Forest joins the force
MAKING transition from big screen to television is a move many A-listers have been hesitant about but, for Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, it was the case of right show, right time.
The 50-year-old actor, star of movie blockbusters Panic Room, Platoon, Phone Booth and The Last King of Scotland, is currently starring in Southern Cross’s Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour, a spin-off to the original Criminal Minds series.
For Whitaker ( pictured), who has previously dipped his toes in television waters with recurring roles in ER and The Shield, the chance of playing a lead role in an established franchise was one he couldn’t turn down.
‘‘ It was the right moment that they came to me,’’ Whitaker says. ‘‘ It was the right time. I wanted to stay home for a while.
‘‘ Plus, I was interested in exploring the human mind and the human psyche. And I thought, ‘ if I was going to do a show, can I be interested for years and years?’ And this show is a way for me to be interested for years and years.’’
For an exploration in psychology, Whitaker’s character, unit chief Special Agent Sam Cooper, is the perfect fit.
A private, secretive person and a mentally and physically fierce natural leader, much of Cooper’s past is unknown.
‘‘ Some bad things occurred and, as a result, he went overseas,’’ Whitaker reveals.
‘‘ He ended up working in the war, after which he disappeared. There’s a long period of lost years.’’ It’s a role Whitaker clearly relishes. ‘‘ I think I’ve always been trying to understand people,’’ he says. ‘‘ I think I’ve been doing the kind of behavioural analysing since I’ve been working even as an artist, first as a kid.
‘‘ But every character I play, I’m trying to understand why they behave this way, why they eat this way, why they walk this way, what they feel, what they think, what experience, what clothes they wear, what shoes they wear, why they wear this kind of sock . . . I’ve been doing that for 30 years.’’
Despite his confidence in his new role, however, Whitaker does admit there is an element of trepidation among fellow Hollywood actors in aligning their reputation with television, but he firmly distances himself from this view.
‘‘ I think there was a fear from [ other actors] before that it might do something to their career, but I choose not to live in fear, and so I decided to do it. I tend to try to look at myself as a storyteller: I want to tell stories wherever I can tell stories. I try not to see limits.’’
In keeping with the old adage that ‘‘ it takes a thief to catch a thief’’, Cooper’s elite team of profilers includes a former British Special Forces soldier-turned-sniper ( Matt Ryan), an ex-convict with a street-smart edge ( Michael Kelly) and a loud-mouthed, strong-willed FBI agent ( Emmy award-nominee Janeane Garofalo).
Although clearly linked to the original series, Whitaker stresses that Criminal Minds: Suspect Behaviour is actually far removed from its sister show.
‘‘ First off, we’re a red-cell unit, so we only report directly to the director of the FBI,’’ Whitaker explains. ‘‘ We’re a specialised unit; we’re not at Quantico. We’re outside of it in our own space.
‘‘ Also, sometimes we operate outside the rules a little bit more. We’re much more of a rogue type of unit; we’re more physical.
‘‘ My guys are fighting all the time!’’