Forest Whitaker - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Longview, Texas, 15 July 1961. Education: Attended Pomona College; studied voice and theater at the University of Southern California; attended the Drama School in Berkeley, California. Family: Married Keisha Simone Nash, 1996; has son from a previous relationship and one daughter born 1996. Career: Acted on the stage in the United States and England, early 1980s; made his screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High , 1982; appeared in the TV mini-series North and South , 1985; appeared in the TV mini-series North and South II , 1986; had his first notable starring role in Bird , 1988; made his directorial debut with Strapped , 1993; directed Whiteny Houston's "Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)" music video, 1995. Awards: Cannes Film Festival Best Actor, for Bird , 1988. Address: 6409 Flagmore Place, Los Angeles, CA 90068, U.S.A.

Films as Actor:


Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Heckerling) (as Charles Jefferson); Tag: The Assassination Game (Castle) (as Gowdy's bodyguard)


Vision Quest (Becker) (as Bulldozer)


Platoon (Oliver Stone) (as Big Harold); The Color of Money (Scorsese) (as Amos)


Stakeout (Badham) (as Jack Pismo); Good Morning, Vietnam (Levinson) (as Edward Garlick): Hands of a Stranger (Elikann—for TV) (as Sergeant Delaney); Bloodsport (Arnold) (as Rawlins)


Bird (Eastwood) (as Charlie Parker)


Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill) (as Dr. Steven Fisher)


Downtown (Richard Benjamin) (as Dennis Curren); Criminal Justice (Wolk—for TV) (as Jessie Williams)


A Rage in Harlem (Duke) (as Jackson)


Article 99 (Deutch) (as Dr. Sid Handleman); Consenting Adults (Pakula) (as David Duttonville); The Crying Game (Neil Jordan) (as Jody); Diary of a Hit Man (London) (as Dekker)


Bank Robber (Mead) (as Officer Battle); Lush Life (Elias) (as Buddy Chester); Last Light (Kiefer Sutherland—for TV) (as Fred Whitmore); Body Snatchers (Ferrara) (as Major Collins)


Blown Away (Stephen Hopkins) (as Anthony Franklin); Jason's Lyric (McHenry) (as Maddog); Ready to Wear ( Prêta-Porter ) (Altman) (as Cy Bianco); The Enemy Within (Darby—for TV) (as Col. Mac Casey)


Smoke (Wang) (as Cyrus Cole); Species (Donaldson) (as Dan Smithson)


Phenomenon (Turteltaub) (as Nate Pope); Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (Eriq La Salle—for TV) (as Mr. Rucker)


The Split ( Body Count ) (Patton-Spruill) (as Crane)


Four Dogs Playing Poker (Rachman) (as Mr. Ellington); Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jarmusch) (as Ghost Dog); Light it Up (Bolotin) (as Officer Dante Jackson); Witness Protection (Pearce—for TV) (as Steven Beck)


Battlefield Earth (Christian) (as Ker); American Storytellers (Mukherji) (doc) (as himself)

Films as Director:


Strapped (for TV)


Waiting to Exhale


Black Jaq (for TV) (+ exec pr); Hope Floats (+ exec pr, mus)


By WHITAKER: article—

Interview with K. Cook, in Playboy (Chicago), March 1992.

On WHITAKER: articles—

Lindsay, Robert, "Living the Part: Young Man with a Sax," in New York Times Magazine , 11 September 1988.

Wheaton, Robert, and Martha Southgate, "About People: Forest Whitaker," in Essence (New York), October 1988.

"Forest Fire," in Vanity Fair (New York), November 1988.

McKinney, Rhoda E., "Forest Whitaker: Bird Reborn," in Ebony (Chicago), November 1988.

"Films and Jazz: Black Notes," in Nation (New York), 12 November 1988.

Benedetti, S., "Forest Whitaker," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), November 1991.

Weinraub, Bernard, "Switching to a New Camera Angle," in New York Times , 17 August 1993.

Grant, James, "One Quiet Man, One Booming Career," in Los Angeles Times , 30 June 1994.

Chambers, Veronica, "The Camera Has 2 Sides," in New York Times , 16 August 1995.

"Cinema: His Brilliant Career," in Advocate (Los Angeles), 12 December 1995.

Lantos, J., "Seeing the Forest Through the Tazoom," in Movieline (Los Angeles), December 1996.

