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Oscar winner can't forget Balic-Balic--"Say hi to my friends in Balic-Balic," Forest Whitaker told the columnist. PHOTO BY RUBEN V. NEPALES




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Only in Hollywood
Forest Whitaker shows off Pinoy martial arts skills

By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:18:00 02/15/2008

Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Celebrities

LOS ANGELES, California?Every time we talk to Oscar and Golden Globe Best Actor winner, Forest Whitaker, we ask for updates on ?The Repossession Mambo,? his upcoming movie, where he will show his Filipino martial-arts skills.

The genial actor who won much-deserved acclaim for his portrayal of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, in ?The Last King of Scotland,? briefed us on ?Repossession? when we interviewed him for his current film, the action-thriller, ?Vantage Point.?

Forest said he had already finished shooting ?Repossession,? which also features Jude Law and Filipino-American actress, Liza Lapira, in the cast. And, yes, he did get to exhibit his skills in kali, the Filipino martial art of stick fighting.

?The background of choreographer Jeff (Imada) is in Philippine martial arts,? Forest told us. ?I did a lot of stick work because I asked not to use a gun too much. What I used, instead, was a baton, but I didn?t have as many fight scenes as I had hoped. In my fight scenes, I did kali. Stunt coordinator Hiro Koda and Jeff were pleased with the way the fights turned out.?

Connection

Forest has been studying Philippine martial arts for several years now, under the supervision of Filipino-American masters in Los Angeles?including Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo. The actor?s connection to the Philippines began as early as 1986 when he visited the country to appear in Oliver Stone?s ?Platoon.?

Forest?s stay became even more memorable when the People Power Revolution broke out. Some Filipino friends, who were involved in the production, offered him refuge in a house in Balic-Balic, Manila. So, to this day, the humble and gracious actor can still say ?Balic-Balic? perfectly! He?s soft-spoken in person, so his transformation as the dynamic Ugandan dictator was truly impressive.

The actor is also an award-winning director: Aside from helming ?Waiting to Exhale? and the Sandra Bullock starrer ?Hope Floats,? he directed ?Strapped,? which won the FIPRESCI Award for Best First Feature at the 1993 Toronto International Film Festival.

In ?Vantage Point,? Forest plays an American tourist who captures the assassination of the US President (William Hurt) on his camcorder, during a summit on terror in Spain. Also starring in the action-packed movie are Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox as Secret Service agents protecting the American president, and Sigourney Weaver as the producer/director of a CNN-style news show covering the summit.

The film provides a twist to the usual assassination thriller by dramatizing the incident from the vantage points of eight people who witnessed the assassination. Since he plays a camcorder-shooting regular guy, we asked Forest for his thoughts as a celebrity living at a time when even ordinary folks can easily take pictures or shoot video footage of stars like him.

?It?s a different time, because everyone has cell phones equipped with cameras,? answered Whitaker, who won the 1988 Cannes Film Festival?s Best Actor award for portraying jazz legend, Charlie Parker, in the Clint Eastwood?s ?Bird.? ?Something is going on in our culture because of the Internet?there are more outlets now for people to send their material to.?

In good shape

Because his character, Howard Lewis, had to chase after the assassin, Forest stated with a laugh that he never ran so much in his life. But, he assured us that he was in good shape, because of his physically demanding role on the TV series, ?The Shield.? He explained: ?Most of the time, we raced through the streets of Mexico City. It was a challenge sprinting 30 to 40 times for those scenes.?

Witnessing the shocking assassination was life-changing for Forest?s character. Asked for his own life-changing moments, Whitaker shared: ?It?s those times when I went to places like the Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, and countries in Latin America and Africa. They taught me to enjoy life and made me understand what?s really important. People from those places have problems, but when you deal with them, you see the beauty of their spirit!

?The first time I saw something like that was when I was in Manila. Then, when I was in Mexico, I realized the same thing. In Africa, I went inside people?s huts that had no running water, and blackouts were frequent so they simply lit candles. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be there with them?it was magical!?

Very excited and proud

The father of two daughters with actress-model, Keisha Nash, a stepdaughter (from Keisha?s previous relationship) and a son (from his previous relationship) continued: ?My family and I go to different parts of Mexico?like Puerto Vallarta. It was crazy the second time my family went there, because that was when I won the Golden Globe. My kids were there, watching the ceremony on television, and someone videotaped them jumping up and down. They were very excited and proud!?

Whitaker, Quaid and Fox get security men when they film on location. In Mexico, they were surrounded by Secret Service agents. ?Yes, they assigned people to take care of us,? he confirmed. ?I worked there twice. I did a smaller movie the first time. For this film, they brought in former Navy SEALs, who were very nice. But, they fired the first guy assigned to me, because they thought that he was too intense. I liked him, though?he was just doing his job.

?When the second guy came in, I started escaping. One night, they really wigged out when I went to a square full of mariachis. Everybody went crazy, but nothing happened to me?except that I had a good time (Laughter)!?

E-mail rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com, and read his blog, ?The Nepales Report,? on http://blogs.inquirer.net/nepalesreport.



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