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For the better part of three decades, film and television actor Robert Forster struggled to make a name for himself in a seemingly endless string of B-movies and short-lived television series. After making somewhat of a splash in John Huston's "Reflections of a Golden Eye" (1967) and Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool" (1969), Forster's career seemed assured. But he was soon lost in the shuffle after a couple of failed television series - "Banyon" (NBC, 1972-73) and "Nakia" (ABC, 1974) - that were tailor-made for his rugged sensibilities, but never caught on with audiences. Even a seemingly surefire hit like Disney's space opus "The Black Hole" (1979) failed to generate more than passing interest, leaving Forster to make a living in films like "The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats" (1981) and "Satan's Princess" (1990). His fortunes changed overnight, however, when director Quentin Tarantino cast him as a forlorn bail bondsman in "Jackie Brown" (1997), a role that revived his career and earned him his first-ever Academy Award nomination. After the "Jackie Brown" comeback, the rejuvenated Forster appeared in numerous high-profile film and television projects like "Me, Myself & Irene" (2000) and...
For the better part of three decades, film and television actor Robert Forster struggled to make a name for himself in a seemingly endless string of B-movies and short-lived television series. After making somewhat of a splash in John Huston's "Reflections of a Golden Eye" (1967) and Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool" (1969), Forster's career seemed assured. But he was soon lost in the shuffle after a couple of failed television series - "Banyon" (NBC, 1972-73) and "Nakia" (ABC, 1974) - that were tailor-made for his rugged sensibilities, but never caught on with audiences. Even a seemingly surefire hit like Disney's space opus "The Black Hole" (1979) failed to generate more than passing interest, leaving Forster to make a living in films like "The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats" (1981) and "Satan's Princess" (1990). His fortunes changed overnight, however, when director Quentin Tarantino cast him as a forlorn bail bondsman in "Jackie Brown" (1997), a role that revived his career and earned him his first-ever Academy Award nomination. After the "Jackie Brown" comeback, the rejuvenated Forster appeared in numerous high-profile film and television projects like "Me, Myself & Irene" (2000) and "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010), proving that will and determination were equally as important to success as talent.
Born on July 13, 1941 in Rochester, NY, Forster was raised by his father, Robert, a former elephant trainer for Ringling Bros. who later worked as an executive for a baking supply company, and his mother, Grace. When he was young, his parents divorced, while his mother later committed suicide in 1966. After attending Heidelberg College in Tiffin, OH, he spent a year at Alfred University, after which he transferred to the University of Rochester, where he earned his bachelor's in psychology in 1964. During this time, Forster was performing on local stages and moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. He made his Broadway debut as the much younger paramour of Arlene Francis in "Mrs. Dally Has a Lover" (1965). Meanwhile, his performance as Stanley Kowalski in a stock production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" led to his feature debut in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye," playing a young officer who is caught between a repressed homosexual major (Marlon Brando) and his nymphomaniac wife (Elizabeth Taylor). While critics compared the young Forster to John Garfield and Jack Palance, he garnered more attention for his nude scenes.
He went on to co-star with Gregory Peck and Eva Marie Saint in the ponderous "The Stalking Moon" (1968) before receiving international attention for his starring turn as the detached cameraman in Haskell Wexler's arresting "Medium Cool," shot against the backdrop of the 1968 Democratic Convention, from which actual footage was used. His dark skin and ethnic look allowed him to branch out into other characters throughout his career, including playing an Arab in the period drama "Justine" (1969). Meanwhile, Forster continued to attract attention and controversy as a priest who falls in love in the maudlin "Pieces of Dreams" (1970). Following the lead role in "Cover Me Babe" (1970), an atrocious and amoral drama about obsession, he landed his first television starring role with "Banyon," a 1930s-set cop drama that followed the exploits of a tough, but honest private investigator in Los Angeles. Though the show was unceremoniously short-lived, Forster nonetheless bounced back with "Nakia," playing a Native American deputy in New Mexico who often finds his heritage at odds with the law he is supposed to uphold. Once again, however, the series was dropped from the schedule in short order.
As Forster continued to work, he found himself struggling more and more to establish himself as a star. He continued playing various tough guys, including an alleged Mafia snitch in "The Don Is Dead" (1973), an Eastwood-esque detective rooting out bad cops in "The Death Squad" (ABC, 1974) and a Los Angeles cop hunting down a psychotic country music fan with his partner (Don Johnson) in the police drama pilot "The City" (NBC, 1977). By this time, Forster's career was entering a downturn that would last for a long time. Over the course of the next two decades, he appeared in B-movies that barely saw the light of day, like "Stunts" (1977), in which he delivered a solid performance as an ace stuntman who investigates the suspicious death of his brother on a movie set. In "Standing Tall" (NBC, 1978), he was a Depression-era rancher of mixed Native American and Caucasian ethnicity who defends his land from a ruthless cattle baron (Chuck Connors). He next co-starred in "The Black Hole" (1979), a futuristic sci-fi adventure about a team of space travelers who examine a ship sitting on the edge of a spiraling black hole.
