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Forest Whitaker - Idol Chatter
Forest Whitaker - Idol Chatter

Well, sir, exactly a year ago Philip Seymour was our Idol Chatterer and we forecast an Oscar. Now, with your kick-ass portrait of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, you have a shot at him, too.
(bashfully) I don’t know, I can’t let myself get…..I mean, when I was doing The Shield this year everybody was talking ‘Emmy buzz” so….. [An Emmy nomination was not forthcoming]. But I do think The King of Scotland is an amazing movie.

You’ve said you tend to not play yourself, but “A part of my spirit.” When you’re channeling a murderous Ugandan dictator is what you find there a little ghastly?
Yeah: There is a fear of what you’re capable of. Because there’s no way to manufacture aggressiveness or anger—you have to search inside yourself and look in the corners. Or in the front! (laughs)

Nope, it’s definitely not ‘the front’ since you’re a famously “gentle giant.”
You know, just yesterday I was directing a video and said to myself, “God, everybody’s talking about, (stickily sweetly) “Ooo,

he’s so nice.” I’m, like, “Damn! I need to be nasty! I need to give ‘em edge!” (laughs) Oh, well—in the right role they’ll see edge.

Oh, from …Scotland to Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog to your Cannes Best Actor-winning breakthrough in 1988’s Bird, we’ve seen it. Speaking of Bird, you were only 26 when Clint Eastwood hired you for that epic role. Did you think he was nuts?
At first I was excited, then afraid. But fear made me work hard. I got a sax at a pawn shop and it was a while before I realized it was broken. But it actually made me play good when they gave me a good one. I was, like, “Oh!” (laughs) I learned from Bird just to dive—that I may crash and burn, but, probably, I’ll fly if I just dive.

Is it true that, even though you made your film debut at 22 in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you didn’t think you had real chops for a while?
Yeah, after Fast Times I went north to a conservatory, because I felt like, “Maybe I could work, but I’m not good.” It was driving me crazy watching my work onscreen.

But by 1986 you were shooting pool with Paul Newman in The Color of Money and dodging bullets in Platoon.
Platoon was life-changing. It was one of the first times I was working in another country and, again, we were talking about how people are capable of doing things they never realized were inside themselves.

Do you routinely use roles like, say, the sweet, but doomed Jody in The Crying Game, for personal growth?
I think that’s the main purpose—to grow. I’m searching for this kernel that everybody has that connects us all together. It’s a personal quest, too.

So just what was the quest with Travolta’s Battlefield Earth?
(laughs) I think people are a little tough on that movie, because it was based on a book by L. Ron Hubbard and was John’s private passion.

Having also done Phenomenon with Travolta, I know y’all are close. As a well-known scholar of spirituality, any take on Scientology?
I’m not a Scientologist, but I’m definitely tolerant. If there are things I can find there to help me improve, then I would use them just as Buddhism, Christianity, whatever. But I see people making the jokes….and I’m truly not defending John or Tom [Cruise], I’m defending people being able to believe what they choose.

You directed Tom’s Katie [Holmes] in First Daughter and Whitney Houston in Waiting to Exhale and, thus, have been dubbed, a “women’s director.”
Yeah, George Cukor here. (laughs) That’s cool, though, I like that.

Though, you know, there are those who feel those films aren’t ‘serious’ enough for an actor of such great gravitas.
I understand that. And now we’re in a time when so much is going on. People’s consciousness is changing which means we truly are moving into a new age. So I’m going to apply a new understanding. It’s not as tangible as I’d like, but it’s a very powerful energy that can come into my films now. As for the ‘gravitas,’ well, hopefully, I have some wisdom to match what it looks like. (chuckles) But probably not as much as everyone might see.

© 2015 Brantley Bardin. All Rights Reserved.

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