The hulking, unmistakably burly Forest Whitaker initially got into college on a football scholarship, but upon transferring to the University of Southern California, he majored in music, winning two more scholarships in that field. Still another scholarship, this one in the name of Sir John Gielgud, came Whitaker's way when he entered the drama program at Berkeley. A seasoned stage veteran at 21, the baby-faced Whitaker appeared in his first film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in 1982, coincidentally making his debut in the role of a football player.
Four years later, Whitaker attracted critical attention in the role of the young pool player who flummoxes Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) in The Color of Money (1986). He was subsequently selected by director Clint Eastwood for the prize role of jazz great Charlie "Bird" Parker in Bird (1988), which won him the Best Actor award at Cannes. In 1992, Whitaker gained further fame for his role as a captured British soldier whose prior relationship with the mysterious Dil (Jaye Davidson) catalyzes the plot of The Crying Game.