Describing his career as a "five-years upwards first act and a 25-year sliding second act," actor Robert Forster finally got to settle into a satisfying third act when Quentin Tarantino worked his '70s resurrection magic by casting Forster in Jackie Brown (1997).
Born and raised in Rochester, NY, Forster was a high school and college athlete, and occasional school thespian. After graduating from the University of Rochester (his third college) with a degree in psychology, Forster opted for acting over law school. Honing his craft in local theater, Forster subsequently moved to New York City where he landed his first Broadway role in 1965. After garnering attention in a 1967 production of A Streetcar Named Desire opposite Julie Harris, Forster made his movie debut in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) as the au natural horseback-riding private who ignites military officer Marlon Brando's desire. Holding out for interesting offers after Reflections, Forster retreated to Rochester with his wife and worked as a substitute teacher and manual laborer.
Enticed back into movies with a role opposite Gregory Peck in Robert Mulligan's Western The Stalking Moon (1968), Forster impressed cinephiles with his third film, Haskell Wexler's seminal counterculture work Medium Cool (1969). As a TV cameraman forced to confront the implications of the tumultuous events he so coolly records, Forster and his co-star, Verna Bloom, were thrust into the real-life turmoil surrounding the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, while Forster's nuanced performance illuminated his narcissist's metamorphosis. Despite its timely subject, however, Medium Cool made little impression at the box office. Though he continued to work in such varied films as George Cukor's widescreen spectacle Justine (1969) and the location-shot Indian reservation drama Journey Through Rosebud (1972), Forster attempted to move to potentially greener TV pastures as the eponymous '30s detective in the series Banyon (1972). Banyon, however, lasted only one season, as did Forster's subsequent TV stint as a Native American lawman in the series Nakia (1974).
Forster's slide into B-movie oblivion was hardly stanched by his forays into TV. Though he managed to acquit himself well onscreen in different kinds of parts, Forster professed no illusions about the quality of such movies as The Don Is Dead (1973), Stunts (1977), Disney's sci-fi The Black Hole (1979), and the Rock Hudson disaster flick Avalanche (1978). The smartly comic, John Sayles-scripted creature feature Alligator (1980) failed to thrive beyond its schlock status; Vigilante (1983), starring Forster as a, well, vigilante, was described by one critic as "truly distasteful." Trying his hand behind the camera, Forster produced, wrote, directed, and starred in, alongside his daughter, Katherine Forster, the detective spoof Hollywood Harry (1986), but he got more mileage that same year out of his performance as an Arab terrorist embarking on jihad in Delta Force (1986). Playing a host of bad guys as well as the occasional not-so-bad-guy, Forster put his four children through college from the late '80s into the early '90s with such video fodder as The Banker (1989) and Peacemaker (1990), as well as the TV series Once a Hero (1987) and the well-received indie 29th Street (1991).
His career languishing by the mid-'90s, Forster taught acting classes between occasional roles and maintained an optimistic hope that, "some kid who liked me when he was young was going to turn into a filmmaker and hire me." Two casting near-misses for Reservoir Dogs (1992) and True Romance (1993) later (Lawrence Tierney and Christopher Walken respectively got the parts), the by then agent-less Forster finally got his wish when Banyon and B-movie fan Quentin Tarantino cast him in Jackie Brown (1997). Beating out bigger names for the part, Forster proceeded to steal the film from flamboyant co-stars Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson with his subtle performance as weathered, rueful bail bondsman Max Cherry. Though stellar co-star Pam Grier got more attention as Tarantino's latest career rescue, Forster garnered Jackie Brown's sole Oscar nomination. After his Jackie Brown triumph, Forster's image of low-key, regular guy authority kept him steadily employed. Along with playing the de facto voice of sanity in the TV remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1998) and Gus Van Sant's retread of Psycho (1998), Forster faced down space (and production) chaos in Walter Hill's ill-fated Supernova (2000) and played the straight man as Jim Carrey's commanding officer in Me, Myself & Irene (2000). Though his brief appearance suggests David Lynch had more in mind for Forster's role in the aborted TV series, Forster's performance as a deadpan police detective still made it into the critically acclaimed film version of Mulholland Drive (2001).
He continued to work in a variety of projects including the kids basketball movie Like Mike and the quirky biopic Grand Theft Parsons. He moved to the small screen to play the father of Karen Sisco in the short-lived TV series of the same name. He also appeared occasionally in the cable series Huff, and had a recurring role in the NBC series Heroes. He had his highest profile success in yeas in 2011 when he played the father of George Clooney's comatose wife in Alexander Payne's Oscar-winning The Descendants.