Forest Whitaker Interview – VANTAGE POINT

     February 20, 2008

Opening this Friday is the Columbia Pictures’ action-thriller “Vantage Point.” The film is about eight strangers who all witness an assassination attempt on the President of the United States in Spain. But unlike most movies, which tell a story by intercutting all the characters storylines as the film builds towardsthe big climax, “Vantage Point” is quite unusual.

Rather than follow all the storylines at once, the film follows one person’s storyline for the twenty minutes leading up to the assassination attempt. Once we see the shots hit the President, we startover from another characters perspective. As we watch each segment unfold, new details get revealed. Only after all the characters have told their stories do we finally understand what actually happened.

While some have compared the film to Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”, they really are completely different movies. “Rashomon” used each person’s storyline to show how we all view an event differently, but “Vantage Point” never changes what actually happened, just the perspective of how you see the event unfolding.

Anyway, let’s move onto the reason you’re here, the interview with Forest Whitaker.

During the mini press conference that I took part in, Forest talked about everything – from where he keeps his Oscar to all the various projects he has coming up. It’s a great interview with the recent Academy Award winner.

Finally, if you missed the movie clips I previously posted you might want to watch them before reading the interview. You can click here to see them. Finally, here’s the MP3 of the interview in case you’d rather listen to it.

“Vantage Point” gets released this Friday.

Question: Where do you keep your Oscar?

Forest Whitaker: As you go down the stairs in my house there’s like shelves right in the stairwell as you walk down and it’s sitting right there.

Question: Anyone pick it up? Everyone wants to pick it up and look at it?

Forest Whitaker: Not everybody, but some people do ask if they can pick it up. They want to see how heavy it is, you know, what it’s like you know.

Q: So it’s not behind glass? It doesn’t have a spot light and music doesn’t play when you go near it?

Forest Whitaker: No, I haven’t done that yet.

Q: So, will you be on February 24th on stage at the Kodak Theatre to give the Best Actress Oscar this year?

Forest: I hope so. If the strike isn’t still on. Yeah, it seems like the strike is about to be over but until they say that I don’t know.

Q: Now, with this movie and I just saw is it the Air I Breathe?

Forest: Yeah, The Air I Breathe, yeah.

Q: Which is just a terrific piece of work that you do and they’re both kind of smaller films with very intense emotional workouts for you. Can you talk about what you’re…were they done before the Oscar both of these films?

Forest: Yeah, both of them were done before, yeah. Before the movie The Last King came out. And the characters…I mean it was fun. Both of them were shot in Mexico City, too, those 2 movies so I was there almost like about 5 or 6 months, you know doing both of those movies that year.

Q: With this film, you do the scenes over and over and over again from other people’s point of view, from your point of view. Did you…how hard was that? Did you try and keep the continuity together or do them the same or just shade them differently?

Forest: I didn’t try to change the performance really…I mean I kept the same attitude pretty much throughout most of it and you know it’s always difficult when you’re like continually doing things over and over again for days and days, particularly some of the…because there’s so much action in the movie just the running through the streets of Mexico from different points of view, you know for day on and day on and day on. But no, it wasn’t difficult from the acting part of it. It was the same.

Q: What criteria do you use when choosing a role and have you gotten more selective since you’ve won the Oscar?

Forest: I don’t think…I think I’ve always tried to find really interesting characters and parts and that’s the way I’ve kind of continued to do it as we’ve been going along. I think if I tried to shift that I’m going to screw up if I start to second-guess myself if I feel like I should do a part or could play a character and stuff.

Q: What makes a character interesting for you?

Forest: Usually it’s the journey that he’s going on. If it’s something that I’m going to learn from it, something new for me to do. Even on this part, it’s like…it’s just the simplicity about this character in a way. There’s a danger inside of it to me, you know, because of that. Because I don’t really feel when I’m doing it that I’m like maybe connected completely, I’m not quite sure if I’m playing it right, you know what I mean, whereas like other characters when I’m totally engulfed by it, a different energy, a different way of speaking and different way…you kind of feel like you’re doing something, you know what I mean? You’re creating something. So it’s always a different thing from each one.

