Monday, October 16, 2006


Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin, the late and infamous Ugandan dictator, is one of the most stunning turns in this great American actor's estimable career (think The Crying Game, think Ghost Dog). To get the African ruler down, Whitaker studied films and books and watched old TV interviews of Amin, whose violent reign over Uganda lasted for most of the 1970s. But Whitaker credits Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait, the 1974 documentary by Barbet Schroeder, as the single most important resource. (The DVD is available from Criterion,
"I definitely studied that documentary intensively," Whitaker says, interviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. "It showed him in every situation. It's unusual in its candidness, and it captured some moments that helped me key in, like his eye movement in his episodes of extreme paranoia. When he’s talking to the doctors... you can see that he’s nervous, agitated… and then he tells a joke and all of a sudden people laugh. You see him exhale this sigh of relief, and relax."
Whitaker, a sure bet for an Academy Award best actor nom, says that playing such a rich, richly tormented and tormenting character required lots of modulation, and a certain moderation, too.
"I tried to find the character, play each scene honestly, and that was it. I wasn’t trying to build the insanity, because the film builds the insanity on its own. I knew that he had a sense of humor, I’d seen it in all the tapes, so I let him have the largeness, and tried to figure out what his passions were, and by that [the performance] would modulate, or at least shift gear, depending on what his mood, his temperment, was. Because he was very singularly focused about whatever he was doing at the moment."
Whitaker, who's been on an intensive work jag for the last year, plays another big and woolly character in Spike Jonze adaptation of the Maurice Sendak kid-lit classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Whitaker provides the voice for one of the titular Wild Things in the animated feature, due in 2008. Other cast members: Paul Dano, Catherine Keener, Catherine O'Hara, and Michelle Williams . Maverick novelist and McSweeney's publisher Dave Eggers had a hand in the screenplay.


Anonymous paul said...

Whitaker was spot on fantastic. He should win an oscar. The use of 16mm was particularly effective given it was a period piece. A bit long in my opinion, but otherwise a well made film from a well repsected doc man.

goodie goodie

9:59 AM  

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