Forest Whitaker warms up those vocal chords for 'Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey'
Last year, I was fortunate enough to interview Hollywood heavyweight Forest Whitaker in person. He was in South Africa for the premiere of the critically-acclaimed crime drama, “Godfather of Harlem”.
Getting to chat with him again - albeit via a zoom video call - was wonderful. I was lucky to also have writer and director, David E. Talbert, join in on the same call.
After watching him in all many hard-hitting roles, it is refreshing to find that, in real life, Whitaker, is a very calm person. He’s pleasant, easygoing and has the most sagacious responses.
On giving the nod to this fantasy musical - especially after doing a series like “Godfather of Harlem” - he explained: “I was excited about working with David the director.
“And being able to do something that I thought was a really special film coming from a place of despondency; a place where you feel lost and don’t have anything to offer any more.
“And, then you start to believe in yourself, in love again and in magic again, it was a great opportunity and challenge for me.”
Interestingly, back in high school, Whitaker got to do two musicals.
“I got to sing but I didn’t get to say a word,” he recalled.
As life happened, he switched from studying music to acting and left music completely behind.
He added: “And so decades and decades later, I get a chance to sing again, because of David.”
In the movie, Anika Noni Rose plays his estranged daughter, Jessica. This is the first time they are working together.
Reflecting on the scene where Jessica and Jeronicus reunite, Whitaker admitted: “It was a really special thing to get to do this scene with her.
“This reconciliation of a father and daughter, estranged, but they love each other so much and don’t know how to break down these barriers.
“There was something really delicate going on in that.
“And David directed it in a such a way we came closer and closer and, ultimately, the emotions are so strong that we break out in song.”
That he continuously sang the praises of the director in his comments attests to how he feels about working with him.
Having watched the movie, which has the most stupendous sets that lend itself beautifully to the magical charm of the narrative, the director is deserving of every praise, especially in landing such a brilliant cast.
Talbert explained: “For a director, casting is everything. When Forest came on board, he was a magnet for everyone else.
“His presence in the film meant this is not a cookie-cutter film, take it seriously, this is something that has stature.
“Then we started casting from Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Hugh Bonneville (I am a huge fan of his from “Downton Abby”) to Ricky Martin.
“It kept steamrolling. And then it was Keegan-Michael Key.”
The movie centres on Jeronicus. Once a successful toymaker, he falls upon hard times after his apprentice, Gustafson(Key), steals one of his biggest inventions, along with his book of ideas.
Disillusioned for years, the arrival of his granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), helps him start believing in himself again.
Both Whitaker and Talbert are in agreement that child star Mills, who makes a movie debut, is a genius find.
Whitaker gushed: “I remember when she was auditioning in New York and I wanted to see her audition. You could tell then, she had something special to offer and she was going to be an iconic figure in the future.”
The director added: “I feel the same way. It felt like Judy Garland when I saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
“I think that is how people are going to feel about Madalen right now. I think she will be here for a long time.”
As for the take away from the movie, Whitaker shared: “It makes people believe that no matter how far you have fallen, there is a little spark inside, it can come back.
“This movie gives you back the hope, joy and love again. Like I said, it makes you believe in the magic of life again.”
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is available for streaming on Netflix.