Robert Forster (born July 13, 1941) is an American actor, best known for his roles as John Cassellis in Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, and as Max Cherry in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, the latter of which gained him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He has recently appeared as George Clooney's father-in-law in Alexander Payne's The Descendants.
Forster was born Robert Wallace Foster, Jr. in Rochester, New York, the son of Grace Dorothy (née Montanarella) and Robert Wallace Foster, Sr., who worked as an elephant trainer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and later as an executive for a baking supply company. His mother was Italian American and his father was of English and Irish ancestry. The two divorced in 1949. As a tribute to his father, Forster hung one of his father's Barnum & Bailey Circus posters in the office of his character "Max Cherry" in the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown.
Forster completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in history at the University of Rochester, where he starred in student dramatic performances such as Bye Bye Birdie and, after initially intending to go on to study law, instead decided to forego his future legal career in favor of pursuing drama. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 1964.
After acclaimed supporting performances in two major Hollywood films, one as Private Williams in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), another as part-Indian Army scout Nick Tana in Robert Mulligan's The Stalking Moon (1968), Forster starred in the critically acclaimed 1969 film Medium Cool. After starring roles in the TV shows Banyon (1972) and Nakia (1974), he played mostly supporting roles in action and horror films including Disney's The Black Hole (1979). Forster had lead roles in cult B-movies in the 1980s like Alligator (1980), Vigilante (1983), The Delta Force (1986), and The Banker (1989). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for Jackie Brown, which he credits with reviving his career. He has since had consistent work in the film industry, appearing in Like Mike; Mulholland Drive; Me, Myself, & Irene; Lucky Number Slevin and Firewall, to name a few. He recently appeared in the made for television movie The Hunt for the BTK Killer, as the detective intent on capturing serial killer Dennis Rader. Forster also played the father of Van on the short-lived Fox series Fastlane.
Forster recorded a public service announcement for Deejay Ra's 'Hip-Hop Literacy' campaign, encouraging reading of books by Elmore Leonard (he starred in the movie adaption of Leonard's book Rum Punch, Jackie Brown, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). Forster is also a motivational speaker.
He appeared in the hit NBC show Heroes as Arthur Petrelli, the father of Nathan and Peter Petrelli.
Twice divorced, Forster is a father of four children. His eldest child, Kate Forster (born 1969), has worked as an actress, also appearing in Mulholland Drive.