I began to be friendly with the amiable Robert Forster 22 years ago, or just after I’d seen Quentin Tarantino‘s Jackie Brown. I was with People at the time, and had wrangled an interview with the 56 year-old actor because I absolutely knew (and had convinced People‘s bureau chief Jack Kelly) that Forster’s career, which had been slumping since the late ’80s, was about to take off again.
Because his low-key, straight-from-the-shoulder performance as bail bondsman Max Cherry was a perfectly assured mellow-vibe thing. Right in the pocket. It landed Forster a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and he was suddenly back in the game.
Forster worked steadily after that, and in 2011 he scored again as George Clooney‘s cranky father-in-law in The Descendants. I interviewed him right after seeing Alexander Payne‘s film at Telluride. Forster sure knew how to play pissy.
Both interviews happened at West Hollywood’s Silver Spoon cafe, which was Forster’s favorite haunt for many years. It closed on 12.31.11, and I distinctly recall Forster telling me that he was pretty broken up about this. (A seafood place, Connie and Ted’s, opened in the same spot two years later.)
And now he’s gone, dear fellow. I must have run into Forster at two or three hundred industry gatherings over the last 20-odd years. “Hey, Bob,” “Hi, Jeff,” small-talk, sound byte….”later.”
I’m very sorry that he’s left the room. Really. Only 78 — old not that old. Brain cancer.
When death comes knocking, you can hide in the cellar or duck into a closet and sometimes it’ll go away and forget about you. For a while. But if your number’s up, it’s up. Ask Warren Beatty‘s Joe Pendleton. Or Robert Redford‘s wounded cop character in that famous Twilight Zone episode, “Nothing in the Dark.”
In my book Forster made only four really good films and two pretty good ones: Medium Cool, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Don Is Dead, Jackie Browne, The Descendants, What They Had.
“Cranky, Scrappy,” posted on 12.31.11: “It’s always a pleasure when a family drama has a cranky older guy or a crazy guy hanging around. Someone who will blurt out what’s really going on (and has gone on) without any restraint or regard for subtlety. Michael Shannon‘s crazy truth-teller in Revolutionary Road, for example. Or Alan Arkin‘s drug-dabbling, blunt-spoken granddad in Little Miss Sunshine. Or Robert Forster‘s cranky gramps in The Descendants.
Forster’s character (the father of George Clooney‘s comatose wife), bawls out Shailene Woodley‘s Alexandra for giving her mom a rough time (“shame on you!”), and then he cold-cocks her friend Sid (Nick Krause), and then says “there you are again” to Sid when he returns in Act Three. And then he chews out Clooney for not giving enough to his “faithful, loyal wife”, and then he has a tender moment at his daughter’s bedside, kissing her goodbye.
These are all stick-to-the-ribs moments, and Forster brings each one home.
I don’t just love characters like this in films; I love them in real life. My father started to be like this when he got into his ’60s, but he really turned it on in his ’70s and ’80s.