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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 in 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 Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Foxx.

He has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Bird and 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 Angelesmarker, Californiamarker.

Early life

Whitaker was born in Longviewmarker, Texasmarker and his family moved to South Central Los Angelesmarker 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.

As a teenager, Whitaker commuted from Carsonmarker to wealthy Palisades High School on LA's West Side. There, he was all-league defensive tackle on the football team quarterbacked by Jay Schroeder, a future NFL 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 Dylan Thomas' play, Under Milk Wood. Whitaker graduated from "Pali High" in 1979.

Whitaker then attended Cal Poly Pomonamarker 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 marker to study opera as a tenor, and subsequently was accepted into the University's Drama Conservatory. He graduated from USC in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to the Berkeley, Californiamarker branch of the Drama Studio Londonmarker.


Film work

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-retrospective, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He co-starred alongside Nicolas Cage, Phoebe Cates, and Sean Penn. In 1986, he appeared in Martin Scorsese's film, The Color of Money (with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise), and in Oliver Stone's Platoon. The following year, he co-starred with Robin Williams in the comedy Good Morning, Vietnam.

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-directed film, Bird. 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 award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe nomination. Whitaker continued to work with a number of well-known directors 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 Game. 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 ever National Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble for Robert Altman's film, Prêt-à-Porter. He gave a "characteristically emotional performance" in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 film, Smoke.

Whitaker as the samurai, Ghost Dog
Whitaker played a serene, pigeon-raising, bushido-following, mob hit man in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a 1999 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. 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 humanity."

Whitaker next appeared in what has been called one of the "worst films ever made," the 2000 production of Battlefield Earth, based on the novel of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard. The film was widely criticized as a notorious commercial and critical disaster. However, Whitaker's performance was lauded by the film's director, Roger Christian, who commented that, "Everybody's going to be very surprised" by Whitaker, who "found this huge voice and laugh." BattleField Earth "won" seven Razzie Awards; Whitaker was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to his co-star, Barry Pepper.

In 2001, Whitaker had a small, uncredited role in the Wong Kar-wai-directed The Follow, one of five short films produced by BMW that year to promote its cars. He co-starred in Joel Schumacher's 2002 thriller, Phone Booth, with Kiefer Sutherland 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 and empathy."

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 Scotland. 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 accent.

His performance earned him the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actor in 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 Globe, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA Awards, and accolades from the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. In 2007, Whitaker also played Dr. James Farmer Sr. in The Great Debaters.

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 Kings, and heroic tourist Howard Lewis in Vantage Point.

Television work

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 Acorns".

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 FX's 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 — Variety 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 ER 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 Kovač and Abby Lockhart. Whitaker received a 2007 Emmy nomination for his performance on the series. Also in 2006, Whitaker appeared in T.I.'s video "Live in the Sky" alongside Jamie Foxx.

Whitaker hosted Saturday Night Live, 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! in 2008 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", "Chimdale" 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 violence, Strapped, 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, starring Sandra Bullock 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 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.

Recent honors

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 to him.

Whitaker was the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker on April 16, 2007.

He also received an Honorary Degree from Xavier University of Louisianamarker on May 9, 2009 at the 82nd Commencement Ceremony, along with Democratic political stategist Donna Brazile.

Personal life

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. On Inside the Actors Studio, Whitaker said that a genetic test indicated he was of Igbo descent on his father's side, and Akan descent on his mothers side.

Whitaker, who is a vegetarian, recorded a public service announcement 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 Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign.

Whitaker's left eye ptosis has been 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.

On April 6, 2009, Whitaker was given a chieftancy title in Imo State, Nigeriamarker. 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.



Year Film Role Notes
1982 Tag: The Assassination Game Gowdy's Bodyguard
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Charles Jefferson
1985 Vision Quest Balldozer
North and South Cuffey
1986 The Color of Money Amos
North and South, Book II Cuffey
Platoon Big Harold
1987 Stakeout Jack Pismo
Good Morning, Vietnam Edward Garlick
1988 Bird Charlie 'Bird' Parker Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actor
Bloodsport Rawlins
1989 Johnny Handsome Dr. Steven Fisher
1990 Downtown Dennis Curren
1991 Diary of a Hitman Dekker
A Rage in Harlem Jackson
1992 Article 99 Dr. Sid Handleman
The Crying Game Jody
Consenting Adults David Duttonville
1993 Bank Robber Officer Battle
Lush Life Buddy Chester Television movie
Body Snatchers Major Collins
1994 The Enemy Within Colonel Mac Casey Television movie
Blown Away Anthony Franklin
Prêt-à-Porter Cy Bianco NBR Award for Best Cast
Jason's Lyric Maddog
1995 Species Dan Smithson, Empath
Smoke Cyrus Cole
1996 Phenomenon Nate Pope
1998 Body Count Crane
1999 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai Ghost Dog
Witness Protection Steven Beck
Light It Up Officer Dante Jackson
2000 Battlefield Earth Ker
Four Dogs Playing Poker Mr. Ellington
2001 The Fourth Angel Agent Jules Bernard
The Follow The Employer uncredited
Green Dragon Addie
2002 Panic Room Burnham
Phone Booth Captain Ed Ramey Theatrical release was delayed due to the Beltway sniper attacks in October 2002.
2004 First Daughter Narrator also directed
2005 A Little Trip to Heaven Abe Holt
American Gun Carter Nominated - Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Male
Mary Ted Younger
2006 Even Money Clyde Snow
The Marsh Geoffrey Hunt
Everyone's Hero Lonnie Brewster voice only
The Last King of Scotland Idi Amin Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor
BAFTA Award for Best Actor
Screen Actors Guild for Best Actor
National Board of Review Award for Best Actor

