Character Actors: Robert Forster

By SCOTT VOISIN
Featured in Autograph January 2009

Signed and inscribed note from Forster to the author.

In Hollywood, changing trends and flavors of the month often dictate the shelf life of many actors, but Robert Forster is a survivor. For nearly 50 years, he has been riding the show biz roller coaster, going from leading man to forgotten has-been to respected supporting player. His story is proof that those interested in acting as a route to fame and fortune are almost always doomed to fail, but serious actors committed to doing their best in any circumstance have a chance of staying in the game.

Forster got his start in acting while pursuing another interest: women. “On the first day of my senior year in college, I followed a girl into the auditorium and was trying to think of something to say to her,” he says. “They were doing an audition for Bye Bye Birdie. I had never seen the play and I hadn’t seen the movie, but I knew it was about a guy in a gold suit doing a parody of Elvis Presley. I thought if I did that, that’s how I could meet the girl. They didn’t give me the part of the guy in the gold suit; they put me in the chorus, which was a big comedown. I almost didn’t do it, but then I thought, Bob, how are you going to meet the girl? So I went back and became part of the chorus of Bye Bye Birdie.”

Forster not only met the girl, he married her, and the couple moved to Los Angeles in 1967. It was then that he got the call to audition for legendary director John Huston for the film, Reflections in a Golden Eye. “I’m introduced to Huston, who’s this tall, old guy, and he says, ‘What have you done?’” Forster recalls. “I said, ‘Look, I haven’t done much. I did one Broadway play, I wasn’t bad and I don’t make myself as an actor. I never did a movie, I don’t know how they’re made and I don’t know what the tricks are, but if you hire me, I will give you your money’s worth.’ Huston said, ‘You’ll be hearing from us.’ I figured that was the kiss-off. When somebody says that, you never hear from them. Two hours after that meeting, they made a deal with my agent. John Huston hired me on the basis of a three-minute meeting.”

Robert Forster as Miles C. Banyon in the short-lived 1970s TV series, Banyon.

Reflections starred Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, and although he shared the screen with two Hollywood heavyweights, Forster made a strong impression on critics and casting agents. He soon graduated to leading man status in Haskell Wexler’s 1969 experimental classic, Medium Cool. The spontaneous nature of the film forced the actor to flex creative muscles he never knew he had. “I was playing a news cameraman,” Forster says, “and I had no experience being a news cameraman, but one time after another, I was required to make it up. Haskell is shooting me as I’m interacting with people and interviewing them, and he made it into a different picture than what we had on paper. We shot twice as much than was in the script. I learned that as an actor, you may be required to do material that is not written for you, and you’ve got to be able to be that character in the shot. You’ve got to be able to make something out of whatever it is they give you to do.”

With his star on the rise, Forster entered the 1970s as an actor in demand, headlining two TV series (Banyon and Nakia) and big-budget studio films like Disney’s sci-fi epic, The Black Hole. But as he soon discovered, it takes more than talent to stay at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. “I got lucky at the beginning of my career, and if you don’t get a hit the second time or the third time to keep the ball rolling, you start slipping,” he explains. “Your agents can only put you up for good stuff for so long, and if you’re not in hits and breaking records, then you start sliding. Every time I thought I had a picture that was going to give me a little traction, it didn’t. It’s very hard to get going again when you’ve started slipping.”

By the 1980s and ’90s, Forster had been reduced to taking roles in low-rent, direct-to-video projects such as Satan’s Princess, Body Chemistry III and Scanners IV. “I was doing crappy stuff, really dopey stuff, anything I could find because I had four kids and two ex-wives,” he says. However, in 1996, his roller coaster career took another turn for the unexpected. “There’s a restaurant where I’ve got a little corner spot that I always sit in where I read my paper and read scripts. I’ve been sittin’ in this spot for 18 or 19 years, and one day, in walks Quentin Tarantino.” Tarantino was Hollywood’s hottest filmmaker, and everyone in the industry was waiting to see what he would do as a follow-up to his Oscar-winning crime drama, Pulp Fiction. “I didn’t know Quentin but I had read for him on Reservoir Dogs,” Forster continues. “So I call him over, he sits down and we bull— for awhile. Six months later, I walk into this restaurant and there he is, sitting in my spot. I approached the table, he hands me a script and he said, ‘Read this and see if you like it.’”

