Actor Robert Forster has done it all. With over 100 films and TV credits to his name, including “Medium Cool,” “Me, Myself & Irene,” “The Delta Force,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Black Hole,” his resume is as diverse as his talent. In 1997 Quentin Tarantino tapped Mr. Forster for “Jackie Brown,” which earned the actor an Oscar nomination.
These days you can spot Mr. Forster playing Tim Allen’s dad on the hit ABC sitcom “Last Man Standing.” And off-camera, he is even participating in a staged reading of the classic 1980s disaster spoof “Airplane.” Over breakfast in West Hollywood, Mr. Forster discussed the “Airplane” reading, his upcoming roles in “Divorce” (with Sarah Jessica Parker) and the rebooted “Twin Peaks” and how a chance encounter led to “Jackie Brown.”
Question: Tell me about this upcoming staged reading of “Airplane.”
Answer: There is a wonderful woman who directs it named Ilene Knight. She and her husband Jim Hardy run this wonderful place called Tree People, which is a park and small amphitheater in the middle of Coldwater Canyon in Los Angeles. Ilene called me years ago and asked if I would you be interested in doing a staged reading. That began my association with them maybe 12 years ago.
At the end of the season, they do the reading of “Airplane,” [which is] 11 actors doing 62 parts. I do the one that Robert Stack did. And I do the one Peter Graves did. I get to say, “Did you ever see a grown man naked?”
Q: How did you get into acting?
A: The beginning of my senior year at Rochester University, I pulled into a parking lot, and in front of my car walked a beautiful brunet wearing a black London fog raincoat and high heels. First day of classes. I followed her trying to think of something to say. She walked into the auditorium. They were holding auditions for “Bye Bye Birdie.” I said, “That’s how I’ll meet the girl.”
I auditioned for the part without ever seeing the play or the movie. I didn’t get the part, but I got the girl. And I married her. We have three daughters together.
It all started there. Upon graduation I said, “I don’t want to be a lawyer. I want to be an actor. I wonder how you do that.” I went to New York with no plan, and I got an audition for a Broadway play in 1965 and got the part in “Mrs. Dally Has a Lover.”
Q: How did you make the transition to film?
A: While I was doing the play, the guy who became my agent sent me on a screen test for 20th Century Fox. It was the simplest thing ever: “Turn right. Turn Left. What’s your name? Do you have any hobbies?”
Afterwords my agent said, “You are going to be one of the last ever contract players at Fox.” They made a deal.
After the play was over, I went back to Rochester, called that girl I followed into the auditorium, and we met for coffee. Five days after, I proposed to her and we moved out to Hollywood.
The first call I got when the phone was installed, they said, “Do you know who John Huston is?” I didn’t have a clue. My first film was “Reflections of a Golden Eye,” and then I was in the movies.
Q: Was there ever a role you turned down and regretted?
A: I didn’t turn down a lot of things. I didn’t get a lot of offers. I can tell you that I have never gotten a job I auditioned for. The only job I got that I auditioned for was the first play. After that, if they didn’t want me, they made me come in and read, and then they didn’t hire me. If they wanted me, they hired me.
Q: What do you remember about making “The Black Hole”?
A: It was the only steady job I have ever had. It lasted six months to the day, seven in the morning to seven at night. Shot on the Disney lot. We were in outer space, so we were always on a soundstage. It was a big movie. A lot of talent in it: Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Perkins, Yvette Mimieux.
Q: How did you land the role in “Jackie Brown”?
A: A chance encounter with Quentin Tarantino. He was walking in this restaurant; I hollered at him. He came over and sat down. We bulls***ted for a while. I asked him what he was doing. He was adapting Elmore Leonard’s book “Rum Punch” into a movie. He said, “Why don’t you read it?” I did.
Six months later I walked into my regular spot, and he was sitting in my chair. He handed me a script and said, “See if you like it.” That changed my life. It has carried me for 20 years and given my opportunities that I would not have otherwise gotten. Now we’re doing the best we can to leave as good a trail as possible.
Q: How did you end up on “Last Man Standing”?
A: I ran into the director John Pasquin at an event. The next thing I know, they called me and said, “Would you like to play Tim [Allen]’s father in an episode?” That led to a half-dozen other episodes. That was a lovely gig.
Q: I think of you as a serious actor, but do you also enjoy doing comedy?
A: Getting a laugh is the most intoxicating item in any actor’s career.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I play the father of [Sarah] Jessica Parker on the HBO show “Divorce.” I surely hope it takes six or eight years to get divorced. [laughs]
About a year ago I got a call from David Lynch. He offered me a job very long ago on the first iteration of “Twin Peaks.” I couldn’t do it because I had committed myself to another pilot that never went. He said, “You weren’t in the first ‘Twin Peaks,’ but how would you like to be in the new one? I said sure. “Sure” is one of the easiest things for an actor to say. If somebody offers you something, “Sure!” is the answer.
Q: Any projects you’ve always wanted to do?
A: The [Ronald] Reagan one-man play. It is one of the best things I ever read. We did backers’ auditions, but they could not quite seem to put it over the finish line. [We did it] once for Nancy Reagan and a lot of Secret Service guys.
I expect to do that one day. I always wanted something in my back pocket that I could go out and tour with at a moment’s notice. Hopefully that will be it.
For more information on Tree People’s staged reading of “Airplane,” visit Treepeople.org/CanyonNights.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Click to Read More and View Comments
Click to Hide
Please read our comment policy before commenting.