Other then the obvious lure of Quentin Tarantino himself, ardent movie fans would be hard pressed to argue that the calm cool of Robert Forster’s Max Cherry isn’t the real icing on "Jackie Brown’s" lovingly layered cake. As the very thoughtful ying to Pam Grier’s cunning yang, Forster gives such a pitch perfect portrayal of a humble aging bail bondsman that he even nabbed a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his movie-stealing work. Having seen early Forster roles in films like "Reflections in a Golden Eye," "Medium Cool" and even "Alligator," movie freak Tarantino knew that the underused actor would shine and make the role his own – and the ample Forster did not disappoint. So since "Jackie Brown" is hitting Blu-ray on Oct. 4 from Lionsgate, it seemed appropriate to talk to Forster about the role that showed the cinematic world that he was still a force to be reckoned with. So in an exclusive one-on-one interview, Forster talks of his love for Max Cherry, Quentin Tarantino and all things "Jackie Brown." (Plus for the past work cine-geeks out there, he tells a David Lynch story to die for!) Like the true talented ‘cherry’ on top of something special, here’s…
Did you know of Quentin Tarantino and his work prior to "Jackie Brown" and what were your thoughts when you became aware that he wanted you for the film?
Robert Forster: Well, I surely was aware of him because I had auditioned for "Reservoir Dogs." I thought I was gonna get it too! I walked out of that audition saying you got this one Bob – they ain’t gonna take this one away from you! And yet the minute I walked out Quentin came out after me and said to me, ‘Look this isn't going to work out because this role is gonna go to Lawrence Tierney.’ I hadn't bothered to notice by the way that Lawrence Tierney’s name was on the front of the script – Quentin had dedicated the script to Lawrence. So my thoughts of getting the role of the old gangster were quickly dashed. But some years later I ran into Quentin at a coffee shop and we talked and he said that he had been adapting an Elmore Leonard novel 'Rum Punch' and he said, ‘Why don’t you read it?’ And I did. Six months later he shows up in that same coffee shop with a script in hand and hands it to me and says, ‘Read this – see if you like it.’ I could not believe that it was the Max Cherry role that he was talking about. I kept looking for something else in the script, but nothing made sense but Max Cherry. But that couldn’t be it because they weren’t giving me those kinds of roles. The distributors wouldn’t let him hire me for that big of a role, so the second time I met with him and he told me it was the Max Cherry role I was supposed to be reading for, I thought how do I break it to this guy – they won't let him hire me. And that’s when he said, “I hire anybody I want.” And that’s when the world stopped.
I read a story that when Robert De Niro first got the script he wanted to play the role of Max Cherry, but Quentin had his heart set on you for the role – what are your thoughts?
RF: I cannot tell you how generous an actor Robert De Niro is – he knows what he’s doing and he is a consummate guy. But the thing that is most impressive to me was that I knew he liked and wanted, and who would not want, the role of Max Cherry and yet he did the role of Louis the recently released con. I thought to myself when we were doing the table reading what a generous guy. He wanted the big role, but he’s doing this role. And he made more out of the role of Louis then I ever could have. When Quentin and I got together after I read the script, he read all the other parts and I read Max Cherry and then he said, “I want you to read this part – just for the sake of it.’ And I read it and it was the part of Louis the con that De Niro did. I’m not sure if he was making up his mind at the time, but he asked me to read it. And as he was walking me out to my car - after spending about eight hours with him reading the script, watching some old movies of mine that he had prints of and talking about the role – I said to him, ‘I know I can deliver the part of Max Cherry. I’m not sure I can deliver the part of the con.’ And he said to me, ‘Don’t worry- you’re gonna make a good Max Cherry.’ So this guy true to his word and promise handed me that Max Cherry role and all along I knew that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone and I’m sure there were others whose agent gave Quentin a certain amount of pressure to put their clients in it – all I can say is I have undying respect for both of those guys.
You had worked on "Original Gangsters" prior to "Jackie Brown" that had Pam in it as well...
RF: But we didn't have any scenes together! And I never actually met her. We were working on the same picture and we were in a hotel someplace in Indiana. I was walking around with another actor who was in the picture and we were near the gym and there’s a box window in the door to the gym. As we were walking, he looked through the window and he said, ‘Hey, you know who that is?’ And I said, ‘Yeah – that’s Pam Grier!’ We both knew she was in the picture. She was doing her exercises and I didn't go in there and bother her and I never actually met her, but we were in the same picture together without having scenes. I never met her until..."Jackie Brown!" I remember thinking what a beautiful woman when I was looking through that window – and then I got to do a kissing scene with her! Lucky me!
What kid of director is Tarantino, specifically what is his process on-set with the actors?
RF: Number one – he writes wonderful dialogue. It’s the kind of stuff where you can say it and mean it and that will be enough. And at some point in the process, not every single time, not every single day, once or twice one of his best directions is just before the camera roles he says, ‘Now just make sure I believe it.’ And that reminds the actor of the last thing you have to remember which is it has to be believable – and then you go to work. Also there was fun on that set and nobody was uptight. Everybody added to the fun, not just the big guys, but guys who brought the coffee and the guy who pushes the dolly around. Everybody on that set contributed to the fun and there was plenty of it.
When you took the role of Max Cherry did you realize the character and your performance would resonate so much so that you would even get an Oscar nod?