Q: Did the Oscar make a big difference?

Forest: I’ve had a lot of opportunities to act in movies. I was working before but now it’s like you know, so many.

Q: We’re talking about you as Forest Whitaker, director. And we don’t seem to be talking about that as much any more. Is that a result of being busy? Does that have anything to do with the Oscar or is it just not finding the right things to do at this point?

Forest: You know, I decided that the next thing I direct I want it to be a real personal kind of thing, something that I really connect to. Probably a different type of film even and so I haven’t found that and I’ve been trying to develop a few things on my own and hopefully I’ll get something right to do it next year hopefully. But I’ve never directed more than every 3 or 4 years anyway. It’s always like a 3-4 year stretch between movies, so it’s about time right now.

Q: Are you still doing Repossession Mambo with Jude Law?

Forest: I finished it.

Q: Oh, really? When was that last week or…?

Forest: Last fall.

Q: Last fall? That far back?

Forest: The beginning of this year.

Q: Oh, I was going to say not that far.

Forest: It was a long process. We finished it and we finished up…mostly we were in Toronto and we finished up in Miami.

Q: Can you tell a little more about it? What do you play in that?

Forest: I play a repossession guy. The movie kind of deals with healthcare in a weird way because me and Jude are best friends and it’s about the breakup of our relationship. We repossess body parts that people have bought to sustain their life, you know and so then all of a sudden he gets a break of conscience because of a health crisis in his own life and I have to get him straight.

Q: What about this…I don’t know if it’s still called The Night Watchman?

Forest: It’s called Street Kings. It’s coming out in April.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Forest: It’s about police corruption in Los Angeles. I play the head of sort of the crime family of the police, I’m the head of the…I’m the cop who runs all of that and Keanu plays my enforcer. It’s about him sort of his eyes opening up to what it is that I’ve had him doing for the last number of years as I’ve sort of protected him and groomed him and moved him along. It’s a very intense piece. I just saw it a couple of days ago. I really like the movie. It’s a really powerful movie.

Q: Is it based on the Rampart scandal?

Forest: Somewhat. It definitely is like the sort of Rampart type police.

Q: Did you get help from the LAPD on that?

Forest: There were advisors who had left the force who were working on the movie.

Q: Why did they leave the force exactly?

Forest: It wasn’t because of corruption. Some of them were like life-time cops and stuff that were working—really strong with Keanu too just to give their advise and talk to you about it and they even show you pictures. Sometimes there were cops that would actually show us pictures of them doing really brutal things actually to like people they were interrogating and stuff. It’s like they had almost like trophies for themselves.

Q: Since you’re talking a little bit about other projects, can I ask you about “Where the Wild Things Are” and what the experience was like working with Spike Jones?

I loved working with Spike. That was different because what happened….we rehearsed the piece for like quite a few months before…in the beginning we rehearsed it and then they put a camera on each one of us and followed us. So they’d be like 8 cameras following all the actors as we were going through the scenes and stuff, so as Wild Things if there was like a foam tree or something I mean you’d use a foam tree, you’d use like bread—you’d have bread fights instead of rock fights. They were filming all of that and then when they went to Australia to actually film the puppets or whatever, the people studied our movements and studied our gestures and stuff and imitated us going through our movements and stuff and then the facial stuff they got because even like when we recorded, he would be recording our faces and stuff and they were going to try to implement that in CG into the characters faces.

Q: I heard you had a hell of a cast working with those foam things when you guys were rehearsing. Could you talk about working with all those other people and I also heard some of the Jackass guys were working with you?

Forest: Not really. We started off first we went up to a mountain near Spike’s house and we had like dodge ball fights, you know. We’d be on teams and then when we went into…he kind of rented out this entire space inside of there they built this sort of foam world and we just started getting closer and doing improv’s and figuring out how we’d lay on each other and move around each other and then slowly he decided to start filming us doing it. We’d reenact everything from drawing in the sand to as I say like the fights we’d have amongst each other and stuff.

