Robert Forster (1941-2019): Farewell, friend
Affable, avuncular, handsome, talented.
I wish I were describing myself, but those adjectives apply to Robert Forster, who died Oct. 11 at the age of 78. I’ve said it many times: Robert Forster was the nicest, coolest “celebrity” I’ve ever encountered.
The first time was at the 1997 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, where he was starring in a delirious black comedy/film noir called American Perfekt, which filmmaker Paul Chart had written expressly for him. This was before Jackie Brown brought Forster an Oscar nomination and renewed visibility. (Incidentally, I was one of the first people to call Forster when the nominations were announced.)
“For 30 years, Bob Forster was a friend, mentor, co-conspirator, fellow artist, and the older, wiser brother you always wanted,” Chart said. “The guy could do anything – and always with such style, grace and self-deprecating humor. The best thing you could do was just watch him and learn and hope to grow up to be a bit like him.”
Cinematographer Richard Clabaugh, who worked with Forster on American Yakuza (1993), remembered him as “a terrific guy, a terrific actor and a total professional.” The University of North Carolina School of Arts School of Filmmaking faculty member Dale Pollock called Forster “a great character actor,” and was particularly moved by his performance in last year’s drama What They Had.
Rob Davis, executive director of the RiverRun International Film Festival, previously worked with the Fort Lauderdale festival. “Robert Forster was a terrific actor who never failed to turn in an impeccable performance. In addition to being a fine actor, he was also an incredibly kind and generous individual. During my time with the Fort Lauderdale festival, we hosted him as a guest more than once, and he was one of the nicest and most gracious human beings I have ever worked with.”
Kevin Thomas, during his 50-year stint as a film critic with the Los Angeles Times, has seen his share of stars rise and fall, but Robert Forster was an exception. “He never quite hit leading-man super-stardom, but he never seemed to stop working. He kept coming back!”
In 2010, my college roommate Dean Galanis worked on an independent film called The Bannen Way. When he told me Robert Forster was in the cast, I said: “You’re going to love him.” Upon hearing of Forster’s death, Galanis wrote, “He was absolutely one of the coolest, nicest, most down-to-earth actors I’ve ever met. He was such a cool dude and a true gentleman. And of course, one hell of an actor.”
Over the years, I’d leave Forster messages on his answering machine, usually about the latest film of his that I’d seen. Sometimes, he’d consent to interviews on the spur of the moment. When the troubled sci-fi saga Supernova (2000) limped into theaters after considerable post-production tinkering, he talked with me about it for an article — ditto when Haskell Wexler’s ground-breaking Medium Cool (1969) was released on DVD.
When I saw The Descendants (2011), I called simply to leave a message of congratulations. To my surprise, he picked up.
Momentarily flustered, I congratulated him effusively on the film, then said, “Do you have 10 minutes for a quick interview?”
“I’m on my way out in a little while, but sure.”
In 1998, I attended a press junket for Robert Altman’s comedy Cookie’s Fortune in Los Angeles and brought my friend Matt Holly. (I told people he was a “freelance journalist,” but actually, he was my ride!)
We didn’t get to meet Forster during that visit, but Holly did – that night at the Cookie’s Fortune premiere party in the House of Blues. Forster wasn’t in the film; he just happened to be there.
The never-bashful Holly walked right up to him. “You’re Bob Forster!”
“I am,” he replied. “Who are you?”
“I’m a big fan and an actor, and I know Mark Burger.”
“Well, Matt, that’s good enough for me.”
In 2006, during a visit to Los Angeles – where Matt and I would also meet Glenn Ford (yes, the Glenn Ford) – we arranged with Chart to have lunch with Forster at his favorite Tinseltown hang-out, the Silver Spoon. Not only was it Forster’s 65th birthday, but we were also joined by daughter Kate Forster and her toddler son Jack.
Many laughs were had, not the least of which was when Jack got a little restless, as 2-year-olds are wont to do. “Another actor in the family?” I joked.
Forster laughed, then took Jack into his lap and – what do you know? – Jack quieted right down. Grandpa had the magic. Did he ever, in spades.
“This is a new role for you,” I said.
He smiled. “It is, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s the best role ever, being grandpa.”
Despite Forster’s protests, Holly and I insisted on picking up the check. As I leaned over to ask how we should divide it, Holly took it. “I’ve got this.”
“All of it?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
When I told Forster that in my apartment hangs a poster for The Delta Force (1986) that he’d autographed, he deadpanned: “I’m very sorry to hear that, Mark.”
I’m not. I’m not sorry at all.
Robert Forster was a great guy and a great actor.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2019, Mark Burger.