Forest Steven Whitaker
(born July 15, 1961) is an
American actor, producer
, and director
. Whitaker won an Academy Award
for his performance as Ugandan
dictator Idi Amin
the 2006 film The
Last King of Scotland
. Whitaker has also won a Golden Globe
, and a BAFTA
. He became the fourth African American
man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor
following in the footsteps of Sidney
, Denzel Washington
and Jamie Foxx
He has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for
films such as Bird
Ghost Dog: The Way
of the Samurai
. However, for his recurring role as ex-LAPD
Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh on the
gritty, award-winning television series, The Shield, Whitaker merely had to draw on
his childhood years growing up in South Central Los Angeles, California.
was born in Longview, Texas and his
family moved to South Central
Los Angeles due to
racism in 1965, when he was four.
His father, Forest
Whitaker, Jr., was an insurance salesman and the son of novelist
Forest Whitaker, Sr. His mother, Laura Francis (née
Smith), was a special education
teacher who put herself through college and earned two Masters
degrees while raising her children. Whitaker has two younger
brothers, Kenn and Damon, and an older sister, Deborah.
teenager, Whitaker commuted from Carson to wealthy Palisades High School on LA's
he was all-league defensive tackle on the football team
quarterbacked by Jay Schroeder
player. While in
high school, he also took voice lessons, performed in musicals, and
caught the "acting bug"; his first role as an actor was the lead in
play, Under Milk Wood
. Whitaker graduated
from "Pali High" in 1979.
then attended Cal Poly Pomona on a football scholarship, but left due to a
debilitating back injury when he was hurt in training by defensive
end Manny Duran. He was accepted to the Music Conservatory at
the University of Southern California
to study opera as a tenor, and subsequently was
accepted into the University's Drama Conservatory.
graduated from USC in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to the Berkeley,
California branch of the Drama Studio London.
Whitaker has a long history of working with well-regarded film
directors and fellow actors. In his first onscreen role of note, he
played a football player in the 1982 film version of Cameron Crowe
's coming-of-age teen
Fast Times at Ridgemont
. He co-starred alongside Nicolas Cage
, and Sean Penn
. In 1986, he
appeared in Martin Scorsese's
The Color of Money
and Tom Cruise
), and in Oliver Stone's Platoon
. The following year, he
co-starred with Robin Williams
comedy Good Morning,
In 1988, Whitaker played in the film Bloodsport
alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme
and he had the
lead role as musician Charlie Parker
in the Clint Eastwood
. To prepare himself for
the part, he sequestered himself in a loft with only a bed, couch,
and saxophone, having also conducted extensive research and taken
alto sax lessons. His performance, which has been called
"transcendent," earned him the Best Actor
the 1988 Cannes Film
and a Golden Globe
nomination. Whitaker continued to work with a number of well-known
throughout the 1990s. He
starred in the 1990 film Downtown
with Anthony Edwards
and Penelope Ann Miller
. Neil Jordan
cast him in the pivotal role of
"Jody" in his 1992 film, The Crying
. Todd McCarthy, of Variety
, described Whitaker's
performance as "big-hearted," "hugely emotional," and "simply
terrific." In 1994, he was a member of the cast that won the first
Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble
. He gave a
"characteristically emotional performance" in Wayne Wang
's 1995 film, Smoke
Whitaker as the samurai, Ghost
Whitaker played a serene, pigeon-raising, bushido
in Ghost Dog: The
Way of the Samurai
, a 1999 film written and directed by
. Many consider this to
have been a "definitive role" for Whitaker. In a manner similar to
his preparation for Bird
, he again immersed himself in his
character's world—he studied Eastern philosophy and meditated for
long hours "to hone his inner spiritual hitman." Jarmusch has told
interviewers that he developed the title character with Whitaker in
mind; the New York Times
review of the film observed that "[I]t's hard to think of another
actor who could play a cold-blooded killer with such warmth and
Whitaker next appeared in what has been called one of the "worst films ever made
2000 production of Battlefield Earth
, based on
the novel of the same name by L.
. The film was widely
criticized as a notorious commercial and critical disaster.
However, Whitaker's performance was lauded by the film's director,
commented that, "Everybody's going to be very surprised" by
Whitaker, who "found this huge voice and laugh." BattleField
"won" seven Razzie
; Whitaker was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor, but
lost to his co-star, Barry
In 2001, Whitaker had a small, uncredited role in the Wong Kar-wai
-directed The Follow
of five short films produced by BMW
that year to
promote its cars. He co-starred in Joel
and Colin Farrell
. That year, he also co-starred
with Jodie Foster
in Panic Room
. His performance as the
film's "bad guy" was described as "a subtle chemistry of aggression
Whitaker as General Idi Amin in
The Last King of Scotland
Whitaker's greatest success to date is the 2006 film, The Last King of
. To prepare for his role as dictator Idi Amin
, Whitaker gained 50 pounds, learned to
play the accordion
, and immersed himself
in research. He read books about Amin, watched news and documentary
footage, and spent time in Uganda meeting with Amin's friends,
relatives, generals, and victims; he also learned Swahili
and mastered Amin's East African
His performance earned him the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actor
a Leading Role, making him the fourth African-American actor in
history to do so. For that same role, he also received multiple
other awards, including Golden
, Screen Actors
, BAFTA Awards
, and accolades
from the New York Film
, the Los Angeles Film Critics
, the National
Board of Review
and the Broadcast Film Critics
. In 2007, Whitaker also played Dr. James Farmer Sr.