 Forster as Max Cherry, his comeback character in the 1997 film, Jackie Brown.

Forster as Max Cherry, his comeback character in the 1997 film, Jackie Brown.

The script was Jackie Brown, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Rum Punch. “I went home and read the script, and I couldn’t believe he was thinking of hiring me for a big picture like this,” Forster says. “We had breakfast together three days later, and I said, ‘This is great and I’d love to do it, but I’m not sure they’re going to let you hire me.’ Quentin said, ‘I hire anybody I want.’ Only at that moment did I start to believe that maybe this thing could actually happen. There were a few more bumps and worries because everybody in town wanted this part. Big actors wanted to do the part of Max Cherry, but Quentin hung in there for me. It was one of the greatest gifts an actor can ever get.”

As it turns out, it was a gift that kept on giving. Jackie Brown was released in 1997 to great acclaim, earning Forster an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His first reaction was shock, but as the day went on and he fielded congratulatory phone calls, another feeling washed over him. “It was a feeling of belonging, a feeling of acceptance. After 20-something years in this business and being long forgotten—after being on the top and going all the way to really, really low-end stuff—it was so generous for the members of the Academy to write my name down. They actually had to write my name, not just check-off a box. It was the most warm, generous feeling I ever had.”

Although he didn’t win the Oscar, Forster happily takes the loss in stride. “The difference between being nominated and winning is like a 10-pound box of chocolates and a 12-pound box of chocolates: they’re both pretty sweet.” Even sweeter was the renewed respect shown to him by Hollywood. Since Jackie Brown, Forster has worked at a feverish pace in projects both big and small, a combination he enjoys. “As an actor, getting a day’s work is one of the great opportunities,” he says. “Somebody calls your name, you step up to the plate and when somebody says, ‘Action!’ you get a chance to hit it out of the park. A low-budget movie requires an awful lot more participation of the actor. He’s required to do more things, to work with less and to get more done. For those reasons, little pictures add something to your day as an actor. However, big pictures can be fun, and you can make a better day’s pay.”

Now in his fifth decade in show biz, Forster has experienced the euphoric highs and depressing lows of life as an actor. Still, he remains enthusiastic about the possibilities that lie ahead. “I try to keep working, I’m ready to work and we’ll see what comes out of left field. An actor never, ever knows what’s coming next.”

Jeremy Bulloch: Interview With a Bounty Hunter

By MARK J. GROSS
Featured in Autograph January 2009

With blaster in hand, jetpack on his back and way too many tricks up his sleeve, the famous bounty hunter, Boba Fett, of the Star Wars universe, has taken the case.

I have gotten to meet and interview the actor behind the mask of Boba Fett, Jeremy Bulloch, numerous times over the years. He has always been very friendly, sharing lots of stories, and he’s animated about them. A regular at many conventions to meet and sign for fans, Bulloch also loves to speak onstage, and he’ll get young people involved with him.

A few years ago I videotaped Bulloch seeking volunteers from the audience to help him with a Boba Fett project. He had his Boba Fett helmet and laser rifle on the stage, and called for about 15 young fans to help act out a scene. The scene was from The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader puts Han Solo in carbonite, and Boba Fett is worried Han Solo will die.

Interview with Jeremy Bulloch at the October Chiller Theatre Convention in Parsippany, N.J.

Boba Fett is the favored bounty hunter among Star Wars fans with a huge following. I have seen so many Boba Fett items that fans have gotten signed by Bulloch, not to mention costumes, tattoos and more. An empire of media and memorabilia revolves around the Boba Fett character, who made his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, and returned to an unfortunate demise in Return of the Jedi.

Bulloch appeared in 2005’s Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but not as Boba Fett—he played Captain Colton. Recently, I interviewed Bulloch at the October 24-26, 2008 Chiller Theatre Convention in Parsippany, N.J.

