Forest Steven Whitaker III (born July 15, 1961) is an American actor, producer, and director.
He has earned a reputation for intensive character study work for films such as Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Bird and Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, for his work in direct-to-video films and for his recurring role as LAPD Internal Affairs Lieutenant Jon Kavanaugh on the award-winning television series The Shield.
Whitaker won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.
Whitaker was born July 15, 1961, in Longview, Texas. His family moved to Carson, California when he was four. His father, Forest Steven Jr., was an insurance salesman. Forest’s mother, Laura Francis (née Smith), was a special education teacher who put herself through college and earned two master’s degrees while raising her children. Whitaker has two younger brothers, Kenn and Damon, and an older sister, Deborah.
His first role as an actor was the lead in Dylan Thomas’ play, Under Milk Wood.
Whitaker then attended Cal Poly Pomona on a football scholarship, but due to a debilitating back injury, he changed his major to music (voice). 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 in 1982. He also earned a scholarship to the Berkeley, California branch of the Drama Studio London. Whitaker also pursued a degree in The Core of Conflict: Studies in Peace and Reconciliation at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
In 1996, Whitaker married actress Keisha Nash, whom he met on the set of Blown Away. The Whitakers have four children: two daughters together (Sonnet and True), and his son (Ocean) and her daughter (Autumn) from previous relationships. On Inside the Actors Studio, Whitaker said that a genetic test indicated he was of Igbo descent through his patrilineal line, and of Akan descent through his matrilineal line.
Whitaker studies yoga and has a black belt in kenpō. He also trains in the Filipino martial art of Kali, under Dan Inosanto.
Whitaker’s left eye ptosis has been called “intriguing” by some critics and “gives him a lazy, contemplative look.” Whitaker has explained that the condition is hereditary and that he has considered having surgery to correct it, not for cosmetic reasons but because it affects his vision.