Forest Whitaker

Though actor Forest Whitaker started college on an athletic scholarship, the charismatic and award-winning performer made the unlikely shift from football to studying to become a classical tenor and eventually, an actor. After gaining some attention in several stage musicals, Whitaker made an immediate impression with a small, but memorable role in his feature debut, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982). Following a quick succession of supporting roles in features and on television, he earned his first wave of critical accolades for his portrayal of drug-addicted jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker in "Bird" (1988). Once he was established as a viable leading man, Whitaker easily oscillated between low-budget and studio projects, earning equal acclaim for his performances. Taking his career to the next level, he made several forays into feature directing - most notably "Waiting to Exhale" (1995) - but continued to churn out one sterling performance after another until finally reaching new heights with his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" (2006), which came hot on the heels of another mesmerizing performance as an obsessive internal affairs officer on season five of "The Shield" (FX, 2002-08). Both roles only confirmed that Whitaker was one of Hollywood's most versatile, surprising and talented actors of his day. His work as a producer on films like "Fruitvale Station" (2013) and "Dope" (2015) helped shepherd a new generation of African-American filmmakers while his work in hits like "The Butler" (2013), "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) and "Black Panther" (2018) kept him firmly in audiences' minds.