a 30 year old...[working] 20 hours a day. I was working at least no less than 15 usually, to 18...I broke the script down to such a degree that i could see exactly where I was at any time and what had happened before. I have never worked that specifically. It was one of the most challenging roles I had ever played, and as a result it kind of revitalized me as an actor. It brought the joy back to acting in a way.
[on director Lee Daniels] He's so present emotionally, and raw. And sometimes you finish a scene and you go over to him, and he'd just be weeping tears in his chair, crying. Coming over to say 'Was that okay?' He's so present and sometimes he just screams out laughing in the middle of a scene. It's kind of exhilarating and sort of unbalancing at the same time.
I've talked to different groups who are in social activism and stuff and I would say to them 'You take your photograph right now of the ten of you. You may think yourselves anonymous and maybe sometimes you might be. But I want you to remember that each step you take is a part of history. That as we live and breathe, history is occurring. The fact that those photographs we used to see in the '60s of those individuals that you admire, that you didn't know their names but saw them marching down the streets - those are us.
We need to have our voices heard, acknowledge things for what they are, because acknowledgment is a big part of the healing of the nation. And then we have to make a conscious choice so that we can move forward to some form of repentance -some form of recompense, so that we can move into a forgiveness space of compassion.
This oneness that we're reaching for is a hard thing to fight for because inside of it people are frightened. They're afraid. There's a fear, and we have to pass that fear...This thread, this thing, this machine, the movement that we have to recognize, has not stopped and it's continuing to move on.
[on approaching each role with fresh eyes] There's a good fear and there's a negative fear. There's a thing you confront when you're going into something new and you come to this sort of abyss, and then you push yourself. It makes you try different things.
I've been fortunate I guess: I've gotten to play a lot of very diverse roles for quite a long time. But in the beginning, I was thinking 'I'm not gonna do certain characters. I will be willing to say no and and live on a couch'. And I was really happy. Maybe more happy sometimes than in latter years when I had more, when I was thinking and considering more things for different reasons - for family, for my home. But luckily I was able to at least maintain some sort of a line. Even if I would veer right or left, I would stay pretty close to center, and the roles were really interesting.
[on working with Kasi Lemmons on 'Black Nativity'] She is a filmmaker who has a broad breadth of understanding. She's passionate, very open. She inspires you by creating a family atmosphere on set, and you always feel supported by her. I think she had a great vision. To do a contemporary musical with some attachment to the past is unique.

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