DVD Talk Interview - Robert Forster
by Phillip Duncan
A fascinating person with a commanding presence, DVDTalk writer Phillip Duncan had the chance to talk with Forster about “Diamond Men”, his career and the his various side projects.
How did you become involved with Diamond Men?
During the year after Jackie Brown, I got a lot of offers for a lot of stuff and some of it actually paid and some of it didn’t. We tried to slot in everything we could, because you know what? I figured I don’t know how long this warm streak will last so I might as well slug it out as frequently as possible. During that year, or about the year after, I ran into Jim Carrey, who asked me to do a part in Me, Myself and Irene. While I was doing the picture, I had heard from these guys at Diamond Men a couple of times. They couldn’t quite find a break in my schedule to put it in and they said how about now.
So, after I worked a stretch on Me, Myself and Irene I went to Pennsylvania and shot a week of Diamond Men. Then I went back and finished Me, Myself and Irene and then came back to Los Angeles and shot two more weeks on Diamond Men. So we slotted it in between actual paying jobs and wouldn’t you know it, this little picture has made a lot more noise for me than a lot of other things, including Me, Myself and Irene. Listen to the response...
How did Diamond Men differ from some of the other productions you’ve worked on?
It was tiny and concentrated. This picture was originally scheduled for 20 days, which is not much of a schedule. I was so worried that we would not finish the picture that when we shot that week in Pennsylvania we went like barbarians. We shot a lot of stuff, so that when we got back to LA, we had shot so much stuff in Pennsylvania that we came in two days early in LA. The opportunity for getting in there and slugging out the work is greater when you have a small company and a small group and small group of actors. Basically it was Donnie (Wahlberg) and me and Bess and Jasmine and a couple of others. There are very few characters in the picture and we were, everybody was really tight, we showed up every morning ready to go and were working out scenes all day long, jumping in and shooting them and moving on to the next. It’s not something you can do when you have a bigger company and egos and everything. Everything is bigger on a bigger picture. Everything slows things down. What! We don’t have the gold doorknobs! Quick, call New York and get them flown out here and so forth. With a little picture like Diamond Men, if you don’t have the gold doorknobs you don’t worry about them, you keep on shooting. Listen to the response...
I noticed you seemed to have a good chemistry with Donnie Wahlberg.
Donnie is great. I can’t tell you anybody I’ve ever worked with that I enjoyed more or that I thought picked up his end of the log as well as Donnie Wahlberg. He hasn’t gotten a lot of praise for this movie. Everybody likes him and all that, but I’ve been getting a lot more of the plusses than Donnie. I can promise you that it takes two guys to carry the log, not just one.
Definitely. When you have strong performance on one end, you have to have it on the other…
You have to have it on the other and Donnie doesn’t get as much credit as he is due, but he was great. I’ve never worked with anybody I’ve like better. Listen to the response...
A lot of your roles seem similar in many ways, is that a conscious choice or not?
In the old days, there were two kinds of actors, maybe more. They were the kind of actors that you liked them for who they were and they were themselves in each movie. I’m thinking of Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stweart, and Gregory Peck. There was a quality of the human being that really filled the role. Then there are actors that take roles that are very, very different from themselves. That’s another way to be an actor. I always remind young actors that if they want to be a star in this business, likely they have got to bring something to the screen that the audience admires in them and that’s still true. Listen to the response...
Do you research your roles? Did you for this one?
We took a week’s rehearsal prior to doing the picture. We got together on a couple of occasions, Donnie and me and the director. He showed us a diamond cutting room. He showed us grades of diamonds and we handled them. We weighed them and used the little tweezers and so forth. So we were a little bit adept by the time we got there. Listen to the response...
Director Dan Cohen comes from a diamond background.
His family is third generation diamond salesmen. Listen to the response...
Do you think those experiences helped him this, his first feature film?
Oh sure. He knew his subject matter. That’s something they tell young writers. Write about something you know. He wrote about something he knew well and it transferred to the screen. Listen to the response...
While doing research on you I found on your website that you also do motivational speaking. How did that come about?
You know Phillip, I wasn’t working. I was getting less and less work and I figured “Bob, your life is not over. Your creative life isn’t over and you better think up something to do, a way to express yourself.”
So I put together this little speaking program. First I started talking to actors. I opened that little actor’s workshop. I told actors to look for one where they work every single time, because it’s not that hard. Kids can do it; I can do it. How hard could it be, but you have to do it, and do it and do it. That’s where you figure it out. I said to the class should be one where you work every single time and it should be cheap. If it’s not cheap, somebody’s got their hand in your pocket and will keep you in that class forever.
So I opened that class and after doing for about a year I realized that some of the things I had to say to actors had broader applications. So I put together a little menu. They’re all short items, 3, 4, 5-minutes long. They are the lessons of my life, universal lessons--Respect, Responsibility, Deliver Excellence Right Now, Never Quit—and all with decent stories and punch lines and they’re all short. I put together this little menu and I put an ad in a paper called Speakers for Free, the ad was not free, by the way. It was expensive for me at the time. I started getting calls from people who wanted me to speak. The first call I got was from a halfway house in downtown LA for white-collar criminals. The sergeant asked if I would speak to the guys and I said sure. When I got to the place and had my little menu in my hand—which probably only had 15 items at the time, now it’s got twice that many. These are all little stories.
As I approached the joint I didn’t pull into the parking lot. I suddenly got scared. I said to myself, “Oh god, why did I say yes to this? What have you got to say to these guys.” I drove around the block and I didn’t turn in again and I thought, “Oh geez Bob, are you scared? Are you going to lose your nerve? Just go in there. But what have you got to say to these guys, really? Why did you say yes to this?”
Then I had a moment of calm and I said, “just tell them the truth Bob.” I pulled in the parking lot, I handed out my menu and I started talking and the hour went like Bam! (snaps fingers) like that and the hour was gone in seconds. That’s when I realized “OK, you do have something to say, these guys were attentive and let’s keep on doing this. If in another 50 of these, you’re not any good, you’d better quit.”
By the time I had done 50 of them I had a much longer menu and I was better at it and I’ve done it successfully and warmly for some years now and I still speak free. If you want to publicize my website, it’s RobertForster.com. That’s how I get booked. People say, “Oh, I’d like to hear him for half an hour or whatever it is.”
So, I’ve enjoyed doing that, it has been an important adjunct to my life.
It picks me up and keeps me creative when I’m not working. So in between,
I just schedule talks and go out and do them.
Listen to the response...