Tonawanda News

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October 10, 2006

MOVIES: Forest Whitaker takes viewer inside Idi Amin

Longtime character breaks out in 'The Last King of Scotland'

By all accounts, actor Forest Whitaker is a gentle bear of a man, a 6-foot-2 father of four with a wide range of films to his credit as both an actor and a director. He’s played jazz legend Charlie Parker in “Bird,” as well as a British soldier with a quirky “girlfriend” in “The Crying Game.” He out-hustled Paul Newman at the pool table in “The Color of Money.” He’s directed the romances “Waiting to Exhale” and “Hope Floats.”

But why’d he want to join the cast of “The Last King of Scotland,” and climb inside the skin of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, one of the 20th century’s most ruthless, blood-stained despots?

“I didn’t know much about Idi Amin,” Whitaker says over diet Cokes at a Toronto hotel restaurant. “I just had this image of this guy in those military epaulets, this angry beast of a man. I thought it’d be interesting to try to get inside his head and try to understand the situation. I read the book. I thought this would be really challenging for me. If I could find it, if I could catch it, it’d be something real special for me.”

Indeed, Whitaker’s performance is among those that generated the most buzz at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival; and there’s even early talk of a possible Oscar nomination.

“Anytime you try to figure out how a person thinks and feels, his loves, his desires, you start to understand — certainly not justify — his choices, even inside his insanity. Inside his paranoia, some of his choices made sense to me. I associated him with being a soldier who is cornered and who fights back the only way he knows how.”

Whitaker believes in research, and found a wealth of material on Amin. “I started studying in Los Angeles, reading the various books and looking at documentaries. There’s a lot of footage of Amin, because he was quite the showman.” Whitaker even learned Swahili and how to play the accordion, and got both elements into the film.

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