Q: When you have an experience that’s that sort of left of center, how does that impact you when you go back into approaching the rest of your career? Does it change? Do you look for more like of those kinds of experiences?

Forest: I had a great time working on it. It was kind of crazy, you know, I mean I played Ira. He’s kind of like the biggest Wild Thing as far as physical size and stuff and so they got this giant padded stomach for me and I’d be moving around and figuring out how he talks and stuff so it was like playing a character in any movie, going through rehearsals and stuff and then they shot us.

Q: But you don’t play dodge ball on every movie, right?

Forest: I guess we would if we were…because we’re playing in the movie we’re playing we’re having rock fights, so it’s just rehearsing us figuring out how to be on teams and how to like…how we’d be chasing, how we’d be hiding from each other, the way we’d be talking to each other and so then we he actually shot it, they just got these big barrels of bread—like rolls—and then we were just throwing rolls at each other and fighting and doing stuff like that.

Q: How good are you at dodge ball?

Forest: I’m pretty good. Yeah, pretty good.

Q: In this film you represent kind of the non-political character from this viewpoint. What did you think humanity wise as a non-political person, what does your character add to this film into the viewpoint or vantage point?

Forest: The vantage point I think he represents to every man. He represents like the normal citizen that gets caught up in like the politics of the world and stuff. I think for him he’s a guy who’s trying to find his life again that he’s lost. He’s breaking up with his wife and he’s leaving his kid and he goes there to try to find passion to like feel involved. He doesn’t feel like his life is really that important, you know. Then all of sudden he’s caught up in something that makes him sort of important and he ends up having the Zapruder tape and he’s like starting to get caught into it, you know, and he realizes that he will step up if he’s put in that situation and his humanity is what’s most important and I think that’s what he represents about you know humanity, about not walking by a kid who’s like crying in the middle of a bomb zone, but stepping up and finds out that his life is important and that his family is important and that his love for them is the most important thing and I think that’s what he represents, that awareness, that coming to awareness of people.

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Q: Have you heard from any of Idi Amin’s children?

Forest: Umm, actually I went back to Uganda after….

Q: After the movie came out?

Forest: Yeah, to show the film and yeah, I have heard from…I’ve gotten messages from one of his daughters and they really seem to like the film.

Q: What was the reaction to the movie in Uganda?

Forest: It was really extremely positive. They loved the movie. I first had to show it to the President of Uganda and the President of Tanzania and the cabinets and stuff, so they saw the film and that was probably the toughest audience so far for me.

Q: Were you scared?

Forest: I was nervous because Musebini was fighting against Idi Amin and he was with rebel forces and so his whole family had been exiled by him, and so I was sitting next to his general—I was sitting next to Idi Amin’s general who is now like a…you know there were other people sitting down below but they put me in the middle and so when it’s over nobody can really respond because they have to wait for the President to respond, you know, so you’re like did he like it? His wife was real upset but he did like the film and he talked about the film. He went up in a very diplomatic way and talked about it and stuff.

Q: So you’ve got no fear of critics now after that.

Forest: I’ll tell you I was like tense to be honest with you, but it worked out. And when I showed it to the crew, the cast and crew, the next night.

Q: Which do you find harder to do as an actor—to play someone like Amin who’s got a lot of power, or to play someone with more power than you’ll ever have or someone with less power, like Vantage Point, which is a bigger stretch. Which is harder emotionally?

Forest: Like I say, sometimes when you’re playing a characters like where you speak a certain way and move a certain way at least you know what you can hold onto to. You at least know what you’re looking to find and do. Sometimes a character that feels more morphist you’re really trying to be specific enough with them and that can be tough. And sometimes those kinds of characters are hard to get out of your system because you don’t really know or realize that you’re that you’re…that the little things they do are normal. So it’s not as easy or recognizable that you’re like behaving and looking down a lot or doing…you know what I mean because they’re acceptable traits, you know? But every character has different challenges. For me that’s the whole point of why I go for different types of roles. It’s for a new challenge.

Q: So are you filming anything right now or do you have anything coming up?

