Robert Forster: Dependable Hollywood actor whose career was revived by Tarantino

He was nominated for an Oscar for his role in ‘Jackie Brown’, an unexpected late peak in a long and varied acting CV

Harrison Smith
Thursday 24 October 2019 12:18
Comments
Forster's role in the 1997 film was written specially for him
Forster's role in the 1997 film was written specially for him

Robert Forster was a brooding, ruggedly handsome Hollywood actor who was featured alongside Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck in the late 1960s, became a B-movie action star playing lawmen and thugs, and revived his career with an Oscar-nominated turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.

His death coincided with the release of his latest film, El Camino, a spinoff of the TV series Breaking Bad, in which he played a fixer who fashions a new identity for Bryan Cranston’s meth kingpin.

Forster, who has died of brain cancer aged 78, began his film career as an army private who, in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), gallops naked through the woods atop a black stallion, catching the eye of Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. More than four decades later, he found himself promoted to general, playing a military leader in Olympus Has Fallen (2013), an action thriller about a terrorist attack on the White House.

In between came dozens of roles as cops, detectives and straight-talking heavies, in grindhouse pictures with names like Scanner Cop II: Volkin’s Revenge and Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III.

“My career went upwards for about five years and then downwards for about 27 years,” Forster said in 2018, recalling his working life before Jackie Brown (1997), in which he played a melancholy bail bondsman named Max Cherry. The part was written for him by Tarantino, a former video-rental clerk who had admired Forster in movies such as Medium Cool (1969), a countercultural touchstone by filmmaker Haskell Wexler, and The Delta Force (1986), in which he played a Lebanese terrorist pursued by Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin.

Forster, who traced his ancestry to Italy, England and Ireland, was often cast against ethnic type, enlisted to play Native American figures or foreign despots such as Manuel Antonio Noriega of Panama and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

In recent years he worked with directors including Alexander Payne, as George Clooney’s father-in-law in The Descendants (2011), and David Lynch, as a detective in Mulholland Drive (2001) and as Sherrif Frank Truman in the 2017 revival of Twin Peaks. (Forster had previously been offered the part of Truman’s lawman brother, Harry, for the series’ original run in the early 1990s. He turned it down because he was working on another show.)

Forster’s film career had got off to a good start with Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), directed by John Huston and adapted from a novel by Carson McCullers. Forster had never made a movie – or ridden a horse – before, and said he was handed the equivalent of a tan jockstrap for his infamous equestrian nude scene. He threw the cloth covering into the bushes, and recalled thinking: “‘Bob, if you are afraid to be naked on this horse, you’d better quit, because if you don’t do it with full abandon … then you have no right to be an actor.’”

Forster in Haskell Wexler’s ‘Medium Cool’, 1969

Forster appeared alongside Peck in a Western, The Stalking Moon (1968), and beginning in 1971 played the hard-boiled lead of Banyon, an NBC detective series set in 1930s Los Angeles. The show was cancelled after about a dozen episodes, kicking off Forster’s self-described “27-year slump” – during which he starred in the short-lived police series Nakia and appeared in movies such as The Black Hole (1979) and Vigilante (1982).

As acting jobs dried up, he also found work as a drama teacher and motivational speaker, urging companies, organisations and (on at least one occasion) a group of imprisoned white-collar criminals to “deliver excellence right now” and “never quit”.

“No matter how bad things get,” he insisted, “you can still win it in the late innings.” That belief paid off for Forster when Tarantino cast him in Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. Forster received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. (He lost to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting.)

Robert Wallace Foster Jr was born in Rochester, New York, in 1941. (He later added an “r” to Foster after learning another actor shared his name.) His father was a Ringling Bros elephant trainer who became an executive at a baking supply company; his mother was a homemaker.

They divorced when Forster was eight, and his mother later killed herself after Forster received his draft notice in 1966. Forster received a deferment, partly through medical statements describing the “devastating psychological effects” of his mother’s death.

Forster studied history and psychology at the University of Rochester, where he was considering a career as a lawyer, when he spotted a young woman on her way to a theatre audition. “As I was trying to think of what to say, I followed her into an auditorium,” he said. Forster landed a role in the chorus and the woman, June Provenzano, would become his wife. (They later divorced.)

He was married twice and is survived by his partner Denise Grayson and four children.

Robert Forster, actor, 13 July 1941, born, died 11 October 2019

© Washington Post

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in