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Actor Robert Forster

His career got a jumpstart with his role as a bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. He's starred in Mulholland Dr., Me, Myself & Irene and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. He plays Marshall Sisco in the new ABC series Karen Sisco.




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Other segments from the episode on November 5, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 5, 2003: Interview with wanda Jackson; Interview with Robert Forster.


DATE November 5, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Wanda Jackson discusses her career as a rockabilly
and country singer and her new album, "Heart Trouble"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Wanda Jackson has been called the queen of rockabilly, but let's face it,
there weren't a lot of women rockers who could have been in line for the
crown. Jackson toured with Elvis Presley in the '50s, and it was The King
himself who encouraged her to try to cross over from country to rock 'n' roll.
Her biggest rock 'n' roll hit was a song that Elvis recorded first, "Let's
Have A Party." It was her only record to make it to the Top 40. But she also
had records on the country music charts, such as "In The Middle Of A
Heartache" and "Right Or Wrong." Now at the age of 65, Jackson has a new CD
called "Heart Trouble" that features her singing with younger performers,
including Elvis Costello, Dave Alvin and Rosie Flores. She does some of the
songs she's always performed, as well as more contemporary material. Before
we hear music from "Heart Trouble," let's go back to her 1958 recording "Let's
Have A Party."

(Soundbite of "Let's Have A Party")

Ms. WANDA JACKSON: (Singing) Some people like to rock. Some people like to
roll. But movin' and a-groovin' don't satisfy my soul. Let's have a party.
Hoo! Let's have a party. Well, send it to the store, let's buy some more,
let's have a party tonight. I never kissed a bear. I never kissed a goon.
But I can shake a chicken in the middle of the room. Let's have a party.
Hoo! Let's have a party.

GROSS: That's Wanda Jackson's 1958 recording of "Let's Have A Party."

Wanda Jackson, welcome to FRESH AIR. You've been called the queen of
rockabilly. How did you start performing rockabilly music? I mean, you
started off doing country music. How did you make the transition to

Ms. JACKSON: Well, you're right, I started in country music. And then in
1995, after I'd graduated from high school, the first touring that I did was
with a young fellow early in his career, too, and that was Elvis Presley. And
I worked with Elvis off and on for a couple of years, and I could see that
this new style of music that he was doing that--you know, I loved it. And I
was with him right as he was really breaking big, you know. And he's the one
that encouraged me to try. He said, `I think you could sing this kind of
music.' And being just country, you know, I said, `I don't think I could ever
get the feel like you do.' He says, `Sure you can.' So he encouraged me, he
took me to his home and played records, and then he'd sing for me and say,
`And if you kind of do it this way,' and so, you know, I had a good teacher.

GROSS: So one of the things Elvis was famous for in addition to his singing
style was how he looked on stage. You know, he was very sexy and he was very
sexually suggestive on stage, particularly for the period. Did you pick up on
that aspect as well? Did you change what you wore? Did you change what you
did on stage?

Ms. JACKSON: Well, I had already changed my stage attire, you know. I didn't
want to be in full skirts and cowboy boots and cowboy hat.

GROSS: Why did you want to change the look?

Ms. JACKSON: I don't look good in those things. That was the main thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: I've never been able to wear a full skirt, haven't to this day.
And the cowboy hats and those little clubby boots, you know. And I just
didn't like it. I didn't feel like that was me, because I was a big fan of
Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, and I wanted to look like them, you know.
I used to go to all the musicals with paper and pen, and when I'd see a dress
I liked, I'd sketch it down, you know, real fast. And so we copied one dress
off of Betty Grable and one off of Marilyn. And it's kind of funny when I
look back at the old pictures and say, `Oh, I remember where I found that type
of dress.'

GROSS: What...

Ms. JACKSON: My mother was a professional seamstress, and she did all of my
costumes for me.

GROSS: Now what was it like for you to watch Elvis become this just

Ms. JACKSON: Well, it was exciting. I was excited for him. And of course,
like I said, I was 17 and 18 years old, so I was a fan of his as well as a
friend. And I was thrilled to death at his success. He was very concerned
and disturbed all the time about the things being said to him about his
gyrations and things like that, and it really upset it; it hurt him. He was a
very sensitive guy, I think. Somewhere along there, about '56, he was getting
so popular, they had to stop him from autographing or meeting with his fans,
you know. And that really hurt him, because he loved his fans and wanted to
shake their hands or what have you. But, you know, they were already pulling
his coat off and tie and things when I was working with him, and it just got
worse. And they said, `Someone's going to get hurt if we don't stop you from
this autographing.' So I remember that.

GROSS: Let's hear a song that you wrote that was a country hit for you. It's
called "Right Or Wrong." And this was recorded in 1960. Did you think of
this as more of a country song than a rockabilly?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, I did. I wrote the song, and so it was definitely--it
really wasn't `country' country, but in the '60s, country music was beginning
to use the violin sections and singing groups behind us, you know. And so I
was really just in the trend of what people like Patsy Cline were doing and
Brenda Lee and things. So that song was one of the first that lent itself
to that type of an arrangement.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Wanda Jackson recorded in 1960, "Right
Or Wrong."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Right or wrong, I'll be with you.