Forest: I’m going to do this movie called Patriots in April, which is a true story about a coach in New Orleans during and right after Katrina, about the displacement of all of his players and them trying to find their lives and stuff and ultimately this coach who brings them all back together and wins the championship.

Q: Who’s in it with you?

Forest: They haven’t cast the rest of the movie. We start April 15th.

Q: What type of team?

Forest: Basketball. Yeah, it’s a true story.

Q: It is a true story? Did you say it’s a true story?

Forest: Yeah.

Q: Oh, so you’re playing somebody again who…have you talked to the person or have you….

Forest: I haven’t started my work yet.

Q: But you will be doing that I take it.

Forest: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m hoping that he will help me out a lot.

Q: Forest, you keep coming back to this theme of challenges in your work, made me curious if there’s anything as an actor or director that you’ve wanted to tackle and just haven’t gotten an opportunity to so far?

Forest: I don’t really have anything like the specific thing. I think directing wise, I mean I do want to play around with more visceral kind of film, like a really emotionally aggressive visceral film that has to say something about human condition. I think the one I’m hopefully going to do next is called “Better Angels” I don’t know if the script will turn out. It deals with that. It deals with a journalist who goes into a place to interview a man who’s like a mysiac character who’s fighting the country with a team of children soldiers and it’s about this journalist deciding when he needs to step in and stuff.

Q: Would you act in it as well or do you think you’ll just direct it and not…?

Forest: Um, it depends on how the script turns. But I mean, I’ve always in the past not wanted to…I’ve never acted in anything I have done but I think I’ll feel more comfortable directing now I mean inside the film as well.

Q: Being a director, when you read the script did you think this is a nightmare to direct? And were you ever worried about Peter directing because he’d only done one other film?

Forest: No, he was like the main reason…one of the main reasons I wanted to do it. I really liked his movie “Omagh” which is such a great movie about this bombing in this little Irish town, you know and I really like the way he dealt with the performances and stuff, and so I was really excited to get to meet him. It is a very complicated structure, you know, and that’s his challenge.

Q: None of us got to talk to you when you were in the Great Debaters, and I wanted to know what it was like to work with Denzel?

Forest: Oh, I loved working with him. I think he’s got really clear vision and he works really good with his crew. You know, you go in early and you start rehearsing and a lot of times he’d even put us in the space to rehearse in the house. Like the scene between me and my son, we had rehearsed that inside the living room area and stuff way before we ever shot it and gives you material and things like that. He was genuinely enjoying himself like as he was watching the movie so it was a great…I was really glad to get to know him.

Q: Did you ever think like all of us watching that this Denzel Whitaker kid—he’s got to be related to me?

Forest: Yeah.

Q: I mean not only the incredible resemblance but you know, that kid can act.

Forest: He did a great job. He’s amazing. All the young kids in the movie are amazing and he carries the movie.

Q: Have you and his father checked like your genealogical trees just to see if somewhere way back…?

Forest: No, I didn’t.

Q: Are you disappointed it didn’t connect more with people? A lot of us were expecting it to show up on Best Picture list but it just didn’t connect the way it should have.

Forest: I think it’s a beautiful movie. I think it’s got so much heart and it’s like so much hope and it’s beautifully shot and I think the actors have great performances in it.

Q: It’s a marketing snafu do you think?

Forest: I wish more people had gotten to see the movie. I really do.

Q: Do you ever get confused, you know in all the re-takes of the same scenes like where am I at now and what am I doing now? Was that ever mind-boggling?

Forest: Not so much. It was more a logistical thing for Peter and for like the producers and stuff because just trying to keep those crowds together and putting the right people behind the people and stuff for months on end.

Q: Was there a plus for constantly playing the same scene over and over again maybe slightly different or anything?

Forest: That was kind of like, as I say, staying in the same behavior and stuff. That wasn’t difficult that was actually good.

Q: What about with the little camera looking at the video stuff. Was that all added later or…?

Forest: No, I was hoping that they’d let me use the videos I had.

Q: They actually filmed it?

Forest: Yeah, but I think they used the…

Q: Did they let you keep the camera?

Forest: Yeah.

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