Forest Whitaker talks playing unhinged in ‘Repentance’

Forest Whitaker stars in "Repentance." Credit: Getty Images
Forest Whitaker stars in “Repentance.”
Credit: Getty Images


In “Repentance,”  Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker plays a tormented, mentally unhinged man who goes off his meds and follows the instructions of a psychic and the specter of his dead mother to track down the man responsible for her death. As if that wasn’t a tall enough order, the Oscar winner was also being directed by Philippe Caland, who played the same role in an earlier, smaller version of the film. No pressure, right?

How was the experience of being directed by someone who previously played the same role you’re playing?
I thought it was one of his better performances, too. He was really good in it. I didn’t really think about it much, to be honest. [It was more about the effort] to create the structure around it and to be there for him as a friend and as an artist and as a producer in what’s really a much more constrained environment, much different than the films he’s done in the past — and actually a larger budget than the films he’s done in the past.

How is it, as an actor, performing scenes opposite people who are all tied up?
It was wild doing that scene. Especially with Anthony [Mackie] too, because he went through a lot. Being tied up, being wrapped up, being suffocated, having water thrown all over him — it was a strange experience. I actually kind of surrendered to it, so I lived in it. I just kind of lived in the reality of the fact that I tied these people up, you know what I mean? I needed him to answer me, so I used violence. I tortured him.

How much do you worry about maintaining audience sympathy?
You start questioning yourself, right? I think you do care about him because his motivation is that he loves his mom, who he lost. His mom was taken away and it was wrong. And he really cares about his wife — you see how desperately he wants to be with her — and he’s taking care of this little girl. You can’t help but care about him, because those are human things, you know? But I think as it goes on you do have to ask the question: Is violence OK? And I think ultimately, no matter what his motivations were, the acts that he did are wrong. You could find sympathy, hopefully, with this man who is struggling with his own sanity, who lost his mom, wishes his wife would forgive him. But in the end that question comes to bear: Is violence OK? And I say, “No.”

Do you view this in any way as a supernatural film?
I do. I don’t necessarily believe that him seeing his mom is not true. I think certainly playing the character I had to believe it was true. Certainly as an actor it’s real. You know, you’d say, “Oh, this man is mad” any other time in his life other than now.


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