Forest Steven Whitaker, actor, producer, and director, was born in Longview, Texas, but raised in Los Angeles, California. While in high school, Whitaker took voice lessons, performed in musicals, and caught the “acting bug.”
Whitaker was accepted into the Music Conservatory at the University of Southern California to study opera as a tenor and subsequently was accepted into the Drama Conservatory. He graduated from USC in 1982. Whitaker’s first film role of note was in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982).
In 1988, he starred in “Bird” which earned him the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival and in 1992 he won acclaim for his role in “The Crying Game.” In 2006, he starred in “The Last King of Scotland” which earned him the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Other films in which he has appeared include “The Great Debaters” (2007), “Hurricane Season” (2009), and “Our Family Wedding” (2010). Whitaker made his directorial debut in 1993 with the HBO movie “Strapped.” In 1995, he directed the film “Waiting to Exhale.” Other films directed by Whitaker include “Hope Floats” (1998) and “First Daughter” (2004).
Whitaker was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. He recently starred in the television series “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.”
Whitaker 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 also starred in blockbusters such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Saw Gerrera and Black Panther as Zuri.
For his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, Whitaker won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award, National Board of Review Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and various critics groups awards for a lead acting performance.
Whitaker was born on July 15, 1961, the son of Laura Francis (née Smith), a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two master’s degrees while raising her children, and Forest Steven Jr., an insurance salesman.
His mother had Akan ancestry, while his father was of Igbo descent. When Whitaker was four, his family moved to Carson, California. Whitaker has two younger brothers, Kenn (an actor) and Damon, and an older sister, Deborah. His first role as an actor was the lead in Dylan Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood.
Whitaker attended Palisades Charter High School and played on the football team and sang in the choir, graduating in 1979. Whitaker entered California State Polytechnic University, Pomona on a football scholarship, but a back injury made him change his major to music (singing).
He toured England with the Cal Poly Chamber Singers in 1980. While still at Cal Poly, he briefly changed his major to drama. 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.
He graduated from USC with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to the Berkeley, California branch of the Drama Studio London. 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