Backup Singers: Right or wrong, I'll be with you.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) I'll do what you ask me to.

Backup Singers: I'll do what you ask me to.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) For I believe that I belong...

Backup Singers: I believe that I belong...

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) your side, right or wrong.

Backup Singers: Whoo-ooh.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Right or wrong, it's gotta be...

Backup Singers: Right or wrong, it's gotta be...

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) ...always you, always me.

Backup Singers: ...always you and always me.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Won't you take me along...

Backup Singers: Won't you take me along...

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) be with you, right or wrong?

Backup Singers: Ooh, ooh, ooh, ah-ah-ah.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) If it's right for me to love you, it can't be wrong
for me to care. If you will say you love me, my life...

Backup Singers: My life...

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) ...with you...

Backup Singers: ...with you...

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) ...I'll share. Right or wrong...

GROSS: Wanda Jackson, recorded in 1960; her song "Right Or Wrong."

Now you said before that you weren't really comfortable performing rock 'n'
roll to teen-agers or rockabilly to teen-agers 'cause you were used to
performing for adults and you just didn't relate to these teen-agers. Did
that affect your staying in country music as opposed to trying to cross over
more into that teen rock 'n' roll audience?

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah, probably so, Terry. "Right Or Wrong," you know, right
after "Let's Have A Party," "Right Or Wrong" became a hit. It was a crossover
song, too, meaning it was high on the charts in country, but it was also in
the rock 'n' roll or the, I think then they called it pop and soul music. So
it was in the charts. And that's when I tried to do these teen-age things and
just, you know, didn't really care for it at all. So, yeah, I still--I've
considered myself country really all through my career until we get to about
1985 and I was invited to Sweden to record a rockabilly album. And it was
from that point on that I realized how popular I was with the new rockabilly
fans, not only in Europe, all over Europe and Scandinavia, but also in America

GROSS: So you found this more specialized audience who cared a lot about your

Ms. JACKSON: Mm-hmm. And that's what made it so exciting, to see these young
adults into this '50s rock music. And I've just been having the greatest time
working with bands that they sound just like our bands used to. And they're
really into the lifestyle and they drive the classic cars and they dress in
vintage clothes.

GROSS: Now I want to play something from your new CD, which is called "Wanda
Jackson: Heart Trouble" and features several guest stars, including Elvis
Costello, Dave Alvin, The Cramps. Let's hear a song called "Funnel of Love,"
which also features The Cramps. Do you want to talk about this song and why
it's on the CD?

Ms. JACKSON: Well, it was on the back of "Right Or Wrong."


Ms. JACKSON: And so I didn't think it got much airplay, you know. But a
couple of years ago, these new rockabilly fans started requesting "Funnel of
Love," and I couldn't imagine. So I had to go back and relearn it, and that's
why I put it on this album. I thought I'd like for them to have a newer kind
of fresher version. I'd sing in it the same, but the music is a little more
up to date. I wanted to do it.

GROSS: Well, I'm glad you relearned it. I like the record.

Ms. JACKSON: Thank you.

GROSS: This is "Funnel of Love" from Wanda Jackson's new CD "Heart Trouble."

(Soundbite of "Funnel of Love")

Backup Singer: Whoa-oh!

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Well, here I go, fallin' down, down, down. My mind is
a blank. My head is spinnin' around and around as I go deep into the funnel
of love.

Backup Singer: Whoa-oh!

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) It's such a crazy, crazy feelin'. I get weak in the
knees. My poor old head is a-reelin' as I go deep into the funnel of love.

Backup Singer: Whoa-oh!

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) I tried and I tried to run and hide, even tried to run
away. But you just can't run from the funnel of love. It's bound to get you

GROSS: That's Wanda Jackson with The Cramps from her new CD "Heart Trouble."
We'll talk more with Jackson after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Wanda Jackson, who has been called the queen of
rockabilly. Now at the age of 65, she has a new CD called "Heart Trouble."

There are several guest artists on the new CD: Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello,
The Cramps. Did you know their work before meeting them for the CD? They
probably--I figure they knew yours, but did you know theirs?

Ms. JACKSON: No, not so much, really. I'd heard of Elvis Costello, and I'm
sure I'd heard, you know, some of his recordings. But when I met him there in
the studio, I brought him my number-one box set. The Bear Family Records out
of Germany has put out two box sets on me, and everything that I recorded from
'54 till about '73, it's all in there. So I was going to--I took Elvis the
number-one box set, and when I said, `I'd like for you to have this,' he took
one look and he said, `Oh, I already have that one.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Ms. JACKSON: `And I have the number-two box set, too.' So I think when an
artist goes out and pays their money to buy especially the box sets, you know,
I figured he must really be a fan. I had been told that he was. And we just
had no problem singing together. I'd given him a choice of two or three
different duets that I thought might be good, and he chose the one that I
really liked the best, "Crying Time." And even though our voices blended
nicely, I thought, and we sang in the right keys where I could harmonize and
then he could harmonize, and it was just a real nice experience.

