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Just over 50 years after he landed his first Hollywood movie role, legendary character actor Robert Forster on Monday night revealed where he got his first big break: a 1965 column in The Hollywood Reporter.
“I was nothing, I was from Rochester, I was off the corner,” Forster recalled while dining at the La Palma restaurant on Dundas Street West in Toronto, where THR and Hudson’s Bay Company honored Colette and What They Had for Bleecker Street and Elevation Pictures, respectively, during the Toronto International Film Festival.
But that changed when the actor moved to New York City and landed a lead role on Broadway in a two-character play, Mrs. Dally Has a Lover, opposite Arlene Francis. His performance caught the eye of Radie Harris, who penned the New York-based column “Broadway Ballyhoo” in THR for nearly 50 years.
Forster can’t remember her 1965 Broadway review, “but she gave me a great publicity blast.” So much so, 20th Century Fox Pictures soon rang to say Darryl F. Zanuck wanted the young Broadway actor to take a screen test.
“It couldn’t have taken more than two minutes. I was told to look right. Then I had to look left,” Forster remembered. He then was under contract to the studio with a five-picture deal.
“I drove out to Los Angeles, and one day my agent rang to ask, did I know John Houston? I said no,” he added. Forster needn’t have cared, because the legendary Hollywood director hired him to star in the 1967 drama Reflections in a Golden Eye, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. “Holy Christ, I didn’t know how hard it was. Now, 52 years later, nothing has been so easy since,” Forster declared.
This week, the actor is in Toronto to tout What They Had, writer-director Elizabeth Chomko’s intergenerational family drama, in which Forster plays Burt, whose elderly wife, played by Blythe Danner, has Alzheimer’s and is ailing, and the rest of the family, played by Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon and Taissa Farmiga, have been called home to Chicago to be by her side.
Chomko’s inspiration for the pic came from her own family, and more specifically her grandmother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s for 16 years and died only two months ago.
“It’s such an amazing exchange, to share my first film with strangers,” Chomko told THR as Swank suddenly drew near to the director and whispered loudly: “I love that woman!”
Alison Coville, president of the Hudson Bay, Canada’s top retailer who also runs Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor in the U.S., told THR, “Who doesn’t want to be involved with glitzy movies and sexy fashion?,” as well-dressed A-listers moved back and forth during pre-dinner cocktails.
The star-studded event, also hosted by Bleecker Street CEO Andrew Karpen and THR editorial director Matt Belloni, featured chef Craig Harding’s fine Italian dishes like albacore tuna crudo and ricotta gnocchi as starters and grilled halibut panzanella and wagyu picahna as mains.
Among the diners: Colette co-stars Keira Knightley and Denise Gough; producers Christine Vachon, Elizabeth Karlsen, Pamela Koffler and Stephen Wooley; and director Wash Westmoreland.
Laurie May, co-president of Elevation, beamed as she talked up Colette, and especially Knightley’s performance as a French novelist fighting to reclaim control of her literary voice. “It’s so relevant to female empowerment,” May asserted, before touting Knightley to join the Oscar race with her star turn.
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