Forest Whitaker Talks About Playing Satchmo in Louis Armstrong Biopic WHAT A WONDERFUL LIFE

     March 26, 2010


Anyone who remembers Forest Whitaker’s take on Charlie Parker in Bird way back in the day (and if you haven’t seen it, please do) knows the man knows jazz, and he’s about to put that knowledge on display again on both sides of the camera for What a Wonderful Life.

For the biopic, which has gone through some rough patches but now seems to be solidly back on, Whitaker will both play Louis Armstrong from his birth in New Orleans to his death in 1971 and direct the movie. And even though that sounds like a pretty conventional biopic, Whitaker told Empire Online to expect something that instead deals with different perceptions of the jazz legend.

“It covers his whole life but more from a myth point of view – it’s told as two different myths of the same person.”

Sounds delightfully trippy to me. Hit the jump to hear more of what Whitaker had to say about how the production is coming along and how he’s enjoyed getting to know all about Armstrong.

forest_whitaker_image__1_.jpgIf you’ve read anything about this project before now, chances are it has mentioned budget problems, but Whitaker assured Empire Online that those are under control.

“I feel much better about it. We’ll start shooting in April next year hopefully. I met with my producers in Paris two days ago and was worried because my budget was so high [but] they assured me it was ok.”

And while Whitaker is more than a capable hired hand (he was great last year as Ira in Where the Wild Things Are, even if he didn’t get much to say), he’s at his best when he really throws his heart into something, as certainly seems to be the case here.

“I didn’t know anything about Louis Armstrong’s life until I started working on the piece. I just knew some of his songs – mostly his pop songs [because] in a way he became a pop star. Going into his life has been a really interesting journey – going into this guy who connects the world because people like him all over the world.”

I’m not ashamed to admit I liked Waiting to Exhale, so Whitaker is certainly at least a competent director, and it will be great to hear Louis Armstrong’s music used for something besides background music in the sappiest kinds of romantic comedies. Definitely stay tuned for more news on this project.

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