Forest Steven Whitaker II is an American actor, producer, and director who has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Bird, The Crying Game, Platoon, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, The Great Debaters, The Butler and Arrival. He has also appeared in blockbusters such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Saw Gerrera and Black Panther as Zuri. Take a look below for 30 more fun and interesting facts about Forest Whitaker.
1. Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas, the son of Laura Francis, a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two master’s degrees while raising her children, and Forest Steven Whitaker Jr., an insurance salesman.
2. A DNA test has shown that his mother had Akan ancestry, while his father was of Igbo descent.
3. When Whitaker was four, his family moved to Carson, California.
4. Whitaker has two younger brothers, Kenn and Damon and an older sister, Deborah.
5. His first role as an actor was the lead in Dylan Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood.
6. Whitaker attended Carson Senior High School and played on the football team and sang in the choir, graduating in 1979.
7. Whitaker entered California State Polytechnic University, Pomona on a football scholarship, but a back injury made him change his major to music (singing).
8. He toured England with the Cal Poly Chamber Singers in 1980.
9. While still at Cal Poly, he briefly changed his major to drama.
10. He was accepted to the Music Conservatory at the University of Southern California to study opera as a tenor and subsequently was accepted into the University’s Drama Conservatory.
11. He graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting in 1982.
12. He also earned a scholarship to and was trained in Professional Acting at Drama Studio London.
13. Whitaker was pursuing a degree in “The Core of Conflict: Studies in Peace and Reconciliation” at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2004.
14. Whitaker has a long history of working with well-regarded film directors and actors. In his first onscreen performance of note, he had a supporting role playing a high school football player in the 1982 film version of Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age teen-retrospective Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
15. In 1986, he appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money and Oliver Stone’s Platoon.
16. He starred in the 1990 film Downtown and was cast in the pivotal role of Jody, a captive British soldier in the 1992 film The Crying Game, for which he used an English accent.
17. Whitaker played a serene, pigeon-raising, bushido-following, mob hit man in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a 1999 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch.
18. In 2007, Whitaker played Dr. James Farmer Sr. in The Great Debaters, for which he received an Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor.
19. On the series, Diff’rent Strokes, he played a bully in the 1985 episode “Bully for Arnold”.
20. Whitaker made his Broadway debut in 2016 in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play Hughie at the Booth Theatre, directed by Michael Grandage.
21. He co-produced and co-starred in A Rage in Harlem in 1991.
22. He made his directorial debut with a grim film about inner-city gun violence, Strapped, for HBO in 1993.
23. Whitaker plays an active role as co-chair of JuntoBox Films since his initial involvement as co-chair with the collaborative film studio starting in March 2012. JuntoBox was developed as a social-media platform for filmmakers and fans to share ideas to create films and then collaborate to make them.
24. In 1996, Whitaker married actress Keisha Nash, whom he met on the set of Blown Away. They have four children: two daughters together (Sonnet and True), and his son (Ocean Alexander) and her daughter (Autumn) from their previous relationships.
25. In December 2018, Whitaker filed for divorce from Nash, citing irreconcilable differences.
26. Whitaker studies yoga and has a black belt in kenpō. He also trains in eskrima under Dan Inosanto.
27. Whitaker’s left eye ptosis has been called “intriguing” by some critics and gives him “a lazy, contemplative look”.
28. Whitaker has explained that the condition is hereditary and that he has considered having surgery to correct it, not for cosmetic reasons but because it affects his vision.
29. In politics, Whitaker supported and spoke on behalf of Senator Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign.
30. In 2010, Whitaker received the Artist Citizen of the World Award (France).