Birth Name: Forest Whitaker
A charismatic stage-trained African-American actor of 1980s and 90s film and TV, Whitaker, a high school football star, went on to study to become a classical tenor before shifting to acting. His imposing bear-like physique is belied by his soft-spoken and gentle manner. After playing high school athletes in a few ambitious teen flicks ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High" 1982; "Vision Quest" 1985), Whitaker gained notice as a charmingly duplicitous billiards opponent of Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money" (1986). Feature supporting roles followed in varied films including "Platoon" (1986), "Stakeout" and a particularly pleasant turn as Robin Williams's sidekick in "Good Morning, Vietnam" (both 1987). Whitaker graduated to leading man status under the direction of Clint Eastwood for the dark biopic "Bird" (1988). He was named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of jazz legend Charlie Parker. Whitaker returned to colorful supporting parts ("Johnny Handsome" 1989) and leads in little seen films ("Diary of a Hitman" 1991). 5Whitaker's heavy-lidded, unhurried delivery can suggest both naivete ("A Rage in Harlem", 1991) and skeptical intelligence ("Consenting Adults", 1991), and he is easily capable of rising above otherwise bland material. He was quietly, irresistibly sympathetic as a British soldier kidnapped by the IRA in Neil Jordan's highly praised "The Crying Game" (1992). The unexpected commercial success of that film lead to increased interest in Whitaker's long-form directorial debut (he had previously directed music videos), "Strapped" (HBO, 1993). Filmed on location in Brooklyn's notorious Fort Greene district, the gritty urban drama was selected for various international film festivals and the neophyte director was deluged with offers. 5While pondering his future as a filmmaker, Whitaker remained a familiar face in movies, segueing effortlessly from Hollywood genre fare, both big-budget ("Blown Away" 1994; "Species" 1995) and small ("Body Snatchers" 1993), to thoughtful indies ("Jason's Lyric" 1994; "Smoke" 1995), to would-be Major Statements from Renowned Filmmakers (Robert Altman's misfired satire, "Ready to Wear" 1994). His ability to evoke audience empathy continued undiminished. Whittaker proved affecting playing physically and mentally maimed fathers in "Jason's Lyric" and "Smoke". Admirably unafraid to play gay characters, Whitaker fared well as a down-to-earth designer in "Ready to Wear". 5Whitaker chose to make his feature directing debut with "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), the Black female ensemble drama adapted from Terry McMillan's best seller. Boasting a large cast headlined by Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett, the film opened to mixed reviews--mostly complaints about the episodic nature of the story--and healthy box office. He returned to the other side of the camera as John Travolta's best friend in "Phenomenon" (1996).
Some images appear courtesy of the following:
The Internet Movie Database