"I kind of like the philosophy behind finding the Force or finding the power inside of yourself, realizing that anything's possible"
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Forest Whitaker didn’t draw from personal experience when playing Rebel fighter Saw Gerrera. Actually, his character more closely resembles Cuban Revolution figure Che Guevara than the United Nations ambassador he is outside of work hours.
While the 55-year-old actor is known for his peacemaking efforts off-screen, his Rogue One: A Star Wars Story character takes a very different approach to make change. After training with Jedis and fighting alongside Darth Vader — back when the Sith lord was simply known as Anakin Skywalker — “he’s lost family members and some of those ideals,” says Whitaker in PEOPLE’s Stars Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One special issue.
Saw Gerrera’s approach is simple: “He’s willing to find whatever means he can to win.”
Although the character’s mindset radically differs from his own, Whitaker found that his costume helped bring the Rebel fighter to life.
“The armor is integral to my character,” the Oscar winner says of the bulky costume that encases him like a spare-parts Darth Vader. “The costume really helped me play him. You get into what it’s like to be Saw. There was a regality to it, like a fallen king. I was trying to play it straight inside the character. I get slightly nervous, but having these lines in this uniform, Saw starts to come alive.”
A longtime Star Wars fan — in an exclusive video, he even recounts to PEOPLE Now seeing the first film in a theater — Whitaker says the “trust yourself” philosophy of the Force struck him. In fact, his character delivers the powerful advice to Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso in the film.
“I kind of like the philosophy behind finding the Force or finding the power inside of yourself, realizing that anything’s possible,” he tells PEOPLE Now. “I remembered that very well as a kid.”
Check out PEOPLE’s special issue Stars Wars: The Secrets of Rogue One, on newsstands now and featuring a virtual-reality bonus including goggles (here’s how to assemble them!). To watch the full experience and explore more exclusive virtual reality content, download the LIFE VR app for iOS and Android or visit time.com/life
If you don’t have goggles, check out the 360° video above, explorable by clicking and dragging your mouse across the screen. You’ll visit the Rogue One set and go behind the scenes of a battle between rebels and stormtroopers — a stunning interactive experience available exclusively from PEOPLE. Then get goggles and experience it in virtual reality!
Rogue One hits theaters Dec. 16.