After spending years in television, including a stint on the kids ensemble show All That, Denzel Whitaker's breakout film role came by way of the Denzel Washington-directed The Great Debaters. But now the 21-year old is trying to shake things up a bit in the acting the department. First the Torrance, California, native was featured in the horror tale My Soul to Take, directed by Wes Craven. Now come this September he’ll be starring opposite Taylor Lautner in the John Singleton-directed thriller Abduction. Whitaker stars as a teen named Gilly, a helpful friend with a lot of street smarts and it's a role he was very excited to play.
“I’d love to portray some other darker roles just to show my versatility. I’m not going to be playing the same innocent sweet roles all the time. The Great Debaters was different,” says Whitaker. “People never expect you to grow up or change. But I’ve gotten taller, I’ve lost weight since then and I’m a whole different person.”
That weight loss affected his life in many ways. Since shedding 30 pounds Whitaker not only got healthier but his acting opportunities opened up to a wider range of characters. "Before, every single role I went out for was the chubby kid who either gets picked on or who was always eating. What was there to do for anybody who was overweight other than to be the tool or the accessory to the main character?” he asks. “I was tired of doing that. And personally, I wanted to be in a better physical state. I wanted to be a healthier person. So I hired a private trainer and started eating better. And I haven’t seen those same roles since.”
But there’s one part he cannot play in real life—despite the confusion of many naysayers—and that is Forest Whitaker’s son. While the elder Whitaker played Denzel’s dad in Debaters and the two share a slight resemblance, Whitaker admits he’s still tickled by the fact that some people still believe the acting pair are actually related.
“I still get that all the time. Just this past Memorial Day weekend I was on the golf course and I ran into an old buddy of mine and for some reason he thought I was Forest Whitaker’s son this whole time,” says Whitaker. “He was shocked to see when my dad came out. And he was like, ‘Oh wait, this is your dad?’ I understand and I can see it too but it’s like, 'Whoa, I do have a real father!'”
Eventually Whitaker hopes to carve out a career like his mentor and namesake, Denzel Washington, by working as both an actor and director in the movie industry. He even has plans to complete his first feature film, Killing Familiar, by year's end.
“I shot about two to three music videos and I love directing as much as acting. Denzel taught me a lot about directing when I did Great Debaters. It’s a passion of mine and I’m going to continue doing it,” says Whitaker. “You can have multiple passions in this business— it’s pretty versatile and all about the art. You bring the creativity and people love it.”
(Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)