Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name?” But when a man has a name like Denzel Whitaker, that’s cause to disagree. Whitaker, who was initially into architecture and cartooning like his dad, started entertaining acting at age 10, when a family member gave his information to a talent agency. Whitaker began appearing in small TV and film roles here and there in 2001 but he got his big break in 2007, when he played James Farmer Jr. in The Great Debaters. Coincidentally, his first and surnames are the first and last names of two of the film’s stars, Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.
This isn’t chance. Young Whitaker must be living proof that there’s more to a name than arbitration but he isn’t letting it go to his head. He says that while he’s learned a lot from the aforementioned movie titans, he plans to create his own path, and so far it’s working. He currently stars in Wes Craven’s newly released thriller, My Soul To Take, and has two new movies coming in 2011 including the mixed martial arts drama, Warrior, and the John Singleton directed suspense, Abduction. Meet the new Denzel.
VIBE: Did your parents name you after veteran actors on purpose?
As far as the first name, of course they named me Denzel on purpose but Whitaker was just through marriage so that just sort of came naturally. They didn’t plan for it to be like, Denzel Whitaker. And of course, if I hadn’t been in that film then nobody would make the comparison but I always think it’s funny.
What are the odds of you working with both actors at the same time!
I had such a great experience working with Denzel and Forest Whitaker. They’re both two great actors and mentors. The thing is, I always get the question like, “Do you feel you have to somehow uphold to their ability and do you feel pressured?” And then in one way or another, I’d like to say it does bother me but it doesn’t because I’m an individual and an actor as well and in no way do I feel I should be pressured to uphold them just because we have the same name. It’s just funny that people like to play those small similarities.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue acting?
Prior to wanting to become an actor I always wanted to become a cartoon artist to draw comic books. I was really into that because my dad was an architect so naturally just honed in on his skills. So if I hadn’t become an actor or a comic book artist, I probably would have just pushed toward becoming a mechanic. That was another one of the family businesses that sort of just passed down to me. I do enjoy working on my car and to this day and I enjoy drawing and animation. But how acting came about was I got this random call⎯an agency hit me up saying a relative recommended me to do acting and they wanted me to come down and audition. Still to this day I have yet to find out who that relative is but I’m thankful the call came in. nothing happened from that one direct agency but it was my intro and my foot in the door to where I was like, “I like this, I want to pursue it and try to venture further into this business and that’s how it came to be.” My taste for performing in front of people and being a different character thrilled me to the point where I said I want to pursue this for sure.
You worked with Wes Craven in My Soul to Take. Were you a fan of his before that?
I admired his work. I wasn’t much of a horror fan to begin with. And that’s the conflict of interest where I’ve always questioned what it would be like to do a horror film. I was always really excited about doing one and when I heard Wes Craven was directing and I read the script I was attracted because I was like, maybe I’m not the biggest horror connoisseur but knowing it was gonna be a Wes Craven film, I was instantly excited about it and I wanted to try it. I felt like it was gonna be a challenge for my career.
Horror films can sometimes be cheesy and over-the-top when it comes to the acting. Were there ever times where you wondered what the heck you were doing since acting for horror is so unique when it comes to technique?
It think the thing with that is sometimes they really just want to up the ante of the horror film itself, just for the sake of being scary, which is one thing that’s interesting about Wes Craven. If you watch some of his films, a lot of them are more dialogue heavy than they are action heavy and this is where Wes has his hidden talent and where it shines in his direction, because he likes to caress those fine moments. It’s not just about the gore to him. It’s about telling a story and having you become interested in these characters and from that standpoint he cares about it not being over-the-top, not being cheesy and not selling out just for the point of some cheap thrill. So with this project no, because I actually sat down with Wes and talked about the scenes with fellow actors so I felt like this was a regular film. I guess you could say because it was a horror film I was always on high edge because of the supposed monster that’s gonna be a threat to you you’re always on your toes as an actor if your character is on his toes. But that’s the one thing. We wanted to keep it grounded and neutral and very real.
As far as your movie Warrior, are you actually fighting?
No, I’m not actually fighting. It’s like I’m a student who believes in the teacher and when he’s kicked out of the school system I rally up the kids similar to me and get the principal’s interest and show him our support. And then the final film I have coming out is Abduction. That’s gonna be huge. It’s starring Taylor Lautner. I play his best friend and we also have Lily Collins, Maria Bello, it’s an all-star cast. I’m super excited about that film because I’ve always wanted to do an action film⎯something with a high budget and this is finally my chance to be part of something like that and literally, I’m the go to guy out of the film. Taylor Lautner’s character Nathan gets into trouble and he has to go on the run, hiding away from the CIA and he wants to try to find out who his real parents are so whether it’s fake ID or whether its ammunition, he’ll come to me and I’ll hook him up.