I saw the film, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey this past weekend and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would (the previews made me roll my eyes a bit, particularly when I saw their casting choices for some of the U.S. Presidents).
Back in 2006, Whitaker portrayed Idi Amin in Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland.” The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern saw an early screening of the film at the Telluride Film Festival and called me from Colorado to sing the film’s praises – particularly Whitaker’s performance which he felt was one of the finest he’d ever seen. Joe wrote a special column from this festival each year and asking me to create a hedcut of Whitaker to be featured within what was an obvious choice.
Just three weeks later, the film opened in the U.S. and Joe wrote a more thorough review. He described Whitaker’s performance as “enormous, mercurial, terrifying, endlessly seductive and, more simply put, one of the great performances of modern movie history.” The WSJ often preferred to commission new drawings rather than reproduce recently used hedcuts, so I had the opportunity to try my hand at Whitaker a second time.
In 2009, several dozen of my original pen & ink heduts for the WSJ were featured in an exhibit at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood. A representative for Mr. Whitaker contacted me and made arrangements for him to purchase both drawings.
As it happens, earlier this year I was standing in line for popcorn at another movie theater in the Los Angeles area, and Whitaker was standing right in front of me with his family. I don’t make a habit of annoying celebrities when they’re out in public, but I did introduce myself. My description of the portraits brought that famous big, toothy smile to his face. He said the drawings were hanging in his den…very cool.