RF: No – I could not have imagined anything. I thought my star had faded plenty in the years since I started and I never imagined that. And the feeling of one of the other great moments, the moment he told me he could hire me despite the distributors, matched the moment on the day that I was nominated, which I had no expectation for. On that day I woke up to a phone call from one of my ex-wives screaming, ‘You got nominated!’ And then the other ex-wife and then the phone didn’t ring anymore and it just had that call-waiting signal. And finally the publicist called and said, ‘The car is waiting for you!’ I said, ‘For what?’ She said, ‘You have to do interviews!’ I didn't know you had to do interviews that morning! So I went out and one after another did twenty-nine interviews that day and when I was being driven back to my house I remember the sun was shining through the car and a feeling caught me. I thought wow Bob – the members of the Academy didn't just check off your name on a box, they had to write your name down! That feeling was hard to describe – warm a feeling as you have ever gotten. My friend Frank who was with me when I ran into Quentin that first time called me up the night before the Academy Awards and said, ‘Now look – you got nominated and all. But when they open up the envelope and somebody says the winner is Rob...in Williams, don't jump out of your seat too quick!’
The early 'Reflections in A Golden Eye' had some legendary actors – Brando, Taylor and director John Huston - being that it was so early on in your career were you at all intimidated when you got that film?
RF: Not in the least. I figured if anybody had to worry it would be them because they didn’t know if I was gonna deliver or not! I had never done a movie and I had only done one job on Broadway. I wasn’t really an actor – I had only done it once! And I told John Huston when I met him, but I told him if you hire me I’ll give you your money’s worth and he did. I was completely certain that they knew what they were doing and if anybody had to be worried or intimidated it was them because they didn't know if I was gonna show up or deliver or anything else. And neither did I – it was all guess work for me for a very long time. I did a play in college, chased a girl into the auditorium, they were doing 'Bye Bye Birdie' and she was in the show. I decided that’s how I’m gonna meet the girl – I’m gonna audition for the show. Later I married the girl and we had three daughters! So I got into it sort of accidentally and by the time I graduated from the University of Rochester I thought I don't want to be a lawyer – I want to be an actor! And I was off to New York and I got lucky.
"Mulholland Drive" – with David Lynch a real mystery as a director, how would you describe his filmmaking process?
RF: Okay – this is a good story. I only had two or three half-days of work on that picture. I don't know how the billing got so good, but I got great billing for that picture. I showed up for my first night of work and it’s the scene where we’re above Mulholland overlooking Los Angeles. There’s been an accident and I’m the detective and I arrive and I walk out to the edge and look over LA. Then I walk back and have some conversations with another cop. We do the scene once and David comes up to me and he says, ‘Do it slower.’ And so the next time the camera rolls I do it slower. Again, he comes up to me at the end of the shot and says, ‘Do it slower.’ So I do it more slowly. Then the next take he comes up to me and he says, ‘Slow it down some.’ Now look, I am at this point asking myself what is this guy looking for because I know what sounds believable coming out of my mouth, what good timing ought to be, I know how long it takes to process a thought and respond to another person and all of this is becoming stretched out. But this is David Lynch and I say to myself Bob, do it slower. By the time we finish this thing it’s like a seventy-eight record going in slow motion. Months and months later when the picture’s being released – it was gonna be a television show, but it didn't make the schedule so they shot more scenes and made it into a movie – I heard a producer talking about the movie and I asked him about it. He told me a story about the movie I had never heard before. That David Lynch NEVER tells people what his movies are about, but he’d heard enough about the movie so that he could understand. He said a girl goes to Los Angeles to become a movie star and she’s disappointed and she becomes a waitress. She falls in love with another girl, it turns into another disaster and she decides to kill herself. She shoots herself in the head and in the brief second between the time she shoots herself and her head hits the pillow, her life unfolds to her the way it was supposed to have been. And in a DREAM I realized only at that point do I appear as the detective and in a dream I say those lines so slowly - I didn't realize it was a dream when I shot it!
So what’s next for you?
RF: "The Descendants" (directed by Alexander Payne) and (TV series) "Alcatraz" and a little picture made by a very talented filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez called "Hotel Noir" and it is really a throwback movie to the fifties when the noir genre was still around and they were still shooting them. And there are probably a few other little things that I’ve done that will show up, but those are the big ones!
Should you make your poppa Blu-ray bag bigger – the con is on below!
Title: "Jackie Brown"
Cast: Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Runtime: 154 minutes
Release Company: Lionsgate
The Flick: "Jackie Brown," essentially a heist picture told through different perspectives, actually gets better through multiple viewings. The first time I saw the film on its Christmas Day opening, I was disappointed by the exclusion of what I consider to be the three staples of a Tarantino film – good dialogue, good music and unpredictability. The first two actually come more alive in the glorious Blu-ray format, with more then just the initial ‘Across 110th Street’ now evident and the sassy dialogue much more clever the second time around. The predictability part is still around though (we know Chris Tucker and Bridget Fonda are gonna get it!), but is thankfully eclipsed by memorable elements like the unique chemistry between Pam Grier and Robert Forster. In fact, the unlikely match of the sass of Grier mixed with the serene of Forster is a real wonderment – plus the low-key Forster steals almost every scene he’s in. Far from flawless, but with notable nooks, "Jackie Brown" is a gal who gets better with age.
Best Feature: 'Jackie Brown: How It Went Down Retrospective' is a fascinating doc with everyone involved talking and giving the goods.
Best Hidden Gem: ‘A Look Back at Jackie Brown’ Interview with Quentin is one of the longest and most comprehensive chats with the director I have ever seen. More, more, more - any outtakes?
Worth the Moola: This one has enough extras and goodies to warrant an upgrade, but the flick really bags its beauty on Blu-ray.