Forest Whitaker Interview: ‘Godfather of Harlem’
“It’s the American Dream by any means necessary,” proclaims Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker about what drives the ruthless power players on the Epix epic crime drama “Godfather of Harlem.” He says, “It’s all these people in this pot trying to do their best and to achieve a great life and a life that they believe is worthy.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Whitaker above.
In “Godfather of Harlem,” Whitaker plays real-life crime boss Bumpy Johnson, who returns from 10 years in prison to find the neighborhood he once controlled now run by the Italian mob. After reuniting with old friend Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch), Johnson aims to take back control of the streets 1960s Harlem, triggering a bloody feud with the powerful Genovese family who want to bring him down. The series serves as a prequel to the Ridley Scott‘s award-winning film “American Gangster” (2007) and also co-stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Paul Sorvino, Chazz Palminteri, Luis Guzman, Elvis Nolasco, Katherine Narducci, Ilfenesh Hadera and recent Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito.
Whitaker agrees that stories about organized crime like the one told in this show will always be fascinating to people because of what they represent. “The notion of having the power to control your own life and the notion that you can live and die by the things that you believe,” he explains, “I think there’s something exciting about that for people.”
Set against the backdrop of the civil unrest and violent gang warfare of a turbulent 1963, Whitaker was excited about holding up a mirror to the present and making parallels to our current political and cultural climate. “We get to look at all of these issues that are going on today, against the reflection of what happened in the past,” he reveals. “During that time was a time of a lot of unrest, the civil rights movement really flourished from 1963 and really moved on from there. We had the opportunity to explore some of the issues of our time. Issues like Black Lives Matter, what was going on with the police, the opioid crisis [and] the Me Too movement,” he explains. “That was exciting to me to get a chance to explore that.”
Whitaker also proudly believes that the show goes deeper by trying to portray these historical larger-than-life characters as real people. “What these amazing actors have done and what the writers did so beautifully was to let you explore the humanness of their experience. If you look at me and Vincent, we’re very similar. We both have problems with our daughters and we’re both trying to control our lives and maintain our power,” he explains. “They’re very emotional and very universal feelings.”