GROSS: I want to ask you about something else in your life that I'm sure was
a very pivotal experience, a turning point. In 1971, you were born again.

Ms. JACKSON: Uh-huh.

GROSS: If it's not too personal, what happened to you then that was behind
such a, you know, life-changing experience?

Ms. JACKSON: Life-changing, right. Well, I had come to the point in my life
where I was realizing that I had everything I'd ever dreamed of wanting. I
had a wonderful career, a wonderful husband, two beautiful, healthy children,
homes and cars and, you know, everything that I wanted, and yet I just wasn't
happy. And my husband and I, we knew that our marriage was kind of getting in
trouble; our children were being reared by grandmas and governesses. And we
knew that some changes needed to be made, but I was fearful of making changes,
and I think he probably was, too, because our whole lives were wrapped around
my career and our traveling.

And I was in this frame of mind and all, and my husband, too, and we went to
church. It was a church that I'd been a member of since I was a little girl,
but church had never been important to me personally, you know, at that point.
So the congregation began to sing "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior" at the end of
the preacher's message. I just realized that God was saying to my heart,
`Wanda, walk with me.' And I could just understand it all of a sudden in my
spirit that that's what's was missing in my life; that's what was wrong. And
I turned to my husband and I said, `Honey, there's something that I've got to
do,' and he knew what I meant, and he said, `Me, too.' So in our churches, we
go forward publicly and pray and receive Christ. And so that's what we did;
we took each other's hands and went down the aisle, and we gave our hearts and
lives fully and once and for all to Jesus Christ.

GROSS: So you've been singing a lot of spirituals since you were born again?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes. I've written some and sang a lot of them.

GROSS: You're speaking to us now from Oklahoma City, which is where you were
born, but your parents moved when you were a girl to Bakersfield, California.
Do you still have family in Oklahoma City? Is that where you live now?

Ms. JACKSON: Yes. I've made it my home, all except for about years that my
folks lived in California, I was a little girl.

GROSS: I see.

Ms. JACKSON: And so I met my husband here and...


Ms. JACKSON: ...his folks were here. And with our traveling after we had
children, it didn't make sense for us to move to Nashville or Hollywood or
something, because with us gone so much, we wanted both sets of parents to be
able to drop in and make sure our kids were being taken care of properly. So
that was the main reason that we didn't move.

GROSS: Now what did your father do for a living when you were growing up?

Ms. JACKSON: He was a barber for a while, and he drove a cab. And he was
driving a cab when he quit that to travel with me. And I...

GROSS: 'Cause you were underage when you started performing; you weren't 18
yet, right?

Ms. JACKSON: Right, mm-hmm.

GROSS: What was it like being tutored by Elvis on how to play this kind of
like sexy, rebellious music when you're traveling with your father?

Ms. JACKSON: (Laughs) Well, I don't know if I've thought of it like that.
But my dad really liked Elvis. He was a big cut-up, and Elvis was, too. And
so they kept something going all the time, laughing and various things. And
so it worked fine. Now my dad went along to help me with driving and things
like that, but he also--it was very important that my reputation stay intact.
And I'm sure that was probably the main reason that he traveled with me. So I
wasn't able to ever go from city to city in the car with Elvis. You know, Dad
had to drive me; I had to be in my car. And, you know, he didn't allow me to
sit on someone's lap, and I couldn't lay my head on someone's shoulder if I
was sleepy and they were riding with us, you know. And he was pretty strict
in those things. But it did keep my reputation intact.

GROSS: And there you were singing about, like, "Broken Hearts" and "Let's
Have A Party" and "Riot in Cellblock Number 9"...

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah. That is strange.

GROSS: ...with your dad making sure that your head isn't on anybody's
shoulder. I love that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JACKSON: Yeah, I hadn't thought of that. That's quite a contrast, isn't

GROSS: Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. JACKSON: Well, thank you, and I've enjoyed all of your questions.

GROSS: And, you know, congratulations on your new CD.

Ms. JACKSON: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Wanda Jackson's new CD is called "Heart Trouble." Here she is with
Elvis Costello. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Crying Time")

Ms. JACKSON and Mr. ELVIS COSTELLO: (Singing in unison) Oh, it's cryin' time
again. You're gonna leave me. I can see that faraway look in your eyes. I
can tell by the way you hold me, darlin', that it won't be long before it's
cryin' time.

Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) Now they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder,
and that tears are only rain to make love grow.

Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing) Well, my love for you just couldn't grow no stronger
if I lived to be a hundred years old.

