One of the most respected actors in the business, Forest Whitaker won the Academy Award (plus a BATFA Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award) for his role as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. His other credits include The Crying Game, The Great Debaters, Panic Room and Clint Eastwood’s Bird; all dramatic features – which makes his appearance in the comedy Our Family Wedding all the more unique.
In the movie he plays Brad Boyd, the father of Marcus (Lance Gross) who is about to marry his Hispanic girlfriend, Lucia (America Ferrera). Cultural differences and the stress of the competing families to create the perfect wedding, has the young engaged couple remarking, ‘Our marriage, their wedding.’
I spoke with Forest Whitaker last week about his venture into a new genre.
I’m so used to seeing you in such serious roles, this is a real change. Can you talk about the decision to do this?
I liked the script; I thought it was fun, but very touching. And it kind of explored the racial and cultural differences, and it went to core of everybody coming from the same place, about love and stuff like that. So it seemed like it would be something interesting to do.
Was a comedy on your wish list? How did it happen that you become so closely thought of as a serious actor?
I think that when I was young I did some really intense, serious roles like in Bird and things like that, so my reputation was centered around those things. Serious films like The Crying Game, different types of movies, and so it went that direction.
I’ve done a couple of lighter films, but not a lot. I think this started to come about at the same time I hosted Saturday Night Live, and then people remembered that I did comedy too.
What was it like working with Carlos Mencia (who plays Lucia’s father), as he was a stand up comedian? Did you improvise anything?
We improvised a lot. Yeah. It was great working with him, and also I thought he was really centered as an actor, because his character is actually kind of a straight guy for most of the movie, he’s very sensitive.
The most touching moments are with him and his wife, trying to cope with letting his daughter go.
What about the whole idea of the wedding being about the rest of the family as opposed to the couple. What are your thoughts about that?
I think that in a lot of cases it appears that way. When you have to coordinate such a large event, then you have to take a lot of things into consideration.
There are so many different types of weddings, from going down to the City Hall to going to Vegas to little intimate ones, some of the them are just for the individual. But I think the majority of them are people’s dreams.
They’re living in their dream, and talk to their parents about it all of their lives, and they all want to share that dream and all this stuff comes into play.
Isn’t it universal that none of us feel that anybody is good enough for our child?
I agree. I think this story at its core is he’s losing his daughter, I’m losing my son. Our whole lives have to be readjusted because of it.
Now we have to see if we can exist on our own, and they’re going to go off and have kids. I think about that when I think about my own kids. Oh, he’s going off to college, is he going to come back after college, am I going to see him anymore, once a year, is he going to have kids? This is normal behavior for people.
Do you think a film like this can help bridge some of the animosity between the races, and do you think it will find that cross over appeal between the Latin and African America community?
I think so. I think there is a crossover appeal in movies. Is it going to make a dad say, ‘Yeah, go and marry that guy,’ I don’t know, but will it make somebody stop for a second and say, ‘Well, he seems like a nice guy.’
Maybe. It’s all step-by-step, incremental little pieces that come together and then slowly it breaks through, and you can see there are waves of things that occur that change things.
We have Barack Obama, but before that we had Tiger Woods, Serena (Williams) and all these other people, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, it was like a movement of change.
Those little pieces come together, everybody acts like it’s just that moment, but it’s not, it’s a tipping point that’s happening.