Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor.
Forest Whitaker is no stranger to exploring characters that are based on real people, having won an Oscar for his turn as Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King Of Scotland. This season, he worked on two fact-based films: Fruitvale Station, on which he served as a producer, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in which he stars opposite Oprah Winfrey as longtime White House butler Cecil Gaines (loosely based on the real-life Eugene Allen). And, just to round out his onscreen roles, he plays a singing preacher in Kasi Lemmons’ musical-comedy Black Nativity, which opened November 27. The soft-spoken actor has some pointed observations about his process and how The Butler fits into the black-themed historical films crowding the Oscar field in 2013.
AwardsLine: Did you have to audition for the part of Cecil Gaines?
Forest Whitaker: I had to go and do a reading with Lee, and Oprah, who was already playing the role (of Gaines’ wife, Gloria). It was in the same hotel I auditioned for Idi Amin as well, the Sunset Marquis (in West Hollywood).
AwardsLine: What did you learn when you trained with butler Steven Ferry for the role?
Whitaker: We started first in Los Angeles, where he was teaching me about serving, setting the proper table, how you measure the chairs, how you measure the plates, where you put everything. Then he came to New Orleans and stayed in a house with me, and we continued to train. I think one of the big things was (Steven) teaching me about the philosophy of service. It’s a very spiritual concept. (more…)