MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — Many actors like living in Manhattan because of the relative anonymity, but for Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker, being unrecognized meant being subjected to a false accusation Friday: that he was shoplifting at a deli just steps from Columbia University.
Whitaker, 51, who is visiting town to star in Black Nativity, an adaptation of a Langston Hughes play, was patted down by a suspicious employee when he stopped to get a yogurt at Milano Market, the NY Daily News reported.
As his hired car idled out front, the hulking 6-foot-2 actor was approached on his way out of the store by a worker, the paper reported.
It was a crowded lunch rush, the store was packed, and he had walked in and was leaving without making a purchase, a worker told the paper.
“They stopped him and said, ‘You took something,’” the NY Post reported.
When the employee patted him down but couldn't recover anything, they let him leave, and Whitaker did not call police, his publicist Jennifer Plante said.
Nonetheless, it was an unnerving confrontation for the celebrity, who lives in California, and won the 2006 Oscar for Best Performance (Leading Role) in the Last King of Scotland.
“This was an upsetting incident," said Plante, saying that Whitaker did not contact police "at the request of the worker who was in fear of losing his employment."
“Forest asked that, in the future, the store change their behavior and treat the public in a fair and just manner,” she added.
Nobody answered a phone on Sunday at the deli, which is located on Broadway between West 111th and 112th streets.
Some regular customers seemed surprised by the reports, like Mary Wu, 55.
"That's really surprising," she said. "Everyone is always really nice." Others were planning to stop shopping there, one customer said.
"I'm hearing rumors that some people are going to boycott the place because of what happened," said regular shopper Lawrence, 35, who did not want his last name used. "It's crazy."