Idi Amin was not so bad, says US actor

Hollywood star Forest Whitaker, who is playing Idi Amin in the screen version of the acclaimed novel The Last King of Scotland, says the late Ugandan dictator was no saint, but was not the monster that has been portrayed in the West.

In a weekend interview with news agency AFP, Whitaker said his research for the role in the film has changed his perception of Amin, whose brutal rule over Uganda between 1971 and 1979 was punctuated by bizarre and often psychopathic behaviour, and the deaths of up to half-a-million people.

“I’m not trying to defend Amin ... the Amin I found was not a good man, but not the monster as presented,” he said during a break on the set as filming for the movie wrapped up at the airport town of Entebbe outside Kampala on Lake Victoria.

“When I first decided to act Amin, I had that perception of Amin as presented by the West,” said the 44-year-old Whitaker, who has won praise for parts in Phone Booth, The Crying Game, Good Morning, Vietnam and Platoon.

“After I started [researching] his rule and his life, what was being portrayed in the West was not his real image,” he said. “Now, I have come to appreciate and understand why he made certain decisions at certain times.”

“He did things like other big men who did things that helped their countries,” Whitaker said, noting that in particular he appreciated Amin’s virulent abhorrence of European colonialism in Africa.

Between 300 000 and 500 000 Ugandans were killed and the country’s entire Asian population expelled during Amin’s despotic rule, the height of which is covered by The Last King of Scotland.

The title of the novel refers to Amin’s stated desire to take over from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as monarch to the Scots, and tells the story of Scottish Dr Nicholas Garrigan, who becomes Amin’s physician.

Flattered at first by his command appointment, Garrigan is horrified to discover his unknowing complicity in the savage crimes of Amin, who in real life died in exile in Saudi Arabia in August 2003 of multiple organ failure.

Whitaker, who prepared extensively for the role by visiting Amin’s home village and members of his family, said he has been deeply moved by the experience.

“The role ...
has taken me on a ride to learn more about Uganda and at the end of it all, this role has had a profound impact on my life,” he said, adding that it will be difficult to shed some of Amin’s mannerisms, particularly his distinctive Ugandan-British accent and unique speech habits.

Ugandan actor Abbey Mukiibi, who plays a close confidant to Whitaker’s Amin, said viewers might be surprised at how the dictator comes across on screen.

“The movie depicts Amin the person, not the one that has been presented in many fora,” he said. “It throws around questions, some of which suggest what one should have done if he or she was in Amin’s position.”

“It tells us that there is an Amin in everybody,” said Mukiibi, who is appearing in his second major film production after a role in the Rwandan genocide film Sometimes in April that was released earlier this year.

Whitaker, Mukiibi and the rest of the cast of Last King, which includes fellow American actors Kerry Washington as one of Amin’s wives and television star Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, plus Scottish thespian James McAvoy as Garrigan in his first major screen role, spent two months in Uganda filming on location.

About 300 locals, including about 100 actors and extras, were employed by Cowboy Films during the $6-million shoot for the movie, which is to be released worldwide in July next year by Twentieth Century Fox International.—Sapa-AFP

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