Ms. JACKSON and Mr. COSTELLO: (Singing in unison) Oh, it's cryin' time again.
You're gonna leave me. I can see that faraway look in your eyes.


GROSS: Coming up, we meet actor Robert Forster. He starred in the 1969 film
"Medium Cool." His career was revived when he played the bail bondsman in
Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film "Jackie Brown." In the new ABC crime series
"Karen Sisco," Foster plays Sisco's father, a detective.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Robert Forster discusses his new TV series "Karen
Sisco" and his acting career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Robert Forster, starred in the now classic 1969 film "Medium Cool"
as a TV news cameraman who remains detached from the cultural upheaval he is
reporting. In 1972, Forster starred in the TV series "Banyon," but his career
never took off. He worked, but many of his roles were in movies like "Kinky
Coaches and the Pom-Pom Pussycats" and "Maniac Cop III: Badge of Honor." But
even if casting directors didn't notice his talents, Quentin Tarantino did.
He cast Forster in the role of the bail bondsman in the 1997 film "Jackie
Brown," and that turned things around for Forster. He's since been in "Me,
Myself & Irene," "Like Mike," "Lakeboat," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"
and "Mulholland Dr.," and now Forster is starring in the ABC series "Karen
Sisco," adapted from the film "Out of Sight," based on characters created by
Elmore Leonard.

Carla Gugino plays an attractive US marshal whose dangerous work is always
coming into conflict with her personal life. Forster plays her father, a
semi-retired private eye. In this scene, they're on the phone together.

(Soundbite from "Karen Sisco")

Ms. CARLA GUGINO (Karen Sisco): Hi, Daddy.

Mr. ROBERT FORSTER (Marshall Sisco): Listen to this. Guy goes in to rob a
bank, tells his partner to circle the block. He comes running out, gets hit
by a car. Who do you think's driving?

Ms. GUGINO: The partner.

Mr. FORSTER: Oh-hoh. They say irony's dead.

Ms. GUGINO: You working today?

Mr. FORSTER: Yeah, guy in a wheelchair, insurance scam.

Ms. GUGINO: How'd he get in the chair?

Mr. FORSTER: Fell off his desk.

Ms. GUGINO: Well, they'll do that on you.

Mr. FORSTER: Every damn time.

So, this new guy you're seeing, tell him what you do yet?

Ms. GUGINO: He still wants to guess.

Mr. FORSTER: Sounds like an insurance agent.

Ms. GUGINO: Charter fisherman. He owns a boat.

Mr. FORSTER: What's his name?

Ms. GUGINO: Carl Wilkins.

Mr. FORSTER: I always wanted a boat.

Ms. GUGINO: Dad, you get seasick.

Mr. FORSTER: What's that got to do with the price of eggs? Live by the
ocean, ought to have a boat.

Ms. GUGINO: I got to run.

Mr. FORSTER: Why, you got something to do?

Ms. GUGINO: Yeah, I'm back at work.

Mr. FORSTER: How you feeling?

Ms. GUGINO: Not you, too.

Mr. FORSTER: I'll see you tomorrow night at poker.

Ms. GUGINO: Bye, Daddy.

Mr. FORSTER: Bye, honey.

GROSS: Forster has played a lot of cops and private eyes over the years. I
asked him if there's anything in those roles that connect with his real

Mr. FORSTER: Probably. You know, these guys are straight shooters, no
nonsense; if not cynical, at least skeptical. And, you know, you can't put a
lot by them. They've seen a lot. And so I take the mantle of that and
pretend it's me.

GROSS: Do you feel like you're that kind of person yourself?

Mr. FORSTER: Hardly. You know, I don't know much. My experience is limited
by, you know, most human limitations--an actor. You know, actors do things
that are, you know, sort of artificial. Notwithstanding, I've read a bunch of
stuff of this genre, and so you pick up here and there. And, you know, you
pretend it's you.

GROSS: How did you get the part in "Karen Sisco"?

Mr. FORSTER: I was doing pictures. Now, you know, I had a five-year first
act to my career, which ascended, and then a 28-year descending second act to
my career, until Quentin Tarantino handed me "Jackie Brown." And that, of
course, put me back in business. And from that point, I was doing pictures,
you know, which is the big banana of this business, doing movies. While I
was doing movies, I had--my agent, every once in a while, would say, `You
know, there's a television series around the bend somewhere for you.' And I'd
say, `You know, wait till I fail with pictures, and let me cool off, and
eventually we'll do television.'

But earlier this year a guy, John McNamara, who was the producer and writer of
a show called "Fastlane," wrote one for me. I played the father of Peter
Facinelli, a guy who I'd worked with on "Supernova" a few years ago. And what
a great part. This was a grat character. And I did one episode, and then he
wrote a second episode for me. And while we were shooting the second episode,
I was on a hillside overlooking Los Angeles, we were standing by a pool
waiting for the shot to get set up, and I thought, if I could find a character
this good, I would do a television show. Because you realize that if you're
doing a movie, 10 weeks later you're done with that character. Television
show, if it's a good one, it can last a long time and you can be doing a great
character for a long time. This is it.

