I was invited on an all expense paid trip by Disney to attend the Red Carpet Black Panther World Premiere. I hope you enjoy my interview with Forest Whitaker.
Sometimes you wonder what the person behind the character of a movie is like in real life. Are they just like the roles they take on, are they the opposite of their characters, are they anything like you imagine them to be. Meeting Forest Whitaker was a very humbling experience in that he is just as humble and reserved as the roles you find him taking on in movies. His role as Zuri in Black Panther was no different – I almost couldn’t figure out where Forest ended and Zuri began. One and the same – in a very pleasant and amazing way. Playing back the audio from my interview with Forest Whitaker, I had to turn up the volume on my speakers to clearly make out what he was saying – which was refreshing because his voice was very calming and soothing to listen to.
Interview with Forest Whitaker
As we started the interview with Forest Whitaker, someone mentioned remembering him from his role as Charles Jefferson in Fast Times at Ridgemont High – his first movie. He was just 21 years old and he was destined for great things – and dubbed a “gentle giant” at 6’2. Forest is the “master” of quiet performances and does them better than anyone else – always leaving a big impression.
Despite his quiet nature, he tries to convey and connect with his audience through feeling. “I think it’s just trying to have the right thoughts and internal life when all that’s going on. Hopefully the audience will be able to feel what I’m thinking, and what’s going on inside. That’s kind of what I do, just to figure out what I feel, what I think.
On what is was like working on his first Marvel movie…
It was very exciting for him. He remembers a scene when he was at the Warrior Falls (the site of the official battles in Black Panther), it was a quite overwhelming experience because of the nature of the scenery and the scenes that take place in and around the falls. Just imagine a beautiful hundred-foot waterfall falling all around you and into a pool of water. Without giving too much away (be sure to come back for additional spoilers after the movie releases) Forest and Chad play out a scene inside of the falls where Forest experienced getting inside the emotional heart of it, which for him was more complete than a lot of other experiences in some ways.
Forest has traced his African ancestry roots to the Igbo and Akan tribes. This allowed him to influence his portrayal using this knowledge.“The Jibari tribe (Mountain Tribe in Wakanda), they’re like the Igbo tribe. I did fashion around my character (Zuri) those two tribes. I fashioned him around different spiritual leaders, and different ways of trying to get into the moral fiber for the community. Zuri is the spiritual leader of Wakanda, so I tried to understand that from different perspectives.” – Forest
Forest has worked with Black Panther Director Ryan Coogler before – he has a special relationship with Ryan and could envision how special Ryan would make this movie out to be – even taking from the comic books, Ryan – as a filmmaker and artist, was going to make magic happen. The character of Zuri is very impactful throughout the story line – including plot twists that you would never have expected. When he first took on the role he hadn’t yet read the script. Him and Ryan would talk about the character, and he knew great things would be coming, but had no idea of the impact that his role would have in the movie.
On how he prepares for his roles…
“I’m always trying to do all the research. I start to study the different people and the things that they do and meet different people and get different voices worked on. Then slowly it just comes together. I don’t know if there’s a magic formula. At some point, I can say, the magic formula for me is I just surrender. I say, okay, this is your space, and let’s make it happen and do it – and I believe.” – Forest
Every experience is really different. Every movie that I do is different, and then when it starts to get too similar, then I know that there's something wrong. - Forest Whitaker on working on Black Panther #BlackPantherEvent Click To Tweet
When he can’t feel a little fear about it, or doesn’t feel like he’s going to change or grow from it, then it’s something wrong. This is when he feels like he needs to examine the reasons why, whether it’s life, or just something else. His roles in movies are mostly serious roles – and he’d like to do more comedy, and enjoys comedic scenes, like those he’s had in Empire. He wouldn’t change his role in Black Panther, and feels that Ryan cast him perfectly for the role of Zuri.
Curious to know which one scene in Black Panther was most impactful and emotional for Forest? I’m saving this space right here for an update once Black Panther releases on February 16th because it’s a spoiler!
Just like myself, Forest was really blown away by the film. He only saw it for the first time in the audience with us during the Black Panther World Premiere. With all the humor, the emotion and the messages, he’s still trying to process it all – and feels like he needs to see if a couple of more times to real capture and take it all in. I 100% agree with him – I can’t wait to see it again.
There are so many important messages throughout the film, including being our brothers’ keepers, female empowerment, reaching out and helping others, how we are molded by our environments and how we need to step in and try to move things forward by helping each other. Messages about colonialism play throughout the film, as do finding your own voice and empowerment particularly for people of color, but also everyone.
Fun Fact: The actor that plays the young Zuri is Denzel Whitaker – but is of no relation to Forest Whitaker. Denzel is often mistaken as the son of Forest – and this is not their first time working on a movie together (The Great Debaters 2007.)
Black Panther Movie Trailer
Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as King. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young King must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
BLACK PANTHER stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.
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