|Forest Whitaker, left, and Carlos Mencia in Our Family Wedding.
LOS ANGELES — For every dead body that bobs up on a TV crime drama these days, there’s a movie star to solve the case.
The latest example? Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, who says it’s no mystery why he signed to star in a spinoff of the hit procedural Criminal Minds.
“They approached me at the right time — I have two children who are 11 and 13, and I want to see them,” says Whitaker, who also has two older children, ages 18 and 19. “I don’t see boundaries like other people do. I’ll do whatever. I’ll do a video. I’ll go direct. I just like to create. And I’m having a great time on the show.”
Although Whitaker has dabbled in television before with memorable stints on ER and The Shield, the Criminal Minds spinoff will mark his first time as a series headliner. He’s hardly alone.
He joins a number of other film stars who have leapt to the small screen in the past decade, erasing the once-significant line that used to divide the two mediums. Among them: Kiefer Sutherland (24), Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men), Holly Hunter (Saving Grace), Chris O’Donnell (NCIS: Los Angeles) and Gary Sinise (CSI: New York).
Still, Whitaker insists his new job — despite the lengthy commitment — doesn’t signal an end to his versatile film career in front of or behind the camera. “Sometimes I think, 'Am I going to have enough discipline? Am I going to be disciplined enough to get up and write when I need to?’ Otherwise, when I’m doing it, it’s a blast — I won’t do as many movies. I’ll do one a year; I’ll try not to do two. So one movie a year — that’s what most of my peers do anyway.”
As for how the Criminal Minds spinoff will distinguish itself, Whitaker, who just finished work on the pilot, explains this new group of profilers is more “clandestine” than those viewers are accustomed to following.
“Our group, we are behavioural analysts, but I don’t follow rules. My character, Sam Cooper, came back to this unit only if he could operate without rules.”
The same could be said of Whitaker, whose latest role on the big screen steers him far afield from the heavier, headier material — The Last King of Scotland, The Crying Game and Bird, among others — he’s most readily identified with.
In the light-hearted Our Family Wedding, he stars as Brad Boyd, a womanizing radio DJ whose son (Lance Gross) announces he’s marrying his Mexican-American girlfriend (America Ferrera). The family and cultural feud that develops between Whitaker and Carlos Mencia, who plays the father of the bride — is at the core of the comedy.
“For me it was a challenge to just be,” Whitaker says. “It was fun. I had a great time — And the movie has a nice message. That was a big attraction too.”
Even if his approach to this character was the same as it is with any performance.
“I look for the truth of the character. But Brad’s not weighted down with the emotional things or technical things I have to learn (for other roles).
Some parts I have to learn how to play a musical instrument, learn an accent, learn how to be African, learn the politics, learn the period, how somebody moves — so many things. Whereas, Brad, you know, he’s a DJ.”
Repo Men finally coming to theatre
The organ-donor action-thriller Repo Men is finally thawing after three years on ice.
The movie, which stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as futuristic repo men, opens this month.
It unfolds in a world in which new hearts, livers and spleens are violently reclaimed after an organ recipient reneges on his or her payments.
Eventually Law and Whitaker are pitted against each other.
Shortly after it wrapped production in Toronto in 2007, Whitaker discussed the film, then entitled Repossession Mambo.
“It’s an odd movie because it’s got a lot of humour, but it’s really dark. I don’t know what else to compare it to.”
Similarly, the role represents a sinister departure for the Oscar-winner, who can currently be seen in the much cheerier comedy Our Family Wedding.
“My character is different for me. I usually choose characters and I find something that relates to their humanity no matter what they’re doing — whether they’re a hitman or a dictator Š But this is the most unusual thing I’ve done. I strove to make him totally simple. And whenever he starts to go into a contemplative mode, I’d think, 'This is wrong.’ He doesn’t think about it. So we’ll see how that plays.”