Now the minute I said that, apparently he went into motion. And not too long
after that I received this script for "Karen Sisco." And I have found the best
thing I have--listen, I've been waiting 40 years for this, and here it is.
It's a great character with humor. And I just bring myself to the set. I
don't have to do anything more than that. They write great stuff for me.
Smart, witty, wise--everything I'm not. Thanks for the--I'm kidding.

GROSS: You had been the star of a TV series before, "Banyon."

Mr. FORSTER: Two series. One was called "Banyon," a '30s detective--old
cars, old clothes, old jokes, fast women. They all lied to me. That's what
they do in the detective movies. And another television show two years later
in 1974 called "Nakia." A good guy, Indian, deputy sheriff, New Mexico,
contemporary, cops and robbers in the desert.

GROSS: Did you like doing either of those?

Mr. FORSTER: I did, but I can tell you one thing, it's the hardest job I
ever did. I've been an ironworker and I worked on the railroad, I was a
substitute teacher, but nothing is as hard as carrying a television show. And
Carla Gugino, who is the star of "Karen Sisco," is the hardest-working woman I
have ever seen, met. She does--short days are 12 hours. Her usual day is
probably 13, 15 hours. And I have never heard her complain. She is not
delicate. She slugs it out every single day. All I can tell you is that my
experience doing my television shows is both of them got canceled half season,
and I was relieved. I thought, oh God, how can I get up another day and face
the grind of a television show? So she is champeen.

GROSS: Now it was Jackie Brown that really revived your career, the Quentin
Tarantino movie. It's really a wonderful film. And I should mention it's out
on DVD, too. Had you seen Quentin Tarantino's earlier films? I know he'd
seen your work, and that's why he wrote the part of the bail bondsman for you.
But had you seen his work?

Mr. FORSTER: Sure. Strangely, when my career was at its lowest and I had
been doing, you know, dopey exploitation movies for a few different guys who'd
hire me--Bill Lustig was one of them, Fred Williamson was another, and they
made, you know, low-budget movies, cop sort of--or horror or whatever. And
Lustig called me up one day and said, `You know, I just bought a really great
script from a guy you never heard of. His name is Quentin Tarantino. And
this guy Tarantino claims there's a part in this script that Lustig,' he said,
`was supposed to give to me.' And I thought, `Oh, boy, something to grab onto.
My slide is over here. I'm gonna get traction with this one.' And I read it,
and it was great. And before the picture could get made, they grabbed it away
from Lustig and gave it to a big director, Tony Scott, and he made "True
Romance" out of it. And then I got a call from my agent when I...

GROSS: So you didn't get the part in that after all.

Mr. FORSTER: No, I didn't even get close to it. This picture was made with
real people, real stars. Then about a year later or so my agent called me,
when I had one, who said, `I've got a--there's a guy you're gonna meet for a
picture called "Reservoir Dogs." You never heard of this guy, Quentin
Tarantino.' And they sent me the script and I thought, `Oh, boy, my slide is
over. This thing is gonna be good. This guy likes me. I'm gonna get this
part.' And I went in there at FOX--I remember the reading--and I read this
thing good. I knew what I was doing. And after I read it, I walked out of
the room, he followed me out of the room and he said, `Hey, listen,' he said,
`You know, I've seen everything you ever did,' and he started reeling off
everything, and he'd seen everything, even the little picture I made,
"Hollywood Harry." And he said, `But look, this thing is not going to work,'
he said, `'cause I'm going to give this part to the guy that I dedicated the
script to, Lawrence Tierney.' So I didn't do that.

Following that, he made "Pulp Fiction," and he became a great big director.
Years go by. I have breakfast at a place in Hollywood, West Hollywood, and I
went into breakfast one morning, I'm sitting there, and in walks Quentin. And
I call him over, and he comes over and we blah-blah for a few minutes. And I
ask him what he's doing, and he said he's adapting "Rum Punch," an Elmore
Leonard novel, to a movie. He said, `Why don't you read it?' That was that.
About six months later, I walk into the same restaurant, I turn the corner
into the patio to go toward my own spot, Quentin's sitting in my seat. As I
approach, he picks up a script, he hands it to me. He says, `Read this. See
if you like it.' Now there has never been such a gift. He gave me a gift the
size of which cannot be exaggerated.

GROSS: Did you feel like you should be talking him out of it because you felt
washed up? Do you know what I mean?

Mr. FORSTER: I didn't feel wa--no, you know, listen, I knew that if I hung in
there long enough--I had a long-shot strategy, and that was that someday some
kid who liked me growing up would turn into a moviemaker and give me a good


Mr. FORSTER: How do you like that?

GROSS: It worked.

