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.
There’s 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 year’s 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, we’ll see him in Vantage Point. Is it hard raising a family in Hollywood? [Forest has three children, Sonnet, Ocean and True]
It’s tough when you have to be away. But I’m probably at home more than my dad was because he was working two or three jobs sometimes. I’m going to be at home for the next three months [a break before starting on his next project, Patriots] – I’m 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 I’d prepared dinner for her and I write poems. She’s pretty amazing, so I like to celebrate that. She’s really taught me how to celebrate life, that’s something I’ve learned. Every holiday, the house changes, every birthday – that wasn’t my way of living life. I was more introverted.
You’ve been married 12 years – that’s pretty rare in Hollywood. How do you and your wife keep it together?
By appreciating the differences. My wife is completely different from me: she’s good with everyone, whereas I’m good at directed conversation when I have a purpose for it, like now. If everyone’s sitting around being social, I’m not great.
Is that because you’re not very good at making small talk?
I try, and I’ve learned a little bit over the years, but I truly never gossip. I never comment on what’s going on, say, on television or on a news story.
There’s been a lot of gossip and conjecture about Heath Ledger’s death recently. Do you think the Hollywood system puts too much pressure on young actors?
I think it must, because it’s a heightened environment – positivity, rejection: really big highs to really big lows. I don’t 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 I’m 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.
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