Friday, March 19, 2010

Speakeasy with ... Forest Whitaker

Posted By on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 6:07 PM

By Gil Robertson IV

click to enlarge Forest Whitaker
  • Forest Whitaker

Oscar award-winning actor/director, Forest Whitaker, takes a comedic turn in the new romantic comedy, Our Family Wedding, which hit theaters last Fri., March 12. Whitaker stars as Brad Boyd, the overprotective father of Marcus (Lance Gross), who’s returned home from college with a big surprise – he’s engaged and getting married to his Latina love, Lucia Ramirez (America Ferrera). Once Lucia’s father, Miguel (Carlos Mencia), and extended family discover the secret, comedy ensues. Will they, or won’t they get married?

Although Whitaker's best-known for his dramatic, multi-dimensional characters, audiences will delight in Whitaker’s best-kept secret: He has a funny bone, and knows how to use it.

This comedic role is a departure from the stirring portrayals audiences have come to expect from you. Was comedy an easy transition?

Yes. I was able to become the character, yet I was more myself and relaxed. I discovered that I like portraying characters that aren’t so crammed, per-se. When you look at my body of work, it can be challenging for me, in regards to the types of roles I’ve taken on. I’ve played a Vietnam vet, a schizophrenic, a torturer, etc. In many ways, this character [Brad Boyd] was really freeing for me. It provided a welcome release.

As Brad Boyd, the hip, successful divorcé (with his own female fan club), your character has to face his own relationship phobias while leading his son, Marcus (Lance Gross), to the altar. Do you think audiences will understand Brad?

Of course, he’s such a relatable character. After the heartbreak of his marriage falling apart years prior, he’s damaged and stays focused on raising his son. It’s like his life is a box that he wants to control, so he tries to control everything around him. He’s frightened of relationships, so he starts overcompensating by dating all these different women. You watch him go through this extensive journey – a father, letting his son become a man; accepting this new family, that is uniquely different from his own; and finally, understanding that love is right by his side. He discovers that it’s OK to care and to love.

It’s still rare to have a major studio release a film helmed by an African-American and Latino cast. Do you think Hollywood is meeting the demand for pictures that prominently feature minority actors?

In a lot of films, they’re showing more complete, developed characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The larger concern is to be able to tastefully explore the stereotypes, and still move past them to see the core of people. Rick [director, Rick Famuyiwa], was able to construct a story that is both honest and respectful of these two dominating, American cultures. Stereotypes do exist, but we have to walk through them. This movie is about love, togetherness and acceptance. I think people are going to laugh, cry and see themselves in this film.

Regina King, an accomplished actress in her own right, co-stars as your friend who becomes more than a friend. What are your thoughts, having co-starred with her for the first time?

She has a lot going for herself. As an actress and as a person, she’s not ordinary. She appeals to people as though they already know her. She’s every woman.

A central theme in the movie is the relationship between Brad and his son, Marcus. How did you and Lance Gross develop such an authentic, on-screen father-son chemistry?

We got to know each other prior to shooting the film. In fact, I discovered he was an L.A. Lakers fan, so we went to a game and hung out. I think that certainly helped our timing and rhythm. Throughout the film, we’d try and find ways to visually establish that connection between Brad and Marcus. The scene where I offer him a drink was spontaneous – trying to show that unspoken bond between a father and son.

Did your Academy Award win [Best Actor, The Last King of Scotland] shift the trajectory of your career?

In some ways. Yet, I already had artistic respect. I was already portraying the kinds of characters that interested me. The roles that I picked prior to the Oscar are the same roles I would’ve wanted to portray after the win. The event itself was major — the day, being there, you feel the energy. It felt like a magical, out-of-body experience.

Prior to this year’s Academy Awards, you hosted a tribute for actress Sandra Bullock who just won an Oscar for Best Actress. Why do you think this has been such a breakthrough year for her?

I think the characters she’s portrayed have been so diverse. She’s a wonderful actress, and I don’t think people get to witness that a lot. I directed her in Hope Floats – so people got to see how deep she can be. With this character in The Blind Side, she’s this very mannered, pull-no-punches kind of Southern woman, that’s got to stay in control. That’s a very specific character and Sandra portrayed it to the fullest extent. I think she’s an amazing artist.

What do you think has contributed to your longevity in Hollywood?

I care about people. In the end, I think they feel it. It comes across, regardless of the character I’m portraying. As an actor, or a director, I want to do something great — but I understand I can’t do it by myself. For example, in The Last King of Scotland, James McAvoy was incredible! His reaction to the way I behave, sells the way I behave. You need each other to make it work.

What’s next for you?

I’m in the process of preparing the script for the new biopic I’m working on, Satchmo, about the acclaimed trumpeter, Louis Armstrong. The movie will span over 70 years of his life. I knew about Louis all along, but not what I’ve learned now. Actually, this will be the first time that I’m both starring and directing. I was a little nervous at first, but now I’m really getting into it. Someone else will be playing the trumpet though!

Our Family Wedding highlights the sometimes strained — and comical — relationship between African-Americans and Latinos. How do you think President Barack Obama is faring as he tries to unite a divided Capitol Hill?

I think he’s got a lot of pressing issues on his plate. However, he’s an exceptional man — so he’ll figure out how to bring everyone together to get things done.

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