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The Last King of Scotland - Forest Whitaker interview

Forest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FOREST Whitaker talks about the challenge of playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland.

He also reveals how he went about conducting some of the research and why it was important to represent the dictator as a human being.

Q. What are your hopes and expectations for the film?
A. I just wanted to play this character as a real human being and to try and get into his skin in some way. I wanted to try to find the spirit of that man.

The film is really strong and I feel good about that and I was really excited about going to Africa for the first time. That was beyond my expectations, so all in all it was a pretty amazing experience.

Q. How did you find wearing the kilt?
A. [Laughs] It’s very freeing! I didn’t know there was so much involved in putting it on but Kevin [Macdonald, the director] made sure there were people around to make sure I wore it appropriately.

Q. How easy was it to tap into the different moods of Idi Amin?
A. I just tried to find his feelings about different things and live passionately in each one of those moments when something would occur. A lot of times it was just about waiting for the next occurrence to send him to the next place. When I think about it now, I really didn’t analyse it at the time. But when I talk about it now I’m referencing it as I saw it in the movie.

Q. What did you know of Idi Amin and how did you feel as you discovered him in your research?
A. I just had a cardboard cut out image of him. It was a very two-dimensional view of a mad African dictator in Uganda. That’s what I knew in the States. He left power when I was in my senior year at High School, so there wasn’t much of an impression Stateside.

I think people are very conscious of him as a figure in the Pan-African movement. But my knowledge started to grow as I did more research, read more books and met people who knew him. That enriched my understanding and experience of him and he became much more three-dimensional that was manipulated in a lot of ways as well.

Q. Did you meet any of his relatives?
A. I met his brother and sister and people from the region where he was from. I spent quite a bit of time talking to them and they told me stories of what he was like when he was growing up.

I think it was just as important to be in the place he was from, to feel the land and the air and to watch the people. It’s very different from Kampala; people are quite different and the ways of paying respect are quite different. It was helpful for me to try to understand the core of who he was.

Q. As part of your research, did you just look at Amin alone or did other dictators contribute?
A. I did my research among the things that were going on in Uganda at that time and I did all my really deep research trying to understand the motivations of Idi Amin himself. Hopefully, by doing that it was honest enough that it would match the parallels of other individuals who followed similar paths.

Q. Did you ever worry about striking a false note with your performance given that Amin is so well known? Did it add to any pressure?
A. I was most concerned when I was in Uganda with Ugandans because they would know if I was false. They knew him, they saw him speak, and they understood how he did things – even though some might be too young, they have a mythic understanding of who he was. So that was my biggest fear, that I could be honest enough to act in a scene so that some of the extras would say that I was Ugandan as well.

Read our review of the film

Read our interview with Kevin Macdonald