Forest Whitaker is an acclaimed American actor, producer and director. He was born on July 15, 1961 in Longview, Texas to an insurance salesman named Forest Steven Jr. and a special education teacher named Laura Francis. The family moved to California when Whitaker was four years old. He attended California State Polytechnic University, Pomona after receiving a football scholarship. However, he couldn’t follow through because of an injury to his back, so he changed his major to music. In 1980, he went on a tour of England with his chamber music group. He then changed his major to drama and attended the University of Southern California, from where he graduated in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to Drama Studio London and later studied at New York University as well.
Whitaker’s first performance as an actor was in the play “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas. One of his first notable movie performances was in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” in 1982, in which he played the role of a high school football player, also starring Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates and Robert Romanus. In 1986 he appeared in the film “The Color of Money” directed by Martin Scorsese. The cast also included acclaimed actors Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. He then co-starred with Robin Williams in the war comedy movie “Good Morning, Vietnam”.
In 1988, Forest Whitaker appeared in the film “Bloodsport” with Jean-Claude Van Damme. He then starred in the film “Bird” directed by Clint Eastwood in which he played the role of American jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker. He researched extensively for the part, and also learned to play the saxophone. This performance earned him the award for Best Actor at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Golden Globe nomination. In 1990, he starred in the film Downtown and in 1992, he starred in the film “The Crying Game” in which he played the role of a British soldier, for which he learned to talk in a British accent. In 1994, he was cast in the film Prêt-à-Porter by Robert Altman for which he won the National Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble.
In 1999, he played the role of a hit man in the film “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” which was directed by Jim Jarmusch. He prepared himself for the role by studying philosophy and meditating as his character in the film was spiritual. His performance was greatly applauded by several prominent magazines including the New York Times. In 2000, however, he appeared in the film “Battlefield Earth” which was widely hailed as one of the worst movies ever made. He was nominated for a Razzie Award for his performance, which he lost to his cast mate Barry Pepper. He then appeared in the critically acclaimed movies “Phone Booth” with Colin Farrell and “Panic Room” with Jodie Foster.
In 2006, he starred as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film “The Last King of Scotland”. In order to authentically portray the character, he researched about Idi Amin by reading books, watching documentaries and learning to play the accordion. He even gained 50 pounds for the role and learned to speak Swahili. His performance was widely acclaimed and he won the Academy Award for Best Actor along with a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, BAFTA Award and several other prominent awards. He also appeared in several television roles such as The Twilight Zone, ER and Criminal Minds. Forest Whitaker is married to actress Keisha Nash with whom he has four children.