Bulloch signing a Boba Fett photo.

Mark Gross: How did you begin acting?
Jeremy Bulloch: I began in drama school at age 12, actually because I failed an exam to get into sports. I really don’t remember why I went toward drama school, but I had a very good career as a young actor, from children’s films to a soap opera I did for years, musicals, and then suddenly, this Boba Fett role came along. It wasn’t a very big part—he only says four lines in the whole film. But there’s an old saying, “There’s no such thing as a small part.” So however you do it, if you have one word, and you play it well—there you have it.

Did you know what role you were trying for when you auditioned?

I knew it was the part of a bounty hunter, but I could have got the part of any bounty hunter, Zuckuss, Dengar, any of them. The actual interview was gentle and it was interesting trying on the suit—he told me to walk in it.

When you say “he,” do you mean George Lucas?

Yes, and George could have hired a stuntman to play this role, but he really wanted an actor to play him because there were a lot of bits where I had to hit marks without being able to see, so you count them off in your head. Then you know to lean to the left, or pull your shoulders back. And, before I even started the film, someone had shown me the Boba Fett character figure with that costume. It looked great—there was something about the outfit, and it looked like a good character.

A Boba Fett comic book signed by Bulloch.

What projects do you have coming up?
Well, when I get home back to England, they are going to be showing six episodes of a series I did called Starhyke, which is a crazy show where I played a doctor who is completely insane—you would never send anyone to him to be cured. I am curious to see what channel is going to pick it up. We actually finished it almost three years ago, and they’ve been trying to really push it there. It was low budget, but really fun to do. You have to be positive, so if it doesn’t make it to a major channel and goes straight to DVD, then so be it! Also, I just finished a series for the BBC called Bonekickers, and it should hit the United States in maybe about eight months.

You were also in two serials for the BBC sci-fi show, Doctor Who, in the 1960s and ’70s.

Yes. Actually, I just did an audio book for Doctor Who. I had to do all the voices. It was quite difficult to do all those voices because it was non-stop speaking. I’ll suddenly have to change over to the woman’s voice, and they’ll say, “Cut, your voice sounded too much like a man that time.” So it is quite intense.

A 1981 Starlog magazine signed by Bulloch in 1997.

What do you think of your fan base and signing autographs for them?
Fans are absolutely terrific. And when young kids come up, they don’t know what to say, so I have to put them at ease very quickly.

Tell me about your book Flying Solo? [A lighthearted autobiography, interspersed with stories of attending conventions.]
I put a lot into Flying Solo, which is signed and limited to just 2,000 copies—it’s really a collector’s item. I have also been giving thought about doing another book, which I might think about for next year.

Do you collect anything yourself?
I actually collect Boba Fett stuff.

Who would you want an autograph from?
Well, Gene Hackman, Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Halle Berry—people like that.

You have your work cut out for you doing voices, as well as acting and writing.
And I can fire a bow and arrow, too.

Just remember, if you ever have a price on your head, beware of that clever bounty hunter Boba Fett. He will catch you eventually, but not kill you, because as he said to Darth Vader “He’s no good to me dead!” May the force be with you!

Character Actors: Ronny Cox

By SCOTT VOISIN

—Autograph May 2009

Ronny Cox as Luke in the Car

Ronny Cox might just be the most recognized actor in Hollywood… kind of. “Throughout my career, I’ve almost never been recognized as an actor,” he says. “People just think they know me. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you from Des Moines, Iowa?’ I’ll say, ‘No, I’m an actor,’ and they’ll say, ‘I’ve never seen you in the movies but there’s a guy that looks exactly like you in Des Moines.’ I’ve literally had that conversation a thousand times. It turns out there’s a guy that looks exactly like me in practically every town!”