Following supporting turns in "The Darker Side of Terror" (CBS, 1979) and "The Lady in Red" (1980), Forster returned to hardboiled cop territory in the cult classic horror comedy, "Alligator" (1980), playing an everyman hero battling a giant reptile roaming the sewers in Chicago. But he continued his slide into mediocrity, thanks to films like "The Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats" (1981) and "Vigilante" (1983). In the latter film, he played a factory worker who joins a group of vigilantes on a vicious killing spree to clean up the streets after his wife and son are killed. After portraying a down-and-out cab driver who helps a woman exact revenge in "Walking the Edge" (1984), Forster produced, directed and starred as a poor man's Sam Spade in the detective spoof "Hollywood Harry" (1985), playing a shameless gumshoe who makes female clients pay for the privilege of sleeping with him while constantly drinking himself into a stupor. Using his ethnic looks to his advantage again, he was a militant Palestinian in "The Delta Force" (1986), which led to a voice role as a cartoon detective on "Once a Hero" (ABC, 1987), which lasted only three episodes.
Forster's career was on a serious slide by the end of the decade, which included redundant turns in cop thrillers like "Dead Bang" (1989) and "The Banker" (1989). In a rare turn as a villain, he was a hit man from another planet in the straight-to-video release "The Peacemaker" (1990). After playing a maniacal Middle Eastern dictator in the made-for-television movie "Counterforce" (1991), he played yet another detective in the Fred Williamson-produced, "South Beach" (1993). Following a turn alongside a host of blaxploitation stars, including Pam Grier, Ron O'Neal and Richard Roundtree, in "Original Gangstas" (1996), Forster's career was resurrected from the grave by Quentin Tarantino when he was cast in "Jackie Brown" (1997), the director's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's crime novel, Rum Punch. As a down-on-his-luck bail bondsman who falls for a flight attendant (Grier) caught up in a money smuggling scam, Forster exuded a soft romantic side underneath a weariness brought on by a lifetime of longing and regret. Forster was the heart and soul of the movie and for his efforts, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor - the first of his long career.
The plump role and ensuing Academy Award nod pumped fresh blood into his career, which he parlayed into dozens of new roles in subsequent years. He appeared in two Hitchcock remakes, starring alongside Christopher Reeve as his detective pal in the television version of "Rear Window" (ABC, 1998), which he followed with a cameo as Norman Bates' psychotherapist in Gus van Sandt's unnecessary shot-for-shot regurgitation of "Psycho" (1998). The actor was characteristically low-key, but always dazzling in a slate of indie films, including "Outside Ozona" (1998) and "Diamond Men" (2000), in which he delivered a highly praised turn as a jewelry salesman who must mentor a young replacement (Donnie Wahlberg) when his company downsizes. He also made memorable supporting turns in diverse films such as the Jim Carrey/Farrelly Brothers comedy "Me, Myself & Irene" (2000), director David Lynch's hypnotic drama "Mulholland Drive" (2001), the kid-skewing basketball comedy "Like Mike" (2002), and the high-octane action sequel, "Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle" (2003).
On television, Forster had notable turns in small screen movies including "Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes" (CBS, 2001), playing patriarch Ken 'Pappa' Kimes opposite Mary Tyler Moore and Gabriel Olds as the real-life mother-son murderers. He also portrayed Steve Carroll in the television adaptation of former detective Mark Fuhrman's book "Murder in Greenwich" (2002), the story of the long unsolved 1970s-era murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley. Returning to series television, Forster was particularly winning and showed tremendous paternal chemistry with co-star Carla Gugino when he played Marshall Sisco, the private investigator father of federal marshal "Karen Sisco" (ABC, 2003-04), a series adaptation of the Elmore Leonard characters first depicted on the big screen in "Out of Sight" (1998). Though a promising role for Forster, the series was canceled after its first season. Meanwhile, he continued to work steadily, turning in several episodes of "Huff" (Showtime, 2004-06), while appearing in high-profile features like "Firewall" (2006), "Lucky Number Slevin" (2006) and "Cleaner" (2007). He also landed the recurring role of Arthur Petrelli, grandfather of regenerating cheerleader Clair (Hayden Panettiere), during the third season of "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010). Back on the big screen, he ventured into romantic comedy territory playing a cop in "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" (2009) and starred opposite Luke Wilson in the crime comedy "Middle Men" (2010). In Alexander Payne's acclaimed comedy-drama, "The Descendents" (2011), Forster portrayed the mean-spirited father-in-law of a wealthy man (George Clooney) who goes in search of his wife's lover in Hawaii after she lapses into a coma.
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There was a European actor who took the name "Robert Forster" in tribute to the American actor.
"I always hoped that some kid who liked me when he was young was going to turn into a filmmaker and hire me. And that's what I kept saying to myself: Play for that kid." --Robert Forster quoted in Us, April 1998.
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