Magnetic, Longtime Character Actor and Oscar Nominee Dead at 78.

I must admit to never having tracked the career of actor Robert Forster all that closely.  Yet, every time his name would pop up in any given credits listing, be it work as diverse as Disney’s Star Wars imitation The Black Hole to the Alexander Payne drama The Descendants to the the NBC television series Heroes, I always perked up just a bit, confident that his presence would elevate the proceedings.  And, it always did.  Even in the thankless role of the psychiatric explainer at the end of Gus Van Sant’s infamous 1998 Psycho remake, he managed to spin what he could from it.  When I hear people say that 2017’s The Case for Christ is one of the only legitimately good Christian films, I kinda believe it, in no short part because the filmmakers were smart enough to put Forster in it.

I first encountered Forster as an unsupervised channel-surfing kid, stumbling upon the 1980 schlocky Jaws rip-off, Alligator.  Forster plays the cool guy (“David”) who has to get the bottom of why there’s a thirty-foot long alligator stalking the city, and what the heck to do about it.  The film made an impression for numerous reasons, leading me to buy the DVD day-and-date many years later.  I confess that I’ve yet to actually watch that DVD, no doubt some minor lingering trauma that Mr. Forster helped instill.  

Forster in The Black Hole (1979).

Forster’s earliest splash, though, is as the morally challenged news cameraman in Haskell Wexler’s seminal and brazenly unique social and political commentary, Medium Cool (1969).  Forster’s character, John Cassellis, is more or less a shell for Wexler’s docu-exploration, some of which was shot during the actual unrest of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Nevertheless, Forster was the exact right man for the job, carrying his load even when things might’ve gotten too real.

Living legend auteurs such as David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino have smartly brought Forster into their folds, the latter of whom handed him the unforgettable role of love-smitten Max Cherry in 1997’s Jackie Brown.  One look into the puppy-dog eyes of Forster’s Cherry, and you’re on his side.  That one netted Forster a much-deserved Oscar nomination.  Of course, all the while, Forster remained an accessible “working actor”, never too proud to turn down a gig.  Amid his late-career immortals like Breaking Bad and Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., we find all manner of who-knows-what, any of these seemingly disposable low-tier Redbox-y titles being perhaps, in actuality, the Alligators of today, just waiting to grab us by surprise.  Clearly, Forster worked steadily right up to his too-early end at 78 years old.  His dogged charm, his cool, and the ever-present twinkle in his eye will live on, no matter the film, medium, or genre.

Forster in Medium Cool.

⁃ Jim Tudor

When I sat down to watch the revival of Twin Peaks on Showtime back in 2017, I was looking forward to revisiting old friends. I knew going in that the series wasn’t going to be everything I expected (David Lynch’s filmography after and including Fire Walk With Me assured that), but I imagined we would be catching up on the familiar faces and learning where their stories had gone since the end of the first series. I hadn’t followed the pre-release publicity closely, so I was a little surprised and disappointed that actor Michael Ontkean was not reprising his role as Sheriff Harry Truman. Instead, we were introduced to Robert Forster as Frank Truman, Harry’s brother, and the new Sheriff of Twin Peaks. 

Forster in 2017’s Twin Peaks revival.

Forster’s Frank Truman is a newcomer to our familiar little town, but he soon becomes a comfortable presence. He is respected by the townsfolk, he, in turn, shows respect to them. He offers warm support (if not complete understanding) to characters such as Lucy and Andy, and their son Wally Brando. He silently removes his hat when he hears of the Log Lady’s demise. Truman seems to sense something isn’t right with Dark Cooper when they encounter each other, despite never having met the original, but he remains polite, even as his eyes narrow, trying to read the villain’s intent. Frank Truman didn’t experience the events of the first Twin Peaks, but he trusts Deputy Hawk enough to follow a symbol-laden map deep into the woods, not knowing what they expect to find there. Frank Truman continues the Twin Peaks‘ tradition of the honest, decent and upstanding lawman, standing in contrast to the darkness and sleaze that surrounds and pervades the town.

Robert Forster, the man, seems to have embodied those ideals as well. By all accounts, Robert Forster was kind, generous, and warm-hearted to everyone he met- no matter how brief the encounter. The outpouring of love and respect for him on social media following the news of his passing attests strongly to his character. A sort of character that’s all too rare in our real world. Keep working the sunny side of the river, Robert Forster. And goodbye.

 – Jeffrey Knight

Forster in Jackie Brown.