Mr. FORESTER: I mean, yeah, it worked.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Forster. He's co-starring in the ABC series "Karen
Sisco." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Forster. He starred in the now-classic 1969 film
"Medium Cool" as a TV news cameraman who is detached from the cultural
upheaval he's reporting on. The movie incorporated real footage from the
protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Forster's
career was revived when Quentin Tarantino cast him in the leading role in the
1997 film "Jackie Brown."

Well, let me play a scene from "Jackie Brown." This is a scene from early on.
You're a bail bondsman, and Samuel Jackson, who has lived a life of crime, is
coming to you to get a bail bond for Jackie Brown.

(Soundbite of "Jackie Brown")

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) All right. You want another bond. You want to
move the 10,000 you got on Beaumont over to the stewardess. That means
paperwork. I gotta get a death certificate, present it to the court, make out
a receipt for return of bond collateral. I bump another application, another
indemnity agreement.

Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, man,
Jackie ain't got time for all that (censored).

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) I'm telling you what I have to do. What you
have to do, in case you forgot, is come up with a premium of a thousand bucks.

Mr. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) I can do that. You know I got the money. I
just ain't got it with me.

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) Come back when you do. I'll bond out the

Mr. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) You got to look at this with a little
compassion, all right. Jackie ain't no criminal. She ain't used to this kind
of treatment. I mean, gangsters, they don't give a (censored). But you know,
your average citizen, a couple of nights in county can (censored) with their

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) Ordell, this isn't a bar. You don't have a tab.

Mr. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) Listen to me, all right? You got a
44-year-old gainfully employed black woman falsely accused of...

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) Falsely accused? She didn't come back from
Mexico with cocaine on her?

Mr. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) Falsely accused of intent. Now if she had
that (censored)--and mind you, I'm saying `if'--that was her own personal
(censored) to get out with.

Mr. FORSTER: (As Max Cherry) Is white guilt supposed to make me forget I'm
running a business?

Mr. JACKSON: (As Ordell Robbi) Oh, it's like that, huh?

GROSS: That's Samuel Jackson and my guest, Robert Forster, in a scene from
"Jackie Brown," a film by Quentin Tarantino.

Now one of the things I love about this film is the part of the story between
you and Pam Grier, who's your female co-star in the movie. And it's a great
love story because you never know if she's really on the level. And also,
it's a real, like, middle-age love story. You know, she's middle-aged, you're
middle-aged. And it's also an interracial love story. And it really works.
What did you think the odds were that when you were coming out of this long
phase where you weren't getting work, you'd get this kind of leading man role?
And it's not leading man role in the sense that, you know, it's like James
Bond, you know, or The Hulk...

Mr. FORSTER: No, it was better than that. It was real. It was human.

GROSS: It's real, exactly, yeah.

Mr. FORSTER: It was human, and it was believable stuff.

GROSS: It has so much feeling in it, yeah.

Mr. FORSTER: You know, and that is sort of what Elmore Leonard is about,
real characters. He has affection for his characters. They're human, and
even if they're bad guys, he has affection for them and knows that they, you
know, have a real life and laugh once in a while and are not just bad guys.
Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino--and Tarantino, of course, I know quite
well at this point and I know what his dialogue is like. He took it from
Elmore Leonard, but it's really his own. And this guy has a real ear for
knowing what people speak like, especially characters and, you know,
neighborhood characters and people from different places. He's got a real ear
for it.

GROSS: There's a kind of air of depression and loneliness that hangs over
your character in "Jackie Brown." And I'd just be interested in hearing what
you did to get in the right frame of mind for the role.

Mr. FORSTER: I had a 28-year slide to my career.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORSTER: Oh, boy. Listen, you know, I must have asked myself 400 times,
`Are you going to survive this, Bob? Are you going to be able to save the
house? Are you going to get the kids through college? Are you going to, you
know, survive a relationship? Will anybody love you at the end? Is it going
to be all lonely, or is it going to be, you know, who knows what?' And you
know, you survive it and you keep on sluggin' and you refuse to quit.

GROSS: During that period when you weren't working much, you were still
making some movies, and some of them sound like they were, you know, real
cheap films, like "Satan's Princess" and...

Mr. FORSTER: Oh, what a cutie that was.

GROSS: Was it?

Mr. FORSTER: I never saw that one.

GROSS: Intentionally?

Mr. FORSTER: Probably, you know. But, you know, there's some things you
just--why bother?

GROSS: What are some of the other titles from that period?

Mr. FORSTER: Oh, boy, oh, boy, there were some--you know, there's a
series--if you look on the Internet, it used to be on--I think they've taken
them off now, but for a couple years after "Jackie Brown," there were still a
couple of Spanish titles on my Web site--not `my' Web site, but the database.
And those pictures were made by an actor who, in Spain, about--I don't
know--20 years ago used my name. Somebody told him that he looked like me,
and so he used my name in Spanish pictures, one of which is called--and you
could find it, and it's a better title than I'm going to tell you, but "The
Witch Nymphomaniac from the Rio Grande." And at least two or three of those
kind of titles, and a few other titles of my own that, you know, equally
terrible and forgettable. But there are some little pictures made during
those years that I loved.