2007 The Air I Breathe Happiness
Ripple Effect Philip
The Great Debaters James L. Farmer, Sr.
2008 Vantage Point Howard Lewis
Street Kings Capt. Jack Wander
Dragon Hunters Lian Chu Voice - English version
2009 Powder Blue Charlie
Winged Creatures Charlie Archenault
Where the Wild Things Are Ira (voice only)
Lullaby for Pi George post-production
2010 Repo Men! Jake Freivald awaiting release
Hurricane Season Al Collins awaiting release
My Own Love Song TBA post-production
The Experiment Barris post-production
Family Wedding TBA filming


Year Film
1995 Waiting to Exhale
1998 Hope Floats
2004 First Daughter


Year Film Role Notes
1982 Making The Grade Episode "Marriage David Style"
1983 Cagney & Lacey Night Manager Episode "The Grandest Jewel Thief of Them All"
1984 Trapper John, M.D. Lewis Jordan Episode "School Nurse"
Hill Street Blues Floyd Green Episode "Blues for Mr. Green"
1985 Diff'rent Strokes Herman Episode "Bully for Arnold"
The Grand Baby Television movie
The Fall Guy Friend Episode "Spring Break"
1986 Amazing Stories Jerry Episode "Gather Ye Acorns"
1987 Hands of a Stranger Sergeant Delaney Television movie
1990 Criminal Justice Jessie Williams Television movie
1993 Lush Life Buddy Chester Television movie
Last Light Fred Whitmore Television movie
1994 The Enemy Within Colonel MacKenzie 'Mac' Casey Television movie
1996 Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault Mr. Rucker Television movie
1999 Witness Protection Steven Beck Television movie
2001 Feast of All Saints Daguerreotypist Picard Television movie
2003 Deacons for Defense Marcus Clay Television movie
2002-2003 The Twilight Zone Host / Narrator 44 episodes
2006-2007 ER Curtis Ames 6 episodes
The Shield Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh (Seasons 5 and 6)
2007-2009 American Dad! Turlington 3 episodes


  1. "Forest Whitaker wins Best Actor Oscar for Idi Amin role." ABCNewsOnline. February 26, 2007.
  2. "In general, he rules." The Boston Globe. October 1, 2006.
  3. "Forest Whitaker: The King Of The Oscars?" CBS News. February 4, 2007.
  4. Sternbergh, Adam. "Out of the Woods: How Forest Whitaker escaped his career slump." New York. January 9, 2006.
  5. Patterson, John. "The bigger picture." The Guardian. April 20, 2002.
  6. "Forest Whitaker Biography (1961-)."
  7. "Bringing Home the Oscars." Palisadian-Post. February 28, 2007.
  8. Joshua Rich. "Spotlight: Forest Whitaker."
  9. Longino, Bob. "The power of Forest Whitaker." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. October 12, 2006.
  10. McCarthy, Todd. "The Crying Game (Review)." Variety. September 11, 1992.
  11. Stratton, David. "Smoke (Review)." Variety. February 20, 1995.
  12. Scott, A.O. "'Ghost Dog': Passions of Emptiness in an Essay on Brutality." New York Times. March 3, 2000.
  13. Campbell, Duncan. "Cult Classic." Guardian Unlimited. May 31, 2005.
  14. Ebert, Roger. "Battlefield Earth." Chicago Sun-Times. May 12, 2000.
  15. Graham, Bob. "What on Earth Are These Guys Doing?" San Francisco Chronicle. April 30, 2000.
  16. The Follow. MSN Movies.
  17. "Forest Whitaker: The King Of The Oscars?" CBS News/ February 4, 2007.
  18. The Twilight Zone (2002).
  19. Lowry, Brian. "The Shield (Review)." Variety. March 27, 2007.
  20. Ebert, Roger. "Waiting to Exhale (review)." Chicago Sun-Times. December 22, 1995.
  21. "Press release." Hollywood Film Festival News. September 28, 2006.
  22. "Festival 2007 Tributes." Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
  23. Nesselson, Lisa. "Deauville tips hat." Variety. August 18, 2005.
  24. PSA for PETA PETA TV.
  25. Wloszczyna, Susan. "'Last King' demanded obedience to their craft." USA Today. October 2, 2006.
  26. Zackarek, Stephanie. "Jim Jarmusch adds lyrical violence to a Zen meditation on warriors hip-hop and ancient." March 9, 2000.
  27. Sager, Mike. "What I've Learned: Forest Whitaker." Esquire. February 26, 2007.
  28. The Associated Press

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