in The Great
In 2008, Whitaker appeared as a business man known only as
Happiness, who likes butterflies, in the film The Air I Breathe
, as rogue police
captain Jack Wander in Street
, and heroic tourist Howard Lewis in Vantage Point
In 1985, Whitaker played a bully who loses his girlfriend to Arnold
on the Diff'rent Strokes
episode "Bully for Arnold". That same year, Whitaker also played
the part of a comic book salesman in the Amazing Stories
episode "Gather Ye
In 2002, Whitaker was the host and narrator of 44 new episodes of
the Rod Serling
classic, The Twilight Zone
, which lasted one
season on UPN
Whitaker returned to television in 2006 when he joined the cast of
police serial The Shield
, as Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh
, who was determined to prove
that the lead character, Vic Mackey
, is a
dirty cop. He received rave reviews for his performance —
called it a
"crackling-good guest stint" — and he reprised the role in the
show's 2007 season.
In the fall of 2006, Whitaker started a multi-episode story arc on
as Curtis Ames, a man who
comes into the ER with a cough, but quickly faces the long-term
consequences of a paralyzing stroke
; he then
takes out his anger on Doctors Luka
and Abby Lockhart
received a 2007 Emmy
nomination for his
performance on the series. Also in 2006, Whitaker appeared in
's video "Live in the Sky" alongside
Whitaker hosted Saturday Night
, which featured his singing skills in several
sketches, including a sketch about a singing waiter who can sing
notes that can only be heard by dogs.
Whitaker has lent his voice to three episodes of the animated
sitcom American Dad!
and 2009, as the recurring character Ron Turlington. The character
parodies Whitaker's performances in The Shield
, and is
seen in the episodes "Meter Made
" and "Live and Let Fry
Producing and directing
Whitaker branched out into producing and directing in the 1990s. He
co-produced and co-starred in A Rage in Harlem
in 1991. He
made his directorial debut with a grim film about inner-city gun
, for HBO
in 1993. In 1995, he directed his first feature
, Waiting to Exhale
, which was based on
the Terry McMillan
novel of the same
name. Roger Ebert
observed that the tone
of the film resembled Whitaker's own acting style: "measured,
serene, confident." Whitaker also directed co-star Whitney Houston
's music video of the movie's
theme song ("Shoop Shoop").
Whitaker continued his directing career with the 1998 romantic
comedy, Hope Floats
and Harry Connick, Jr.
He directed Katie Holmes
in the romantic comedy
, First Daughter
in 2004; he
had co-starred with Holmes in Phone Booth
in 2002. Whitaker also
served as an executive
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 addition to the numerous awards Whitaker won for his performance
in The Last King of Scotland
, 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," calling him "one of Hollywood's most accomplished actors."
He was honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
2007, where he received the American Riviera Award. Previously, in
2005, the Deauville (France) Festival of American Film paid tribute
was the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk
of Fame on April 16, 2007.
received an Honorary Degree from Xavier
University of Louisiana on May 9, 2009 at the 82nd Commencement Ceremony,
along with Democratic political stategist Donna Brazile.
In 1996, Whitaker married actress Keisha Nash, whom he met on the
set of Blown Away
The Whitakers have four children: two daughters together (Sonnet
and True), his son (Ocean) from a previous relationship, and her
daughter (Autumn) from a previous relationship. Whitaker studies
yoga and has a black belt in karate
Inside the Actors Studio
Whitaker said that a genetic test indicated he was of Igbo
descent on his father's side,
descent on his mothers
Whitaker, who is a vegetarian
, recorded a
with his daughter, True, promoting vegetarianism
on behalf of People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals
. In politics, Whitaker supported
and spoke on behalf of Senator Barack
in his 2008 presidential campaign.
Whitaker's left eye ptosis
called "intriguing" by some critics and "gives him a sleepy,
contemplative look." Whitaker has explained that the condition is
hereditary and that he has considered having surgery to correct it,
not for cosmetic reasons but because it affects his vision.
6, 2009, Whitaker was given a chieftancy title in Imo State, Nigeria.
Whitaker, who was named a chief among the Igbo people
of southeastern Nigeria, was given
the title Nwannedinamba of Nkwerre
, which means A
Brother in a Foreign Land
||Making The Grade
||Episode "Marriage David Style"
||Episode "The Grandest Jewel Thief of Them All"
||Episode "School Nurse"
||Episode "Blues for Mr. Green"
||Episode "Bully for Arnold"
|The Grand Baby
|The Fall Guy
||Episode "Spring Break"
||Episode "Gather Ye Acorns"
||Hands of a Stranger
||The Enemy Within
||Colonel MacKenzie 'Mac' Casey
||Rebound: The Legend
of Earl "The Goat" Manigault
||Feast of All Saints
||Deacons for Defense
||Host / Narrator
||Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh
||(Seasons 5 and 6)
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Palisadian-Post. February 28, 2007.
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Journal-Constitution. October 12, 2006.
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Brutality." New York Times. March 3, 2000.
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San Francisco Chronicle. April
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CBS News/ February 4, 2007.
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Variety. March 27, 2007.
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Sun-Times. December 22, 1995.
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News. September 28, 2006.
- "Festival 2007 Tributes." Santa Barbara
International Film Festival. sbiff.org.
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- PSA for PETA PETA TV.
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craft." USA Today. October 2, 2006.
- Zackarek, Stephanie. "Jim Jarmusch adds lyrical violence to a Zen
meditation on warriors hip-hop and ancient."
Salon.com. March 9, 2000.
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Esquire. February 26, 2007.
- The Associated Press