GROSS: Well, you actually started your career with a splash. In 1969, you
were the star of "Medium Cool" and you played, you know, a TV cameraman.


GROSS: It was set in the present; in fact, there were--more or less the
present. There were scenes that were actually shot at the demonstrations at
the Chicago convention and inside the Chicago convention. Were there things
about the movie that surprised you, such as having to film in the context of
the real Democratic Convention?

Mr. FORSTER: This movie was one of my great learning experiences. Up until
then, I didn't realize that an actor might be called upon to improvise. There
was an awful lot of this movie that was improvised, and I hadn't a clue; I
thought they wrote the words for you. So now I'm with Haskell and he hands me
a camera and says, `OK, do an interview with that person over there,' and with
nothing more than, `Well, let's see how we do this,' I started talking. And
the next thing you know, you're improvising and bringing the character that
you imagine you are supposed to be--I had gotten a great lesson from John
Huston. I had...

GROSS: He directed you in "Reflections in a Golden Eye."

Mr. FORSTER: Yes, my first picture. I met him in a hotel room. I arrived
from LA. I had read the book, "Reflections in a Golden Eye." I showed up, I
walked into the lobby of this hotel, and I looked around, and everywhere,
everywhere, there were guys; they all looked like me. I thought he wanted to
meet me for "Reflections in a Golden Eye." This was a cattle call. They
called my name. I was escorted up the elevator. We waited outside of a room.
Somebody left, I walked in, I'm introduced to this tall old guy. He says,
`What have you done? What have you done?' I says, `Listen, I haven't done
much. I did one Broadway play. It wasn't bad, but I don't make myself an
actor. I never did a movie. I don't know how they're made. I don't know
what the tricks are, but if you hire me, I'll give you your money's worth.' He
gave me the job.

On the first day of production, I get out of the car, I'm walking over to
where he's standing. He says, `Now's the time, Bobby.' I say, `Shoot, I'm all
ears.' He says, `Go take a look through the lens.' I walked over to the
camera. The cameraman stepped aside, I looked through the lens. I turned
back to Huston. He's got his hands shaped in the form of a rectangle. He
said, `You see those? Those are the frame lines.' I looked again through the
lens. I said, `Yeah, you mean that line that shows the cameraman what the
audience sees?' He says, `Those are the frame lines. Now ask yourself this:
What needs to be there?'

Wow. In 14 words, this guy gives me the secret. The actor is supposed to
understand and imagine what is supposed to be inside that frame and deliver it
and deliver what the writer needs and what the director may need and has got
to be there because the guys who set the lights wants you to be in them, and
you gotta hear the ones who are listening for the words, gotta hear them
correctly, otherwise somebody at the end of the shot says, `No good for sound;
start again.' If you do something too big for the frame you're in, somebody
says, `No good for composition; start again.' And if you put the cup in the
wrong spot, somebody says, `No good for continuity.' You've got to deliver a
stroke which advantages everybody's needs at once, and when you do that, you
get to hear, `Cut, print, move on to the next shot.' John Huston gave me a
great piece of advice, and I took that to Haskell Wexler's picture, and I said
to myself, `OK, what's supposed to be here?' And then he would say, `Action'
and I'd throw something out there.

GROSS: One of the things you had to do in "Medium Cool" was be naked.


GROSS: And how'd you feel about that?

Mr. FORSTER: You know, OK, here comes the first thing. Oh, what a fun thing
this was. I got the script to "Reflections in a Golden Eye." That's where it
started. And I read this thing, and here it says, `Yeah, the guy rides around
naked on a horse.' And I'm thinking to myself--and I'd never made a movie; I
hadn't a clue. And I said, `Gee, I wonder how they do that. Probably trick
photography or something.' Yeah. So I remember the day I was in Rome, and
when I came out to the set and here was an Italian extra riding around the
horse naked, and I thought to myself, `Gee, that's supposed to be me.' And I
was so taken in the moment, I said to John Huston, I said, `I could do that.
I could do that.' He says, `Could you, Bobby? Could you really?' I said,
`Yeah, I could do that.' I didn't want the other guy to be in the picture. I
wanted to do that thing. It was my own. So the next thing I know, the
wardrobe department hands me a little tiny triangle cut from a jock strap--All
right?--and a roll of tape, and they handed this to me, and that was supposed
to give me some...

GROSS: A little bit of cover.

