‘Jackie Brown’ Stars: (Don’t) Call It a Comeback

by | December 14, 2011 at 2:35 PM | Celebrity Interview, Movies

Pam Grier, Robert Forster in 'Jackie Brown' (Miramax)

Nobody resurrects a career like Quentin Tarantino.

Over the course of his 20-year career as a director, Tarantino has taken the actors he looked up to as a young man—long forgotten stars of exploitation films, spaghetti westerns and kung-fu classics—and put them in his films.

Michael Madsen, David Carridine, Michael Parks—even Kurt Russell—have all benefited from the cinema guru’s eye for actors in obscurity.

In 1997, Tarantino followed the success of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” with his tribute to the 1970s blaxploitation genre called “Jackie Brown,” which was released on Blu-ray for the first time this week. The film starred actress Pam Grier, a staple of the blaxploitation genre in the ’70s, as cash-strapped stewardess Jackie Brown, who uses her job to smuggle money into the States for an unstable gun dealer. Actor Robert Forster, best known for cult B-movies and the acclaimed 1969 film “Medium Cool,” was Oscar-nominated for his role as bail bondsmen Max Cherry, who comes to Jackie’s rescue when the feds get wise to her scheme.

For both actors, “Jackie Brown” was a career-saver—even if only one of them will admit it.

“My career had died,” Forster, now 70, said in a recent interview. “I was picking up scraps. Anything that I could. I had four kids and two ex-wives and needed to pick up any job I could. But during that low part in my career, I was sitting in a coffee shop and in walks Quentin Tarantino.”

Quentin approached Forster, who auditioned for “Reservoir Dogs” years earlier, and told him about his forthcoming adaptation of the Elmore Leonard book “Rum Punch,” which would come to be known as “Jackie Brown.” Six months later, Forster returned to the same coffee shop to find Tarantino sitting in his regular seat with a script in hand.

“My career was reduced, at that point, to hoping that some young guy who grew up liking me would turn into a movie maker and give me a good job,” Forster said. “And that’s what happened.”

Pam Grier was always on Tarantino’s radar. The director wrote a line of dialogue about her for “Reservoir Dogs” and invited the actress to read for the role of Jody in “Pulp Fiction” (also out on Blu-ray), which eventually went to Rosanna Arquette. When Grier arrived at Quentin’s office to talk about the part, she found the walls covered in her movie posters, including “Foxy Brown,” the most notable of her early films.

Though she was not given the role in “Pulp Fiction” (she was too tall and powerful opposite Eric Stoltz), Grier was the only choice for “Jackie Brown,” which came at a time when the actress’ movie career had cooled and her parts were reduced to supporting roles in films such as “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “Mars Attacks!” and “Escape from L.A.” But don’t tell her that, and  definitely don’t  suggest she had a “lull.”

“People think you have a lull when you do theater,” Grier said, referring to her parts in stage productions. “Maybe I don’t want to work … Sometimes there’s nothing you wanna do. You go dig up your garden, paint your house, raise your children or work in theater. And it’s not a lull. I think, sometimes, it’s very negative when people say that. ‘Oh, my god, you lost your career!’ No, I had it. It’s just you don’t find what you wanna do.”

“I had cancer for two years: ‘I had a lull. God, it’s your comeback!’ No, I never went away,” she said.”We actors don’t stop acting. We haven’t lost our acting title when we don’t wanna work or we get married or have a baby.”

Today, both Grier and Forster continue to act in popular movies and TV series. Pam, now 62, was a regular on the Showtime series “The L Word” and recently appeared in the Tom Hanks film “Larry Crowne.” Next, she’s co-starring in the Tarantino-produced movie “The Man with the Iron Fists.” Robert appeared in “Me, Myself & Irene,” “Mulholland Dr.,” “Lucky Number Slevin,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and more. He can be seen punching a teenager in the upcoming George Clooney movie, “The Descendants.”

“Jackie Brown” and “Pulp Fiction” are out on Blu-ray now. Both films are remastered and feature high-definition 1080p video approved by Tarantino himself. They also include brand-new special features unique to the Blu-ray release.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.