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Forest Whitaker Discusses 'The Last King of Scotland'

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Forest Whitaker stars in The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland."

© Fox Searchlight

Critics are saying Forest Whitaker's performance in the dramatic film The Last King of Scotland may earn the veteran actor an Oscar nod this year. Whitaker, who plays dictator Idi Amin in the film, went to great lengths to get into character and admits that although he's usually his own worst critic, he's satisfied he did everything possible to realistically portray Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.

Forest Whitaker’s Take on Idi Amin: “First and foremost, he's a soldier. A lot of the choices he makes are because he's a soldier. Even in the end, when things become chaotic, he's behaving as a soldier. He was trying to defend himself from his enemies and trying to destroy his enemies. When he was a general, people were dictating who his enemies were. As president, he can decide who his enemies are and it caused problems.”

Asked if he thought Idi Amin had a mental illness or did the paranoia just develop over time, Whitaker responded, “I think the paranoia developed over time. I don't believe if he had a bipolar or schizophrenic personality he would have been promoted to the degree that he was. He was touted. He was with the national rugby team. He was a heavyweight champion for nine years. He was one of the few people they sent to Sandhurst, which was the equivalent of West Point for British. He was friends with Golda Meir and he trained with Israeli paratroopers. Then the British decided to put him in a position of the president. You don't make those decisions about somebody if he's totally insane. So I think it had to grow from the paranoia and fear and what happened afterwards.”

Putting It All Up There on the Screen: “I try to serve the character all the time. This one took a lot of work and was consuming. It's like climbing up a ladder and sometimes you're afraid to face yourself so you make excuses. You avoid going to the top of the ladder and look in the mirror. I did everything I could to give myself no excuse. I have to look in the mirror and I feel proud of the work.”

Getting Into the Right Mindset to Play Idi Amin: “I started playing through my head all the stories that were told to me, and the paranoia and fear. I saw this one image of him where it seemed like he was cornered. That played in my head a lot. What does it feel like when you feel you're being attacked from all sides? What does it feels like when you think the people around you are trying to destroy you? I even had that thought at the end when I'm dealing with Nicholas [played by James McAvoy] and I'm looking around at the guys, and I'm trying to figure out who do I trust.”

Researching the Role: Whitaker went as far as to meet with Idi Amin’s relatives in order to better understand the man he’d be portraying on screen. “I went to Aru up in the north and met his brother and sister and Moses Ali, who was one of his generals. I met with a couple of his ministers and a girlfriend. People had little stories about him. Everybody had a story.”

Whitaker continued, “One guy said he drove Idi Amin here and the road was closed and [he] got him there on time so he made him a general. I started creating my own memories. I’m tricking my mind into believing that Swahili is my first language. I'm tricking my mind into believing that these moments are actually mine because I'm doing everything with them. I'm eating the food. I'm listening to the music. I'm sitting in someone's house. They're treating you as a guest. That feeds into trying to understand what it is being Idi Amin. The kids are going to dance for you and they start boogieing. Then you understand what the moments mean. They're your memories and you start combining them, in a way. I know how to eat the food. At first I didn't know. After a while, it's my natural inclination to sit on the floor.”

While in Uganda, Whitaker did everything he could to absorb the culture. “I was trying to immerse myself in the culture and the food. The people were really helpful to me. They were supportive of the movie. People were hopeful that it was going to be complex and tell a piece of their history, which was brutal but which they're also proud of.”

Page 2: Forest Whitaker on the Oscar Buzz and Choosing Roles

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