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Forest Whitaker, ‘The Shield’

Supporting actor, the un-usual suspects

Forest Whitaker still can’t understand how he became the bad guy on last season’s riveting cop drama “The Shield.”

Playing Lt. Jon Kavanaugh of the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division who is investigating Det. Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), along with Mackey’s allies, Whitaker refuses to believe that fans of the show would rather stand up for a cop killer than the guy trying to put him away.

“I’ve been fascinated about the situation in that I’m a villain in a weird way,” an animated Whitaker explains, his voice rising higher and more confrontationally in trying to plead his case. “Mackey has killed other police officers, lies and cheats, yet people still root for him.”

Chiklis’ Mackey has overcome plenty of obstacles — both on the street in his own precinct — over the five seasons of the FX skein, but Kavanaugh has proved to be his toughest opponent, and will stoop to any level to put him away.

“Neither of us will back down from a situation,” says Whitaker, whose scenes with Mackey were some of the most intense on television during the past season. In one of the final episodes, the two start fistfighting in the precinct, each full of built-up rage.

Whitaker landed the role in a most unlikely way. He was talking to David Milch for a part in “Deadwood,” but Whitaker couldn’t sign on, as his schedule conflicted with the production of the HBO series. But that eventually led to a conversation with “Shield” creator Shawn Ryan — and Det. Kavanaugh was born.

“I started him off with a lot of intensity, someone very driven,” he says. “As the episodes wore on, the writers became more excited about writing for the character. He was unpredictable.”

Whitaker has been an acting force since the early 1980s. Many viewers first saw him on the iconic high school pic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” before he quickly picked up various episodic TV roles — from “Hill Street Blues” to “Diff’rent Strokes.”

After taking an acting break a few years ago, he’s now back in full force with six projects in the hopper, including the Spike Jonze animated film “Where the Wild Things Are.”

And there’s the final season of “The Shield,” where he and Mackey will lock horns once again. He relishes the showdown — to see where both the writers and his own acting gut will take him.

“It’s been a test for myself as an actor to see where my instincts would bring me.”

SOUND BITES

Favorite scene of the past season?

“I liked the scene with my wife in which I have to break my principles. I’m trying so hard to care for her, but I have do what I need to do. He becomes more and more driven at that point.”

Favorite shows?

“Deadwood,” “Big Love,” “The Sopranos” and “Thief”

Underrated actor?

“Robin Weigert of ‘Deadwood’ “: I said who the heck is she? She’s brilliant. Tough, strong and not apologetic, but she has a heart.”

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