Forest Steven Whitaker III is an Academy Award-winning actor, director, and producer, popularly known for his portrayal of Idi Amin in the movie The Last King of Scotland
(2006). The actor is generally seen in intensive roles and conducts extensive research to get under the skin of the characters, he is portraying. Some of his notable movies include Bird (1988), Phenomenon (1996), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), Phone Booth
(2002), and Lee Daniels` The Butler (2013). Apart from movies, Whitaker has also achieved success on television with the series The Shield.
Whitaker was born to Forest Steven Jr., an insurance salesman, and Laura Francis, a teacher. He has three siblings - an elder sister, Deborah, and two younger brothers Kenn and Damon, who are all actors as well. The actor was enrolled at the Cal Poly Pomona, a public polytechnic university in California, on a football scholarship. However, he later changed his major to music (voice), as he couldn`t pursue football due to a back injury. Subsequently, for a brief period, he again changed his major to drama - he was then accepted into the University`s Drama Conservatory. He graduated from USC in 1982 and also earned a scholarship to the California branch of the Drama Studio of London.
Whitaker married his Blown Away (1994) co-star Keisha Nash in 1996. The couple has four children: daughters Sonnet and True, son Sergio Hyatt, and Autumn, Nash`s daughter from a previous relationship.
As an Actor
Whitaker started his career in 1982 with the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, essaying the role of a football player. A few years later, he appeared in Martin Scorsese
`s movie, The Color of Money (1986). However, he gained much appreciation with the movie Platoon by Oliver Stone
. Later, after starring in supporting roles in a couple of movies, Whitaker`s first lead role came with the biographical movie Bird (1988) directed by Clint Eastwood
. In the movie, Whitaker essayed the role of the legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie `Bird` Parker; earning widespread critical acclaim. While preparing for the role, the actor confined himself in a loft with only a couch, bed, and saxophone, and also took alto sax lessons. He won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama.
The 90s saw Whitaker appear in movies such as Downtown (1990), A Rage in Harlem (1991), Blown Away (1994), Species (1995), and Light It Up (1999). However, some of his memorable performances came with the movies The Crying Game
(1992) and Phenomenon (1996). In The Crying Game, Whitaker essayed an English character and was praised by Todd McCarthy of the Variety describing his performance to be "big-hearted," "hugely emotional," and "simply terrific". While the movie Phenomenon saw him playing the character of Nate Pope for which he won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Supporting Actor and was also nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. While he was praised for portraying the titular character of `Ghost Dog` in the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), he was also criticized for his role in the movie Battlefield Earth. For his role in the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, he yet again invested time and efforts to study Eastern philosophy and meditated for long hours to hone his inner spiritual hitman. Many critics have claimed this to be a definitive role for Whitaker while The New York Times in its review wrote: It`s hard to think of another actor who could play a cold-blooded killer with such warmth and humanity. However, his movie, Battlefield Earth went on to be called as one of the worst films ever made. The movie won seven Razzie awards and Whitaker later expressed his regret of working in the film.
The year 2002 turned out to be highly successful for the actor as both his movies - Panic Room
and Phone Booth
- were box office hits. For his role in the movie American Guy (2005) he was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. However, Whitaker`s path-breaking role came with the 2006 movie The Last King of Scotland
. The actor essayed the role of Idi Amin, the infamous President of Uganda - one of the most atrocious leaders of the world. In preparation for the role, Whitaker gained 50 pounds and read books and watched documentaries filmed on Idi Amin. The actor even spent time in Uganda and met Amin`s friends, relatives, and even those who were affected by Amin`s tyrannical rule. Further, he even learned the Swahili language and mastered the Eastern African accent. His hard work for the role paid off in the form of several awards and accolades as he won most of the major awards he was nominated for. Whitaker bagged the Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, National Board of Review Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.
In the following year, Whitaker delivered another powerful performance in the movie The Great Debaters
(2007) portraying the role of Dr. James Farmer Sr. In the subsequent years Whitaker appeared in several Direct-to-VOD and Direct-to-DVD projects such as Hurricane Season (2009), The Experiment (2010), Catch 44
(2011), and Pawn (2012).
In 2013 Whitaker appeared in the historical drama film, The Butler
, directed by Lee Daniels
. The movie received positive reviews at the box office and the actor was yet hailed for a poignant performance; he won the African-American Film Critics Award for Best Actor. In the next couple of years he was seen in the movies Repentance (2014), Taken 3
(2014), and Southpaw
(2015). In 2016 he made appearances in Arrival
and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
, a Star Wars film that became the highest grossing film of the year in the US. He also starred in Marvel`s Black Panther
(2018) and the crime film City of Lies
As a Director
Whitaker donned the director`s hat in 1993 with the television movie Strapped. A couple of years later he made his feature directorial debut with the romance movie Waiting to Exhale
(1995) starring Whitney Houston
and Angela Bassett
. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert equated the film with Whitaker`s own acting style stating the movie to be measured, serene, and confident. He next directed the movie Hope Floats
(1998) that stars Sandra Bullock
, Harry Connick Jr.
, and Gena Rowlands
. The movie received positive reviews at the box office and Whitaker was also nominated for the Best Director Award at several award ceremonies. In 2004, he directed the movie First Daughter
starring Katie Holmes
. The movie, which had got a delayed release and received negative reviews at the box office and was a commercial failure.
As a Producer
Whitaker`s maiden project as a producer was the 1991 movie A Rage in Harlem. He also served as the executive producer for the movie he directed - First Daughter
. Whitaker also produced several made-for-television movies such as Door to Door (2002). Along with his production partner Nina Yang Bongiovi, he has produced the movies Fruitvale Station
(2013), Repentance (2014), and Dope
In the 1980s while he began his movie career, Whitaker also appeared in several TV shows such as Making The Grade (1982), Trapper John, M. D. (1984), and Hill Street Blues (1984). He also appeared in one of the episodes of the popular TV series `Different Strokes`. He was also seen as a comic book salesman in one of the episodes of `Amazing Stories`. Towards the end of the 80s and throughout the 90s to early 2000s Whitaker was a part of several TV movies. His most notable roles came with the movies Last Night (1993), The Enemy Within (1994), Door to Door (2002) and Deacons for Defense (2003).
In 2002, Whitaker was also cast as the narrator in the revival of the 1950s TV series, The Twilight Zone - the series ran for a total of 44 episodes. After The Twilight Zone, Whitaker took a break from TV shows and only returned in 2006 - appearing as a Guest Actor in six episodes of the TV series ER. The actor was also nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. In the same year, he also guest-starred in The Shield - portraying the character of Lt. Jon Kavanaugh of the Internal Affairs Division who investigates one of the greatest threats strike team has ever faced. He was also nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries or Television Film. In subsequent years, Whitaker went on to appear in TV series such as American Dad, Criminal Minds (2010), Africa (2013), and Roots (2016).