Forest Whitaker on Making His Broadway Debut in ‘Hughie’

Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic
The Oscar winner takes on the role of a lifetime in this Eugene O’Neill’s play.

Forest Whitaker is a Hollywood heavyweight. He's starred in numerous films and earned mutiple awards, but in his new project, he is stepping away from the screen and onto the stage for his Broadway debut in Hughie.

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Whitaker stars as Erie Smith in the play based on the work of Eugene O'Neill. Smith is a hustler by nature and bombards a midtown hotel with tales of his past and of the time he spent with the previous night clerk, Hughie, who has recently died.

Have you been approached before to appear on Broadway? If so, what about Hughie made you say "yes"?

Once I read Hughie and encountered the role of Erie Smith, I felt a sense of fear and apprehension. To me, that’s a clear indicator of an opportunity to grow. By confronting one’s fear, something great can hopefully happen. So, I decided to take the plunge in an attempt to keep learning and finding new ways in which to expand.

 You've been a leading man on film. How are you approaching being a leading man on stage?

I approach all of my work the same way, regardless of the size of my role or where it’s being performed. My goal is to keep striving for truth, searching for the spark inside of each character.

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Unlike the current climate in Hollywood, there are a number of stage productions featuring Black and other minority actors as leads. How does it feel to be on Broadway during this moment?

It’s a very exciting time to be working on Broadway, which is currently expressing a wide tapestry of human existence: from myself in Hughie to African American voices in shows like Hamilton and The Color Purple, alongside productions that represent Asian, Latin, deaf, and handicapped backgrounds. I’m glad to be a part of the fabric that’s weaving that tapestry.

You have an acclaimed film career and a number of notable actors like yourself have appeared on Broadway. Why was this the right time for you?

One can never say why anything is the “right time,” but I felt that Hughie would give me an opportunity to sit still and work on my craft, as I improve myself by taking on new challenges as an actor. Initially, I had wanted to do a new play, but was surprised that I had never heard of Hughie, especially coming from as prolific a playwright as Eugene O’Neill. Working alongside an actors' director and playing opposite a stage pro, I knew this play would let me stretch and push myself so that I’d grow.

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Appearing on stage is rigorous, both mentally and physically. In fact, you will perform 8 shows a week. Have you gotten any advice about how to balance the demands of the stage?

While I don’t know how it’ll feel since I haven’t begun performances yet, I’ve asked several people about the demands of working eight shows a week (with two shows a day several times a week). I’ve heard that it takes a lot out of you, but it’s also comforting to know that you’ll be on stage at the same time every night, continuing to grow in the same role. I’m excited to have this experience, and to be introduced to new audiences at each performance.

As an Oscar winner and with a Tony very much in sight, any hopes to obtain EGOT status?

My focus is on growing and connecting through performances that will hopefully touch mankind in some way. Through my work, I strive to expand myself as a human being through some form of truth that may touch the divine; my focus isn’t on awards.

Hughie first opened on Broadway in 1964 and is currently running until June 12, 2016. 

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