Forest Whitaker

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Forest Whitaker : biography

July 15, 1961 –

Career

Film work

Whitaker has a long history of working with well-regarded film directors and fellow actors, as well as working in direct-to-video films alongside novice actors such as Lil Wayne, Maggie Grace and 50 Cent. In his first solo onscreen performance of note, he had a small role playing a high school football player in the 1982 film version of Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age teen-retrospective, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He co-starred and interacted alongside Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Sean Penn and Robert Romanus. 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 his first lead role starring 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.Longino, Bob. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. October 12, 2006. 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", a captive British soldier in his 1992 film, The Crying Game where Whitaker used an English accent. Todd McCarthy, of Variety, described Whitaker’s performance as "big-hearted," "hugely emotional," and "simply terrific."McCarthy, Todd. Variety. September 11, 1992. 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"Stratton, David. Variety. February 20, 1995. in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster’s 1995 film, Smoke.

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."Scott, A.O. New York Times. March 3, 2000.

Whitaker next appeared in what has been called one of the worst films ever made,Campbell, Duncan. Guardian Unlimited. May 31, 2005. 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.Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times. May 12, 2000. 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."Graham, Bob. San Francisco Chronicle. April 30, 2000. 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. MSN Movies. 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."