Oscar Actors: Forster, Robert–Background, Career, Awards

Updated July 13, 2020
Robert Forster Career Summary:

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Family: divorce in 1949



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Breakthrough Role:

Oscar Role: Jackie Brown, 1997; age 56

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Screen Image: character actor

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Death: age 78


Robert Wallace Forster Jr.[1] (July 13, 1941 – October 11, 2019) was known for his roles as John Cassellis in Medium Cool (1969), Captain Dan Holland in The Black Hole (1979), Abdul Rafai in The Delta Force (1986), and Max Cherry in Jackie Brown (1997), for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

Forster’s varied filmography includes: Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Alligator (1980), Me, Myself & Irene (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), The Descendants (2011), Olympus Has Fallen (2013), London Has Fallen (2016), and What They Had (2018).

He also had prominent roles in television series such as Banyon (1971–1973), Heroes (2007–2008), and Twin Peaks (2017). He is also known for his performance as Ed Galbraith in the Breaking Bad episode “Granite State” (2013), which he won the Saturn Award for Best Guest Starring Role on Television. He reprised the role in the film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019), which premiered the day of his death and posthumously appeared in the role in the fifth season of Better Call Saul (2020).

Forster was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Grace Dorothy (née Montanarella) and Robert Wallace Forster Sr., who worked as an elephant trainer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and later as an executive for a baking supply company. His mother was Italian American, while his father was of English and Irish descent. The couple divorced in 1949.

As a tribute to his father, Forster hung one of his father’s Barnum & Bailey Circus posters in the office of his character in Jackie Brown. He completed his B.A. in history in 1964 at the University of Rochester, where he starred in student dramatic performances such as Bye Bye Birdie. After initially intending to study law, he instead decided to become an actor.

After acclaimed supporting performances in two major Hollywood films, one as Private Williams in John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), another as part-Indian Army scout Nick Tana in Robert Mulligan’s The Stalking Moon (1968), Forster starred in the critically acclaimed film Medium Cool (1969).

After starring roles in the television series Banyon (1972) and Nakia (1974), he played supporting roles in action and horror films including Disney’s The Black Hole (1979). Forster had lead roles in cult B-movies in the 1980s like Alligator (1980), Vigilante (1983), The Delta Force (1986), and The Banker (1989).

Forster appeared in Jackie Brown as the character Max Cherry, which earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1997. Jackie Brown revitalized Forster’s career, an effect that occurred for many actors appearing in Tarantino films.

He since had consistent work in the film industry, appearing in Like Mike, Mulholland Drive, Me, Myself & Irene, Lucky Number Slevin, and Firewall. He appeared in the made-for-television movie The Hunt for the BTK Killer, as the detective intent on capturing serial killer Dennis Rader. Forster also played the father of Van on the short-lived Fox series Fastlane.

Forster recorded a public service announcement for Deejay Ra’s Hip-Hop Literacy campaign, encouraging reading of books by Elmore Leonard. (He starred in the movie adaptation of Leonard’s book Rum Punch, filmed as Jackie Brown.)

He appeared in the hit NBC series Heroes as Arthur Petrelli, the father of Nathan and Peter Petrelli, as well as the Emmy Award-winning AMC crime drama Breaking Bad as Walter White’s new identity specialist Ed Galbraith (a role he later reprised in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie). He played Bud Baxter, father to Tim Allen’s Mike Baxter, on the ABC (later Fox) hit comedy Last Man Standing. Forster was also a motivational speaker.

He was the first choice to play Sheriff Harry S. Truman in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but had to turn it down due to a prior commitment to a different television pilot, and was replaced by Michael Ontkean. He would go on to appear in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, a pilot for a TV series that was not picked up but was later turned into a critically acclaimed movie, and finally got to appear in Twin Peaks, playing the brother of Sheriff Harry S. Truman, Sheriff Frank Truman, in Twin Peaks: The Return, when Ontkean was not available to reprise his role.

Forster said: “David Lynch, what a good guy he is. He wanted to hire me for the original, 25 years ago, for a part, and I was committed to another guy for a pilot that never went. So I didn’t do the original Twin Peaks, which would have been a life-changer. It’s a gigantic hit if you remember those years, a phenomenon. But I didn’t do that. […] And this time, I got a call from my agents and they said, David Lynch is going to call you. When he called me five minutes later, he said, “I’d like you to come and work with me again.” And I said, ‘Whatever it is David, here I come!'”

One of Forster’s final roles was in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, reprising the character of Ed the “Disappearer” from the Breaking Bad series. Coincidentally, he died on the day the movie was released.[5] He had also performed in an episode of the rebooted Amazing Stories television series before his death; the episode will be dedicated to Forster. Robert subsequently appeared posthumously in Better Call Saul season 5 as Ed. The episode ended with a dedication to “our friend Robert Forster.”

Robert was married to June (née Provenzano) from May 14, 1966, to September 20, 1975, after meeting at their alma mater, the University of Rochester. The marriage produced three daughters, Elizabeth (born 1967), Kathrine “Kate” (born 1969) and Maeghen (born 1972). He was married to Zivia Forster from 1978 to 1980. He also had a son, Robert III (born 1965), from a previous relationship. From 2004 to the time of his death, his longtime partner was Denise Grayson.

Forster was a member of the high-IQ Triple Nine Society.

Forster died on October 11, 2019, at the age of 78 from brain cancer at his home in Los Angeles.