An Exclusive Interview with Forest Whitaker
By Kara Warner
February 22, 2010
While doing interviews for his upcoming film, ‘Our Family Wedding,’ Oscar winner Forest Whitaker spoke with Blackfilm.com about some of his future works, including ‘Repo Man’ and the spinoff to TV’s ‘Criminal Minds,’ as well as his disappointment over the handling of recent films that went straight-to-DVD.
The Longview, Texas native also spoke about his Oscar pics, and his views on President Obama’s term thus far.
What's next for you? You have a list of projects... what is 'Single Shot?'
Forest Whitaker: ‘Single Shot’ is a documentary I'm producing that takes place in an Angola prison. 90 percent of the inmates die there so when people get old and infirm, who cares for them? It's a volunteer group within the prison, so it's really about compassion, about them trying to find redemption.
What about the Criminal Minds spinoff?
FW: I'm shooting that now.
Are they going to weave the pilot into the show at the end of the season?
FW: They are. I [am a fan] of the original show but our group, we are a little more clandestine... we don't do press, I don't follow rules. My character, Sam Cooper, is a guy who came back to this unit only if he could operate under his own rules. He doesn't have an office. It's set in Washington. We shoot in LA. Actually I'm leaving today to go to San Francisco to shoot tomorrow.
So it's all over the country?
FW: Yes. The team is good- Mike Kelly, Beau Garrett, Matt Ryan. The group in this episode all come together. I go to Hotch (played by Thomas Gibson) to try to get him to let me be on a case that I've been told I'm not allowed to do.
So why do TV now when you have all these movies?
FW: A lot of different reasons. I think they approached me at the right time. I have two kids leaving for college, and I have two who are left. It's about me being home with my two children - one is 13, one is 11. I want to see them more in these years. Also I think it's interesting to explore. I don't see boundaries the way other people do. I'll do a video if someone wants me to do a video, I'll create a game for Pepsi for a soft drink, I just like to create. I think this is going to be really fun. I love the way Chris Mundi is writing the character, I really like the people and i think it's going to be great. And I won't do as many movies. I'll try to do a movie a year, maybe two. But I have a period of time where I can do one movie a year, which is what most of my peers do anyway. I carved out a period to direct my movie, they want me to be involved. I work with IBM and Pepsi in creating things, for me to sit in one place to handle... and I produce 1-2 movies a year.
You mentioned you're having fun on the show, are you having fun at this point in your career?
FW: I have a documentary that we've been doing called ‘Brick City’ going on in New Jersey and now we're doing the second season of it and I'm really excited with what happens with that, it's not as intense for me to have to be there all the time, I'm not trying to say I'm doing a million things, I'm just being honest. I enjoy it, and now I can do it at my house.
Do you have any Oscar pics?
FW: I'd like to see Monique win, her performance is pretty startling. I think ‘Precious’ is a strong film, ‘Hurt Locker’ is a strong film. I feel bad because I have too many friends. Sandy (Sandra Bullock), she's really good. I don't know, I'm trying to stay out of it.
||Are you going to get in the director's chair again?
FW: Next year in April I'm going to direct ‘Satchmo,’ the Louis Armstrong Biopic. I am going to play the character. I won't play the whole of it, it starts when he's born. But a couple of people will be performing the character.
Have you done any casting?
FW: I haven't cast the movie. I probably shouldn't be talking about it because I'm still in the budgeting stages. I have ideas for casting, but I feel that as of now, every person I've approached to be on the crew who has read the script has attached themselves to it. I feel as though the same will occur with the actors because the roles are pretty amazing, really great characters. We'll see.
I interviewed you in Dallas when you were on the Obama campaign. How do you think he's doing?
FW: I was there for a couple of years on that campaign. You know I think he's doing well, it's difficult with the opposition... considering the short period of time he's been in office, I lot of things have occurred. Cuba, not changing the embargo but dealing with the prisons there. And we've never gotten so close to a health care policy in my lifetime, so the world view on the United States has shifted completely. Because I travel so much and there was a period of time when people hated Americans. I can tell you that it has shifted completely and that's an interesting thing. There are things changing. There are educational policies put in place across the country where the monies are there if you apply for them you can get them. They are trying to change our concepts of math and engineering and science, which is a big deal because we're moving to an economy where that type of work is so important. We saw what happened with the auto industry...
|shipping jobs overseas... That economy is going to shift, move to a greener economy that will revitalize the country but it's not going to happen in a year. I personally think the biggest problem is that the citizens felt empowered. For me the most important thing was that Barack was elected, but individual people thought that their voice was heard. People could become organizers in their homes, send in $5 but that stopped. I think that funnel for people's passion and desire, that space for people to have their voice has been eliminated and for me that is where the weakness in the system is right now because it allows other people to create voices that are stronger. Other people feel disenfranchised because they have no outlet where they can speak. Before everybody felt like they could do something, now what do you feel you can do? The party has to handle that now, it goes to a different structural system.
‘Repo Man,’ you said it was Sci-fi but isn't a little gory? A little horror?
FW: It's really violent and bloody. It's really bloody. Even for me. Most of the people I know who saw it they loved it. We play guys who repossess body parts so you see us cutting people open and taking their body parts back so... I think it's a covert statement on healthcare.
Well, I know there was the Repo Genetic Opera... I know that's a different film...
FW: It's kind of a bummer because we did the movie 3 years ago and everyone thinks we just did it. The reality is they're very similar, I don't know why they waited so long because they're really happy with it, I've started to see the signs everywhere. I'm really intense. I don't know if I'm the villian... it's interesting to me because both of the characters live a little bit in parts of my personality. It's really violent though, really aggressive.
It seems like that would be fun to play though?
FW: It was a blast. I got to fight with a cattle prod. I know how to fight with kali sticks so it was the perfect fit. We worked with guys who are legends - Jeff Lamont is a legend in the kali style so to work with him was really exciting for me.
||How was working with Jude (Law)?
FW: Jude is great. He's a really nice guy. He was getting into it. I heard that he kept the same regiment since the movie and he was rock hard. They were doing the ‘300’ exercise program with us, then they brought in Jeff to fight. He was really into it. He's a great guy and he had a good relationship with everybody. He's a good guy to be around.
Were you disappointed that ‘Hurricane Season’ went straight to DVD?
FW: Yeah, I think that was a travesty. I think the Weinsteins should ... it's not just about me, the fact that they didn't do what they said they were going to do is amazing to me. I think that is modus operandi. But a lot of people are telling me they saw the video on DVD and really responded to it and don't understand why it wasn't released and I say, "You'll have to talk to the Weinsteins [about that], I can't help you." I tried though. Even when I tried to get a deal for it, they wouldn't make a reasonable deal for anyone.
You mean to help distribute it?
FW: Yeah, I was going to get another distributer to help them and they wanted so much money...
|A couple other films of your have gone straight to DVD. I know it's out of your control, but what do you think about that?
FW: This one (Hurricane Season) is pretty disappointing. Some of the others are just different. Maybe ‘Powder Blue’... it's not that many films. But ‘Hurricane Season’ is a big deal. Again, it's not about me, it's about that story. It's no reflection on Oscar or anything or on me, other than who they choose to have a relationship with. The same thing happened with the marketing for ‘Raising Harlem,’ which I first did with them. Same thing, I personally feel Denzel (Washington) made an amazing film with ‘The Great Debaters,’ but it was marketed poorly so people didn't see this amazingly beautiful film. I have too many things I'm doing, I don't think about it that way. I do think of the impact it would have if people were to understand what happened to Katrina. There's not another film about the situation, about inside the feelings about what was going on with the people.