Robert Forster, the journeyman actor whose comeback role as a bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” earned him an Oscar nomination and who drew high acclaim for his tough-guy appearances in “Breaking Bad,” died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78.
The cause was brain cancer, said Kathie Berlin, a longtime friend of Mr. Forster who handled his publicity.
Mr. Forster appeared in close to 200 films and television shows during his more than five decades in show business. He made his movie debut in “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” the racy 1967 drama directed by John Huston and starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1969, he played a newsman in “Medium Cool,” a Haskell Wexler-directed drama about a reporter who becomes involved in the violence in the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
By his own acknowledgment, Mr. Forster went through a midcareer slump that featured roles in films like “The Delta Force” with Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin in 1986 and the 1980 horror film “Alligator.”
It was on the set of “Alligator” that Mr. Forster met a young special effects assistant named Bryan Cranston, with whom he would later reunite in the critically acclaimed television series “Breaking Bad,” about a New Mexico chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime, selling crystallized methamphetamine.
Mr. Forster and Mr. Cranston teamed up again in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which was released Friday by Netflix and in some theaters. Mr. Forster, who learned of his brain cancer diagnosis in June, starred in two additional films that have yet to be released, Ms. Berlin said.
Mr. Forster was born Robert Wallace Foster Jr. on July 13, 1941, in Rochester, N.Y., according to Ms. Berlin, who said he later changed his surname to Forster because there was another actor with his name.
He received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Rochester, according to the Internet Movie Database. He served as an apprentice at a theater company in East Rochester, N.Y., and starred in a local production of “West Side Story.” In 1965, he moved to New York City and made his Broadway debut in “Mrs. Dally Has a Lover” with Arlene Francis.
Mr. Forster’s greatest success came in 1997, when Mr. Tarantino cast him as the bail bondsman Max Cherry in “Jackie Brown,” for which Mr. Forster received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. His character falls in love with Jackie Brown, played by Pam Grier, a flight attendant who gets arrested for carrying cocaine and is released under the supervision of her bail bondsman.
Mr. Forster said his career trajectory had gone down for 27 years after his initial success.
“Every time it reached a lower level I thought I could tolerate, it dropped some more, and then some more,” he said. “Near the end, I had no agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing. I was taking whatever fell through the cracks.”
After “Jackie Brown” rejuvenated his career, Mr. Forster found success in the David Lynch thriller “Mulholland Drive.,” in which he played Detective Harry McKnight. The 2001 film starred Naomi Watts.
Mr. Forster, whose two marriages ended in divorce, is survived by his longtime partner, Denise Grayson; a son, Robert Forster Jr.; three daughters: Elizabeth Foster Howell, Maeghen Perry Dimperio and Kate Forster Simmons; and four grandchildren.
In a 2007 interview with Sean Axmaker marking the 10th anniversary of the release of “Jackie Brown,” Mr. Forster, who had previously auditioned for Mr. Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” said the director had written the part of Max Cherry with him in mind.
“That’s when I said to him, ‘I’m sure they’re not going to let you hire me,’ ” Mr. Forster recalled, to which he said Mr. Tarantino replied, “I hire anybody I want.”
Mr. Forster was back.
“And that’s when I realized I was going to get another shot at a career,” he said.