Forest Whitaker grew up in a gang-ridden Los Angeles, and went on to win Hollywood's highest accolade. He tells Tony Horkins about his journey so far.
Theres no fuss, no fanfare, no gaggle of PRs or assistants as Forest Whitaker film star, Oscar winner and now political campaigner and I meet for a drink at the Four Seasons Hotel, Beverly Hills. Despite over 25 years in the business, the Texas-born/LA-raised actor has managed to avoid many Hollywood pitfalls: no scandals, no on-set dramas and, most shocking of all, he has even managed to keep a marriage together for more than 12 years.
With last years raging performance as Ugandan despot Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, he finally laid his gentle giant persona to rest, and picked up little mantelpiece furniture in the shape of a golden statuette.Soon, well see him in Vantage Point.
Is it hard raising a family in Hollywood? [Forest has three children, Sonnet, Ocean and True]
Its tough when you have to be away. But Im probably at home more than my dad was because he was working two or three jobs sometimes. Im going to be at home for the next three months [a break before starting on his next project, Patriots] Im going to drive them crazy!
Are you quite romantic?
I can be. My wife, Keisha, came home once and I had these violinists playing for her and Id prepared dinner for her and I write poems. Shes pretty amazing, so I like to celebrate that. Shes really taught me how to celebrate life, thats something Ive learned. Every holiday, the house changes, every birthday that wasnt my way of living life. I was more introverted.
Youve been married 12 years thats pretty rare in Hollywood. How do you and your wife keep it together?
By appreciating the differences. My wife is completely different from me: shes good with everyone, whereas Im good at directed conversation when I have a purpose for it, like now. If everyones sitting around being social, Im not great.
Is that because youre not very good at making small talk?
I try, and Ive learned a little bit over the years, but I truly never gossip. I never comment on whats going on, say, on television or on a news story.
Theres been a lot of gossip and conjecture about Heath Ledgers death recently. Do you think the Hollywood system puts too much pressure on young actors?
I think it must, because its a heightened environment positivity, rejection: really big highs to really big lows. I dont know what happened with him, but it makes me sad because he seemed like a great artist and a great person.
Have you ever experienced those extreme lows yourself?
Yeah, there have been difficult times. On the whole, I now see my work as being an expression of my spiritual life and, because I look at it that way, I have a different centre. I go through the stress and pressure, but I think Im lucky because
I come from a different source point.
This is an edited version of the full interview, which features in the April 2008 issue of Marie Claire.