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The Last King Of Scotland - Kerry Washington interview

Kerry Washington in The Last King Of Scotland

Interview by Rob Carnevale

KERRY Washington talks about playing one of Idi Amin’s wives in The Last King of Scotland and what it taught her as an actress…

Q. What are your hopes and expectations for the film?
A. I just wanted to act in this film. I wanted to try to be as authentic as possible as this woman. I think I grew as an actor in this role and I got a lot personally and professionally out of this project.

Q. What did you know of Idi Amin and how did you feel as you discovered him in your research?
A. I knew the name and that he was an evil corrupt ruler in Africa. I couldn’t even name the country. But I felt excited about learning more about him because it was important to me in playing Kay [his wife] to learn as much about him as I could. I felt that I had to know as much as a woman sharing his bed would know.

I tried to absorb as much as possible but there’s very little written about Kay, there’s no sort of chapter on her. But Kevin Macdonald’s decision to shoot in Uganda was a gift because it meant that we were constantly surrounded by source material. I constantly got to talk to people who were related in the African sense of related and it was very helpful for me to talk to people who knew her. That proved much more helpful than any literature. But it’s shocking to me that I’m a very well educated woman and yet I knew very little about him.

Q. Did you ever get a sense from the people you spoke to that justice hadn’t been served by allowing him to live out his days in exile after his fall from power?
A. As I learned more about Amin and this idea of him receiving his justice, I felt it was really important for me as an actress to go and understand this idea that people do seem him as a hero. Often someone would say to me in Kampala that he was the greatest leader we ever had – and he killed my cousin. So, learning to wrap my head around that duality was intrinsic to understanding how people could be in love with this man and yet feel so betrayed by him – and for good reason.

When you look at the Pan-African movement at the time, the whole world was moving into a period of just beginning to understand black and African empowerment, and black pride. There are changes that Amin made to the constitution that still exist because they were for the betterment of society.

The fact he went over to schools and said that kids could not only learn in English but their native tongues as well is amazing. I don’t agree with the methodology of expelling South East Asians but because he did that Ugandans were suddenly able to be self-supporting economically; they were able to be business owners in a way that they never were before. So, you can see why it’s a really complicated issue and it’s not black and white. That’s why I think Forest’s portrayal of him is touching on genius. We, as human beings, want to make somebody bad or good – evil or wonderful. But the reality is that he’s a person and that makes it much more complicated.

Read our review of the film

Read our interview with Forest Whitaker