This 'diamond man' sparkles with age

In "Diamond Men," a low-budget independent film now playing around the United States, Robert Forster plays a diamond salesman traveling his route through Pennsylvania while teaching his young successor the business. The movie has received good reviews, and veteran actor Forster in particular has been praised, one reviewer lauding his "subtle, touching" portrayal.

Forster has had a long career in films - good, bad, and, well, really bad. Among the highlights have been his TV newsman in 1969's "Medium Cool" and his lovestruck bail bondsman in 1997's "Jackie Brown," directed by Quentin Tarantino, a role that earned Forster an Oscar nod. Though he's now well past the age of the typical "leading man," his strong work in "Diamond Men" may get him noticed yet again.

He certainly didn't do the movie for the money. In fact, Daniel Cohen, who wrote, produced, and directed the film, asked Forster if he'd be willing to take an "executive producer" credit in lieu of pay.

Just getting the story - shot quickly in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles - on film with such a small budget was "amazing," explains Forster in a phone interview.

With little time for rehearsal, the actors had to just jump into their roles and trust each other. The challenge, he says, was to be able to quickly "assume intimacy with the other characters, assume prior knowledge" - and then make the audience believe it.

The handsome Forster, who's appeared in films with titles like "Maniac Cop 3" and "Satan's Princess" to keep working, once asked Gregory Peck how he chose roles. Peck said that as a young actor he had asked Montgomery Clift the same question. Clift said, "Don't do anything unless you think it is going to be great." Then Peck asked Gary Cooper the same question. Cooper told him never "to say no" to any acting job. In the end, Peck concluded, both had made some great movies.

Though Forster wants to keep acting, he hopes he will be able to be pickier than in the past. For many years, "I was stuck doing bad guys." He doesn't want to go back to that. Nor does he want to do work that he wouldn't want his four kids to see (which might include the R-rated "Diamond Men"). Children "will mirror your worst stuff," he says. "You've got to give them a good example."

In a career that's had some long slumps, Forster has developed a "never say die" attitude.

Between acting assignments, he gives talks for free to civic groups. His subject: the "three-step" self-improvement program that he designed for himself (see www.robertforster.com). "I just get up there and start swinging," Forster says.

His third and final self-help step, he says, can be summed up this way: "You're not dead yet: You can win it in the late innings - if you don't quit!"

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