Cox made his acting debut alongside Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight in the 1972 box-office hit Deliverance. Years of steady work followed, and in 1984, he appeared in his first blockbuster, Beverly Hills Cop, playing a by-the-book California police lieutenant who squares off against Eddie Murphy’s free-wheeling Detroit detective. “What was interesting about Beverly Hills Cop is that the big set-piece for my character at the end of the film was my first day of shooting,” Cox remembers. “As an actor, I had to be fully aware of the relationship Eddie and I had gone through; how we started as adversaries and went through this and this, even though we hadn’t filmed any of it yet. To get ready to do the last scene on my very first day took a tremendous amount of homework.”

After Cop’s huge success, Cox was approached to do the sequel. “I don’t like sequels much to begin with, and I had reservations about it,” he admits. “I ended up doing Cop II because my character was sort of the reason for the story, but I had some problems with it. Cop I was good for me; Cop II was not so good. The stuff they offered me in Cop III was dreadful, so I turned that down.”

Cox signed magazine cover

For 15 years after Deliverance, Cox made a living playing loving husbands and dedicated cops. In 1987, audiences finally got to see his dark side in RoboCop. “In many ways, RoboCop was as big a breakthrough for my career as Deliverance was because, for the first time, I got to play a bad guy,” he says. “I always think the bad guys are far and away the most interesting. Playing a good guy is pretty boring, and every decision he makes is absolutely predictable. I liken it to painting… If you’re the good guy, you get three colors: red, white and blue. But if you’re the bad guy, you get the whole palette. RoboCop was a huge boon to my career because after that, I was offered all kinds of roles.”

He took advantage of the opportunities, appearing in more than 100 movies and TV shows, but for the last several years, Cox has spent less time in front of the cameras and more time in the recording studio, singing, writing and playing a mix of folk, jazz and blues songs. With six CDs under his belt, he enjoys creating music and performing for an audience.

“I love acting, but I don’t love it as much as I love the music,” he explains. “With acting, there’s that imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience. With music, there’s the possibility of a profound, one-on-one sharing that takes place, especially with the kind of music I do. I tell stories… You get the set-up, you get the story and then you get the payoff in the song. Wherever I play, I like to have the house lights up because I want to be able to see the audience and connect with them.”

Cox as Chief Andrew Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop ll

At this point in his life, Cox is still willing to play the Hollywood game, but only on his terms. “Acting is not the be-all and end-all for me that it is for a lot of other people,” he says. “I’ll go play music at the drop of a hat, but to get me in a movie or television show, it has to be something I really want to do. If I have music dates during the shooting schedule, I tell them to make room for those dates or else I won’t do the movie. That’s a hard concept for them to understand in Hollywood, but that’s how I feel about it.”

 
 
 
 

Autograph dropped a line to Ronny Cox and he responded, “I’m always grateful to the fans and appreciate their enthusiasm. It’s always amazing to me that even though I play villains and bad guys, the fans seem to separate those characters from my music. I have found the Stargate SG 1 fans to be some of the most ardent of my music fans. Go figure!”

Anthony Hopkins

Served up Rare

by LAWRENCE GROBEL

Featured in Autograph January 2008

Photo by Lori Stoll

One of my favorite actors is Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony Hopkins. He has displayed extraordinary versatility in the range of roles he’s taken, from the decent, eccentric New Zealander whose dream it was to break a motorcycle speed limit on the Bonaventure flats in Nevada (The World’s Fastest Indian) to the repressed and reserved butler in The Remains of the Day to the representation of pure evil in his three Hannibal Lecter films (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Red Dragon). Hopkins has given us performances that have chilled and thrilled and captivated us for all the years he has been acting. He’s played such controversial real-life characters as William Bligh in The Bounty, Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, John Quincy Adams in Amistad, Yitzhak Rabin in Victory at Entebbe, Pablo Picasso in Surviving Picasso, Adolph Hitler in The Bunker and Richard Bruno Hauptman in The Lindbergh Kidnapping. More recently he appeared in The Human Stain, based on Philip Roth’s novel; Oliver Stone’s Alexander; Proof, based on the play by David Auburn; the remake of All the King’s Men; Emilio Estevez’s Bobby; and Fracture, costarring Ryan Gosling.