Rebello, Stephen, "Deep Forest," in Movieline (Los Angeles), May 1998.

* * *

Because of his looks—he is round-faced, and on the chubby side—Forest Whitaker never will be mistaken for Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes, and never will be a leading man. But he is an outstanding character actor, always interesting to watch, and he brings appropriate energy and vitality to all of his films. From the earliest stages of his career, he proved he could create an impression even when cast opposite strong, scene-stealing performers. This is

Forest Whitaker (left) with Susan Bartkowiak, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina in Species
Forest Whitaker (left) with Susan Bartkowiak, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina in Species
exemplified by his appearance with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam. Williams, playing the smart-mouthed, delightfully profane military disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, could have been the entire show. But Whitaker, cast as Cronauer's sidekick, has enough of a presence not to be obliterated by Williams's manic charisma.

The actor earned major stardom playing jazz legend Charlie "Yardbird" Parker in the Clint Eastwood-directed biopic, Bird. Whitaker's performance blends seamlessly into Eastwood's story of the legendary, innovative bebop saxophonist. His bulky build and wide smile allowed him to physically resemble his subject, and his generous performance added immeasurably to Eastwood's compassionate, lovingly detailed portrait of Parker. Whitaker was to go on to play another jazz musician in Lush Life : a trumpeter named Buddy Chester who, unlike Parker, is an obscure session man, and who discovers he has a fatal brain tumor.

Whitaker has played both leading and supporting roles, characters running the gamut from hero to heavy, sweet and soft-spoken to vicious and hard-bitten. He has been a sympathetic grunt, fighting the Vietnam war (in Platoon ); a solitary, melancholy cop who has seen too much of the streets ( Downtown ); an ingenuous mamma's boy who foolishly perceives of himself as the defender of a beautiful woman ( A Rage in Harlem ); a flamingly gay fashion designer ( Ready to Wear ); and a hired killer, on his last assignment before retirement, whose victim persuades him to pardon her ( Diary of a Hitman ). He has played embittered men who are violent and ill-fated (the Vietnam veteran in Jason's Lyric ), and embittered men who have come to accept their lives and fates (the one-armed gas station owner/guilty father in Smoke ). In the latter film, Whitaker is at his best in a monologue in which his character reveals how he came to lose his arm. He crashed his car while "filled with spirits," resulting in the death of his beloved. He survived, but not with his body completely intact—a fact which serves as an everyday reminder of what a "mean bastard" he really is.

One of Whitaker's most overlooked performances came in The Crying Game , in which he is cast as Jody, a British soldier kidnapped by Irish Republican Army terrorists. Fellow cast-members Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, and Jaye Davidson may have earned the headlines, but Whitaker—playing a character who is murdered scant minutes into the story—makes Jody deeply human, effectively conveying the man's innermost fears as he barters for his life. The actor also offered an assured, carefully modulated performance in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai , conveying a quiet authority as a solitary contract killer who has adapted the disciplines and codes of the samurai.

In 1993, Whitaker made his directorial debut with the made-for-television feature Strapped , the devastating account of Diquan (Bokeem Woodbine), an otherwise thoughtful black teen who has grown up in a Brooklyn housing project. He deeply loves his pregnant girlfriend, and is willing to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. But how can he support a family on the $4.35 an hour he earns as a bicycle messenger? When the pressures of the ghetto begin to close in on him, Diquan feels he must do whatever is necessary to support his family, even if it means marketing illegal firearms and becoming a police stoolie. Strapped is an uncompromising portrait of urban decay. Primarily, it works as an exacting example of how government bureaucracy and varying state laws make guns as easy to acquire in America as bubble gum at a corner candy store.

Strapped is a film with which Whitaker should forever be proud. And it was not his sole directorial effort, as it served as a calling card for theatrical feature work. He has helmed two to date. The first is Waiting to Exhale , also a narrative about the African-American experience. Based on the best-selling novel by Terry McMillan, it is the story of four black women who establish a camaraderie while seeking love, esteem, and harmony in their lives. His follow-up, Hope Floats , charts the plight of a former high school beauty queen who revisits her past upon breaking up with her unfaithful husband and returning to her Texas hometown. At its core, Waiting to Exhale is a predictable soap opera, while Hope Floats is a so-so romantic comedy. Yet both are inventively directed, with Whitaker adding nice visual touches which transcend his material.

—Rob Edelman

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