Frederic Forrest, the Oscar-nominated character actor, was born two days before Christmas Day in 1936 in Waxahachie, Texas, the same home town as director Robert Benton. Forrest had long wanted to be an actor, but he was so nervous that he ran out of auditions for school plays. Later, at Texas Christian University, he took a minor in theater arts while majoring in radio and television studies. His parents opposed his aspirations as a thespian as it was a precarious existence, but he moved on to New York and studied with renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner. He eventually became an observer at the Actors Studio, where he was tutored by Lee Strasberg. During this time, he supported himself as a page at the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Plaza.
His theatrical debut was in the Off-Broadway production of “Viet-Rock”, an anti-war play featuring music. He became part of avant-garde director Tom O’Horgan’s stock company at La Mama, appearing in the infamous “Futz”, among other productions. After starring in the off-Broadway play “Silhouettes”, Forrest moved with the production to Los Angeles, intent on breaking into movies. While the production ran for three months and was visited by agents bird-dogging new talent, Forrest got no offers and had to support himself as a pizza-baker after the show closed. Eventually, he began auditing classes at Actors Studio West, and director Stuart Millar saw him in a student showcase production of Clifford Odets’ “Watiting for Lefty” and cast him in When the Legends Die (1972). He copped a 1973 Golden Globe nomination as “Most Promising Newcomer – Male” for the role.
Forrest landed a small but very important part in “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974). He and Cindy Williams are the two people having that titular conversation (recorded by Gene Hackman: so Forrest’s voice is heard throughout the film). And Coppola wasn’t done with him! Playing “Chef” in Apocalypse Now (1979) garnered Forrest the best notices of his career, and he parlayed that into Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations as Best Supporting Actor for The Rose (1979), his second hit that year. He was named Best Supporting Actor by the National Society of Film Critics for both films. Then he was cast as the star in Coppola’s “One From The Heart”. In Apocalypse Now (1979), his character (“Chef”) is yelling for the Playboy Playmates from the crowd, one of whom is played by Colleen Camp, who, four years later, would play his hippie wife in the film Valley Girl (1983).
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