He’s been nominated for six Golden Globes, four Emmys, and four Academy Awards. He won two of the Emmys (for Hitler and Hauptman) and one Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Unlike some of his contentious peers like Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, who refused their Oscars on principles Hopkins never understood, Hopkins considered winning his Oscar as a greater achievement than being knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1993.

“Getting the Oscar was a great moment for me,” he has said. “It changed my life because it knocked a lot of myself down inside of me. Not crippling self-doubts, but doubts that I wanted to be rid of. I think praise is a very good thing to have in one’s life. It’s better than a kick in the ass.”

Hopkins was knighted in 1993 by Queen Elizabeth, shortly before this photo was taken at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. I didn't know if I should address him as "Sir Anthony" or simply "Tony." He said the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs meant more to him than being knighted.

I got to know Hopkins just after he was knighted and presented with his Oscar for playing Lecter. His on-screen time in Silence of the Lambs was twenty-seven minutes, yet his presence was so pervasive that his award was for Best Actor, rather than Supporting Actor. I met him at hotels in Beverly Hills and in Santa Monica and we spent long hours discussing his personal and professional life. He was fascinating to talk to, full of energy and opinions. I must admit, having seen him as Hitler and as Hannibal the Cannibal, I approached him with some trepidation. I really didn’t know what to expect. He was friendly, but a bit wary at the time. He really wasn’t all that fond of being interrogated. It’s one thing to talk to a reporter about a current movie or art project, but quite another when that reporter wants to dig deeper, get more personal, and try to lift the lid to get beneath the often well-honed surface.  Hopkins surprised me with his candor about his childhood, which he was willing to discuss in heartbreaking detail.

“I was an idiot at school,” he said. “I didn’t know what time of day it was. We lived in the rural part of an industrial steel-working town. And when I first went to school, I was in a completely alien environment. I can remember the smell of stale milk, drinking straws and wet coats, and sitting there absolutely petrified. And that fear stayed with me all through my childhood. That gnawing anxiety that I was freaky, that I wasn’t really fitting in anywhere. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I couldn’t achieve anything, and I couldn’t accomplish anything. I wasn’t popular at all. I never played with any of the other kids, didn’t have any friends. I wanted to be left alone right through my school years.”

Just as surprising was what he had to say about actors and acting. “What’s so special about being an actor?” he said. “Actors are nothing. Actors are of no consequence. Most actors are pretty simple-minded people who just think they’re complicated.”

Is it irony or coincidence that Hitler and Hopkins share the same "AH" initials? Obviously Hopkins has thought about it, signing this copy of The Bunker the way he did.

But that was in the early nineties, before Hopkins had married for the third time and mellowed a bit. In 2004 I interviewed him again when he was promoting Proof. I asked if he was no longer restless. “No,” he answered.  “I’m happily married now, and I’ve changed a lot. I don’t want to sit in a trailer and work long hours anymore. I play the piano. Read. I’m painting with acrylics now. I have a small show of my work in San Antonio. Go to restaurants and let my wife do the ordering. I very much stay at home. Which is good.”

Hopkins signed as Stevens, the English butler in The Remains of the Day. So refreshing to see an Oscar-caliber actor willing to sign in such a memorable way. A collector's dream.

I wondered if he had read any books about mathematicians, to prepare for the role of a brilliant mathematician in Proof. “No,” Hopkins said, “but I’m a pianist, so I do have an attraction to math, even if I don’t understand it. I’m slightly obsessed with numbers and dates. I can work out, mathematically, certain dates. Today’s the 28th of June, a Tuesday. There’s also a 28th of June on a Tuesday in 1955, exactly fifty years ago. I can work out what dates fall on what days through the ages. I worked this out in Chicago. My wife was asking me, “Are you counting on your fingers?” I can remember dates of years throughout my whole life, and what day they fell out on, what I was doing. So I suppose I have locked in my brain somewhere a mathematical talent. I don’t use it because I don’t need it.”

