The Last King of Scotland interviews: Forrest Whitaker and James McAvoy
Way back in 2006 (well, October) we caught up with Forrest Whitaker and James McAvoy to talk about the making of new Idi Amin dramatisation - and hotly-tipped Oscar contender - The Last King of Scotland, based on the best-selling book by Giles Fodden. The film depicts the relationship between Ugandan dictator Amin (Whitaker) and young Scottish doctor Nicolas Garrigan (McAvoy), who is plucked from obscurity as a remote charity worker and given the role of personal physician to the President; it all makes for a grippingly tense drama, as Garrigan unwittingly becomes Amin's closest confidante.
LOVEFiLM: Forrest, are you pleased with your portrayal of Amin, he is a daunting historical figure to portray?
Forrest Whitaker: I just glad that I, umm, I just wanted to play this character as a real human being, I wanted to get under his skin and I was hoping to have the ability to have the spirit to find that man. I felt the film was really strong and I felt really excited about going to Africa and experiencing it for the first time - and I think that was beyond my expectations, all-in-all it was a pretty amazing experience.
LF: What did you think about Idi Amin before you took on this role?
FW: You know I just saw him as a cardboard cut-out, I had a very 2-dimensional image of him as a crazy African dictator. That's what I knew from being in the States, I think he came into power while I was at high school, but I think the reporting over here [Europe] was much better than stateside. He was more of a cartoon image… I think people knew he was a figure of a pan-African movement, but what I knew of him at that time was very little.
But then I started to study the books and do my research and meet people that knew him, and talk to people from Uganda, and just enrich my understanding of him. He became a much more 3-dimensional character - that was manipulated in many ways as well.
LF: Did you have the opportunity to meet any of his family when you were shooting in Africa?
FW: Yes I met his brother and sister and I went to the place where he grew up. I spent quite a lot of time talking to them and they told me stories of him growing up and who he was. I think it was important to know where he grew up and where he was from and feel the land and the air. It was very different in Kampala [the capital of Uganda] the ways of living and the people are quite different. So it was helpful for me to try and understand the core of who he was.
LF: Were you concerned about realistically portraying the many facets of his character?
FW: As far as the different sides to him go, I just tried to find his feelings for each moment and find how he lived passionately in each one of those moments. He lived in that space, not just on the surface, waiting for the next thing that would send him somewhere else. As I think about it now, because I didn't know at the time, was that I did it as organically as I could.
LF: James, your character Nicolas Garrigan, is a definite step away from the lighter parts we've seen you play recently in the likes of The Chronicles of Narnia and Starter for 10 - were you worried about taking on a more complicated role?
James McAvoy: My biggest hope was that I would be able to portray a character that was someone who you felt empathy for - but not necessarily sympathy towards. That he [Garrigan] was a representation of a white man who wasn't a hero but wasn't evil - he's destructive and selfish and horribly flawed and not exceptional.
This film isn't about the white man in Africa it's about Idi Amin. But there is a white man in Uganda in this film and he's not portrayed as a hero. I'm sure there are really good westerns working in Africa doing amazing things - but if you look at our history and our presence in the country over 200 yeas - it certainly hasn't been selfless.
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