Mr. FORSTER: My modesty, yes.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FORSTER: And of course, it unpeeled immediately. So you know what? I
said, `Bob, if you don't give yourself permission to do this, then why do it?'
You know, you either gotta give yourself full permission to be absolutely
unafraid, and if you don't, you're dead; you can't proceed in this thing.
It's like being afraid. You've got to overcome fear, the fear of being on
stage, for one thing, I mean, that fear of--stage fright. I remember the
first time I had stage fright. I was in the University of Rochester, and I
had done a play sort of accidentally. I chased a girl into the auditorium and
I wanted to say something to her. She was in a play. I got in the play.
That's how I met the girl. Later I married her. So you have to overcome
stage fright, and I had to overcome the fear of doing that.

After that, in "Medium Cool," it wasn't that hard. What's his name? Haskell
said, `You think you can get Marianna Hill to be naked?' I said, `Why ask me?
You're the director. You're supposed to ask her, not me.' He said, `Yeah, but
you know, I'm a little embarrassed.' I said, `So don't ask me.' Next thing I
know, she said, `Sure,' and the next thing, he says, `Well, if she's naked,
you know, you gotta be naked, too.' I said, `Like hell.' He says, `Yeah, yeah,
yeah, 'cause otherwise it looks stupid.' Anyway, round two, I say, `OK, Bob,
let's go. You're not that afraid of it. Let's try.' And bingo, bango.

GROSS: And you're chasing each other around the room...

Mr. FORSTER: Yeah.

GROSS: know, having fun.

Mr. FORSTER: Yeah.

GROSS: Were you embarrassed at all, or were you not really painfully modest?

Mr. FORSTER: Well, sure, I was a little--oh, painfully modest. And don't
forget, I lived in Rochester. I had neighbors. I had a mother-in-law. I had
cousins and everybody. And then, you know, I--but you know, that's what you
do. You say, either be unafraid or don't do it.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Forster. He's co-starring in the new ABC series
"Karen Sisco." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Robert Forster. In the ABC series "Karen Sisco," he plays
Sisco's father, a semiretired private eye. His career was revived when he
starred in Quentin Tarantino's film "Jackie Brown."

Now I read that your father, before World War II, worked with Ringling Bros.
Circus as an elephant trainer.

Mr. FORSTER: He was on the Ringling, yeah. Oh, what a good guy this guy is.
I remember when I went to him--at the end of my senior year at the University
of Rochester, I went to him and I said, `Dad,' I said, `you know what? I
don't think I want to be a lawyer. I want to be an actor.' And he, who had,
as you know, been an elephant trainer on the Ringling before World War II, did
not miss a beat. He said, `I think you could do that, Bob.' And this guy
pulled for me for over 30 years. And he died just before "Jackie Brown" was
released, but he saw some of the shooting. He came out for a circus event; in
the last 10 years or so of his life, we did a lot of circus events together.
They've got circus groups and old fan organizations and some old circus
performers. And he had come out to San Francisco, and we did a four-day
event, and he came here to Los Angeles. And on the night before he went back
to Rochester--and he was ill at the time; he was really on his last legs, and
I was worried that I wasn't going to see him again when I put him on that
plane. But the last night before he went back to Rochester, he was on the
set. We had a night shoot. And at the end of that, when I was taking him to
the airport, he said, `You know, this picture's going to do you a lot of good,
Bob. This guy's very, very good.'

Quentin--You want to know what a good guy he is--cut some scenes together when
the picture was over; in days, he cut some scenes together and sent them to me
on videotape to show to my father, which was only days before he passed.

GROSS: That's really nice.

Mr. FORSTER: This is a good, good guy.

GROSS: Just a question about your accent. I always assumed you were from
Chicago. Maybe that's 'cause I saw you in a movie adaptation of David Mamet's
"Lakeboat." And...

Mr. FORSTER: I'm from Rochester...

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. FORSTER: ...which is a Great Lakes accent. I imagine that the Great
Lakes were far more--influenced one another than, for instance, from Rochester
down to New York City, which are very different accents. So Rochester,
Buffalo, Erie--not Detroit so much, but Chicago and almost all those cities
have a similar accent: long A--I know I sound that way. Not much to do about
it; just got to live with what you got.

GROSS: Are you times when you feel that really works for you and other times
when you feel you should play it down?

Mr. FORSTER: You know, I never try to play it down. I figure that's what
they hired, and that's what they're going to get. It's easier to deliver
yourself than it is to make up somebody. If you try to make somebody up, you
know, it's pretty thin; it's kind of a veneer. But if you deliver yourself,
you got your real self to deliver, and what could be better than that?

GROSS: Well, Robert Forster, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FORSTER: Thanks very much, Terry. I enjoyed it.

GROSS: Robert Forster co-stars in the series "Karen Sisco." The next episode
will be broadcast tonight on ABC.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I was the third brother of five, doing whatever I
had to do to survive. I'm not saying what I did was all right. Trying to
break out of the ghetto was a day-to-day fight. Being down so long, ain't
nothing crossed my mind. I knew there was a better way of life that I was
just trying to find. But you don't know what you'll do until you're put under
pressure. Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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