Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia as the warring
dads in Our Family Wedding. Photo credit: Fox Searchlight
His Thoughts, Feelings, and Insights
By Beverly Cohn
orest Whitaker has a sterling acting career garnering the Academy Award
for his memorable performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
His credits are too numerous to list but suffice it to say he has delivered
many memorable performances. At an early morning press conference to
publicize his latest film, Our Family Wedding, (a lightweight,
formulaic film about two warring families) Whitaker talks about much
more than his latest picture, and we get a real insight into the character
of this most gifted actor.
TB: This film is a real departure
from your other films which are much more serious. What attracted you
to this script?
Whitaker: When I was younger, I did some really intense
roles like Bird and The Crying Game so my career went in that
direction. This project started to happen at about the same time I hosted
Saturday Night Live. I liked the Our Family Wedding script
and thought it was fun, but very touching and something interesting
to do. It explores racial and cultural differences and goes to the heart
of everybody ultimately coming from the same place.
TB: Did you enjoy the Saturday Night Live experience?
Whitaker: I had blast. It was crazy. You know what,
its a big release working on a movie like this. I mean its
really relaxing. You still have to find your character and make him
live in a specific universe.
TB: Was there anything in the script where you thought
you might be walking a fine line?
Whitaker: I think the movie walks a fine line quite
a few times with the Black and Latino stereotypes, but I think sometimes
stereotypes have a core of truth, and the point is to get past those
thoughts, images, and ideas and see the real person.
Forest Whitaker (r) as Brad Boyd with Lance Gross
who plays his son Marcus in Our Family Wedding. Photo:
Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
TB: Do you think weddings are mostly for the parents?
Whitaker: I think in a lot of cases it appears that
way. When you have to coordinate such a large event for so many people,
some of whom dont even like each other, you have to take a lot
of things into consideration, such as seating the right people next
to each other. There are so many different types of weddings from going
down to City Hall or Las Vegas or little intimate ones. Some of them
are for the couple, but I think the majority is a reflection of other
TB: Did you have a similar experience?
Whitaker: My wedding was very small. We went to Jamaica
and held the ceremony on the beach. We had around 40 guests and it was
like a giant holiday for everybody.
TB: Carlos Mencia who plays Miguel is a stand-up comedian.
Were there any special challenges in working with him and did you improvise?
Whitaker: I thought he was really centered as an actor
and I loved working with him. We improvised a lot when it came to the
back and forth banter. His character is really kind of a straight guy
and is very sensitive, especially in those touching moments between
he and his wife (Diana Maria Riva) and the conflict in letting
his daughter Lucia go (America Ferrera).
TB: You were born in Texas. Did your family move to
California because of racism?
Whitaker: My family didnt move here because of
racism. My dad moved here because he wanted to have greater opportunities.
There was racism in the Texas town in which we lived. That particular
part of Texas was very segregated. We lived on one side of the river
and you never crossed over. Its not very far from Jasper where
eight years ago they were dragging people behind trucks. Its a
difficult place, but there are difficult places all over the country.
TB: Whats your take on the struggle between the
Latino and African-American gangs?
Whitaker: There has been a struggle between the Latino
and Black communities for a long time. Even when I was a kid that stuff
was going on. Now its more intense. There have been attempts at
truces between the gangs, but its difficult because so many different
elements are involved. I narrated a gang documentary a year ago and
I have met with gangs in different cities.
TB: Are there any parallels in this film?
Whitaker: This film is about inner personal racism.
Color issues are many times about people trying to reach a higher key
than what society has given them and their desire to feel like theyre
the best. The Latinos have their own racism against each other from
different racial groups and Blacks have different issues with each other,
so its very complicated. It more of a tribal issue and that exists
all over the world.
TB: Do you think the film can bridge some of the animosities
and does it have crossover appeal?
Whitaker: I think there is crossover appeal. I dont
know if its going to make a dad say, Go ahead and marry
that guy. But maybe it will make someone stop for second to realize
he might be a nice guy. It takes little steps to make all the pieces
come together for a breakthrough.
TB: Race issue aside, dont most of us feel that
no one is really good enough for our child?
Whitaker: I agree. At the core of the story is that
Miguel is losing his daughter Lucia and Im losing my son Marcus
(Lance Gross.) Our lives have to now be readjusted. I think about
that with my own kid. Hes going off to college and I wonder if
he going to come back, or am I going to see him just once year, or is
he going to have kids? Its normal behavior.
TB: Why does your character choose to date women his
Whitaker: My character is damaged because his wife left
him and he raised his son. He goes into those inappropriate relationships
so he doesnt have to get serious, and these young women arent
looking to get married. Ultimately, the kids open his eyes because they
show him that a relationship with an age appropriate woman (Regina
King), will bring him happiness.
TB: Your character is a bit anal in wanting everything
to be in its proper place. Are you like that?
Whitaker: Sometimes. If Im working on stuff I
like things organized in a certain way. As far as my character, thats
a way he tries to keep order in his universe and this new event breaks
TB: How does your Black Belt in Karate impact on your
Whitaker: I would say that martial arts is one of my
first big teachers of acting. I was taught how to reach a point, not
just through a straight line, but to understand different angles and
energy. I think that approach is one of the biggest influences impacting
on my technique. When I did The Last King of Scotland, I worked
intensely with my sefu (master) on the character not on
the words, but on fighting, because my character was extremely combative
and aggressive and in some ways painful. My sefu taught me how to move
through that aggression and pain and that was a big part in figuring
out how to play the character.
TB: When will you be directing again?
Whitaker: Im scheduled to direct and star in Satchmo
in April of next year.
TB: We look forward to that project.