What’s the most important date in your life that you can remember?” I wondered. Hopkins knew exactly. “September 30, 1955. It was the beginning of a whole change of life. I won a scholarship to a local acting school in South Wales [the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff]. When I was in school I guess I was sort of ADD, I didn’t have any knowledge of anything. But I auditioned for this local college and won a scholarship and it was in the newspaper. It was a turning point in my life. And then on a Monday, October 3rd, I went to my first acting course. I was seventeen and got a taste of what this required. The years passed by and I went into the National Service, then came out, and went into this profession and here we are.”

This is my favorite of all actors' inscriptions. Hopkins writes as the devilish Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, inviting me for dinner in London. I still hear the way he inhaled so chillingly when he spoke similar words to FBI agent Clarice (Jodie Foster) in the film.

When Hopkins was a boy, he once wrote to Humphrey Bogart, asking for an autograph. Bogart sent him a photograph. He once asked and received an autograph from his fellow Welshman, actor Richard Burton. The third actor he wrote to for an autograph was Charlie Chaplin, who sent one to him. “They were prized from the time I had them until I lost them,” Hopkins recalled. And he’s never forgotten what it feels like to want someone’s autograph.  “When people stand in line at a premiere,” he says, “I try to sign as many as I can.”

Hopkins has a confident, beautiful signature. When I asked him to sign a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which Hopkins made memorable as the butler Stevens, Hopkins wrote: “Dear Larry, I think we should take breakfast in the drawing room. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins).”  In James P. O’Donnell’s The Bunker, he inscribed it in character, using the same initials as Adolph Hitler:  “All orders must be obeyed without question at all.  A H”   And when I handed him my copy of Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, he wrote: “Next time we meet Larry will be in England for a few dinners of raw liver fava beans and chianti. So until then—pleasant dreams. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).”

Just from these inscriptions one can see that Hopkins is a playful, confident, complex person. And yet, when it comes to acting, the pragmatist in him always made it sound simple: learn your lines, show up, get on with it. But was it really that easy?

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “The hardest part is putting off the procrastination. I take the script and sit down with a bunch of pencils and markers and go through it very thoroughly until I feel relaxed inside, that I know what I’m doing. I turn up prepared. That’s what I do. I learn the script. Then I go through the preparation, the wardrobe, and I know where I am and what I’m going to do. But once they start rewriting on set, I say no. ‘No, no. I’ve done my preparation, don’t start rewriting it now. I’ll have to take another three weeks off.’ I always make sure that the rewrites come in time so I can learn them. I worked on a film once with Chris Rock [Bad Company]. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, would rewrite stuff. I said to him one day, “Why do you do this? To torture us? I just want to let you know when you send me these new pages I throw them in the trash.” People were shocked: “You talk to Jerry Bruckheimer that way?”  Yeah, screw it. If he sends me pages on the day we’re shooting, they go in the trash can.”

Hopkins has never forgotten what it feels like to want someone's autograph. "When people stand in line at a premiere," he says, "I try to sign as many as I can." Signed still from The Silence of the Lambs.

When I saw him more recently, he was filming Slipstream, a small movie blending fiction and nonfiction, reality and illusion, which he wrote, was directing, starring in and had composed the music for. He seemed happy and self-satisfied. He loved being so totally immersed in all facets of moviemaking. And he was preparing for a showing of his art work in a gallery in Texas.  He showed me his drawings, which were small and well done, mostly of landscapes and flowers. He said he used photographic paper, which gave them their shine. He drew with a kind of Sharpie pen, with various colors. He said his last exhibit had sold out.

He spoke about how he felt invigorated doing his art, composing music, making a personal film. “Everyone has genius within him,” he said. “It just has to be explored.”  And then he confessed to changing his attitude about his profession.  “I used to always put down actors and acting, but I realize now that when I said that, I was protecting myself, saying it before someone else could say it and hurt me.”

I wasn't expecting his hand to grab my neck, but that's Lecter for you: he looks right into the camera without a hint of the malevolence inside his head.

Hopkins turns seventy in December, 2007. It’s taken him a long time, but he’s finally beginning to mellow.