'Jack Reacher' actress, Ann Arbor resident Nicole Forester talks Tom Cruise, 'Guiding Light' and more
But for busy TV and movie actress Nicole Forester—who has a role in the new Tom Cruise film “Jack Reacher,” and who now lives full time in Ann Arbor—the journey to L.A. at age 19 happened largely thanks to a nudge from her father.
“I had started performing from a young age,” said Forester. “I went to a creative and performing arts high school in Livonia, so I knew halfway through high school that I wanted to do this seriously as a career. And actually, my father encouraged me to move to L.A. to get started at a young age. He thought it was time for me to get out there, even though it was hard for me to leave the nest.”
Forester realizes this isn’t usually the way a situation like this unfolds. “When (my father) said that—I remember we were sitting at the dinner table when he suggested it, and I just laughed. I thought he was crazy. I was just 19 years old! But after really thinking about it for about two weeks, I decided it was probably a good idea.”
So Forester had not gotten too far in her studies as a musical theater major at Western Michigan University when she moved to the West Coast; enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to pursue more formal training; got an agent; and started going on auditions.
“The first few years were pretty hard,” said Forester. “I was lonely, and I missed my friends in Michigan. I wasn’t sure that I’d made the right choice, because it took a while to get the ball rolling. But then every time I booked something, it reminded me, ‘This is what I love to do. This is why I’m doing all this.’”
For the past four years, Forester has lived with her husband and two children in Ann Arbor.
She's done numerous national commercials, and appeared on the television shows “Boss,” “Guiding Light,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Monk,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Will and Grace,” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” among others. In terms of movies, the actress appeared in the locally filmed features “Trust” and “The Double,” and in “Jack Reacher,” she plays a sniper’s victim, whose life we see glimpses of via flashback.
Given the diversity in her resume, you might think Forester’s developed a preference for comedy or drama, or film or television, over the course of her career. But the actress said that both medium and genre take a backseat to writing.
“It’s a cliche to say, but I just love well-written material,” said Forester. “An individual character attracts me more than anything—more than choosing between mediums. I love musical theater, I love the camaraderie of being on a soundstage—they all have perks, they all have benefits. But the through-line is always a beautifully written script.”
Even so, “Jack Reacher” proved to be a bit of an exception.
“I went to Pittsburgh to have meeting with Christopher McQuarrie, the Oscar-winning director of this movie, and I sat with him for about 20 or 30 minutes,” said Forester. “I’d never seen the script, but just knowing of him, and knowing his talent, I knew I wanted to work with him.” McQuarrie won an Oscar in 1996 for writing the screenplay for “The Usual Suspects.”
“Reacher,” which was filmed in Pittsburgh, is based on a character created by best-selling novelist Lee Child and tells the story of an urban sniper who shoots five people. Although the police believe they’ve captured the sniper and built an airtight case, the suspect claims innocence and asks for Jack Reacher, a former military policeman. After seeing this on the news, Reacher arrives in the city to investigate, and uncovers more than he bargained for. Here's the movie's trailer.
“It was really a treat to work with Tom Cruise,” said Forester. “He’s a consummate professional and a real gentleman. He went out of his way to make everyone feel welcome. Almost every day, when we had just a few more hours to go, he’d arrange for some treat for the crew, like having a local doughnut maker come to the set. He did all these little things like that. He was very welcoming, and just a wonderful guy to work with.”
Sadly, the recent announcement of “Boss”’ cancellation, after two critically acclaimed seasons, means Forester won’t get more chances to play Maggie Zajac, the calculating wife of an up-and-coming politician. But at the time of this interview, Forester was in the midst of filming an episode of the NBC series, “Chicago Fire.”
“I am playing Christie, the sister of Lieutenant Matthew Casey, played by Jesse Spencer from ‘House,’” said Forester. “So that we’re not giving away too much, I’ll just say that I’m there to show his family dynamic and background, and our relationship is tense. There are definitely some skeletons in the closet.”
Forester got the “Chicago Fire” gig largely because of her previous work in the Richard Gere film "The Double" (partly filmed in Ann Arbor), since Michael Brandt was directing both. And although the timing of Forester’s move back to Michigan in 2008 might suggest that she was partly enticed by the state’s then-new film incentives, it was, in fact, a happy accident.
“I didn’t know about them at the time,” said Forester. “Having grown up in Michigan, I started doing professional work, and joined the union, at age 13 or 14. So through the work I got in the Detroit market, I knew that the market was largely industrial films and the like, and that by moving to Michigan, I wouldn’t probably working much locally.
"But I’d had a baby as soon as we got there, so I was immersed in motherhood, and took about a year and a half to adapt to that when someone said, ‘You know, they’re shooting films here. You might want to look into that.’ The incentives were flowing at that point, so there were these great opportunities right here in our backyard. It was icing on cake. We’d moved here to start our family and to be near our family, because it’s a great place for kids, and we loved Ann Arbor. Finding work, too, was really nice.”
When she first took over the role, there was a small uproar, thanks to her predecessor Laura Wright’s popularity with fans. But the dust-up didn’t really affect Forester.
“It escaped me a little bit, because I was new to the show, new to soap world, new to how loyal the fans are,” said Forester. “That medium is unlike any other. The sheer quantity of work in daytime is so high that I was just overwhelmed by the daily workload. When I was replacing Laura, I just thought, ‘I’m glad she’s so well loved.’ She’d left to do ‘General Hospital’ in L.A., and I thought, if they love Laura, they can watch her there, but if they love the character, hopefully they’ll get used to me.”
Apparently, they did—just as Forester and her husband, Paul Brown (who works for the Michigan Economic Development Corp.), have adjusted back to living a quiet, more slow-paced Midwestern life.
“We’re loving Ann Arbor,” said Forester. “The diversity of the people, our lifestyle there, with the Farmers Market, Kerrytown, Babo market—it’s a treat for me to go get a coffee there—the downtown area. I love to push a stroller around to the post office and the library. It’s a very family-friendly town to be in.
"And I didn’t know the first thing about football, but going to a game in the Big House is an extraordinary experience. It’s definitely a risk leave New York or L.A.—that’s the way of the world—but with the help of technology, I’ve managed to find a way to keep working so far. It’s a nice balance. I feel lucky.”
Here's Forester's "theatrical reel," which includes clips from "Two and Half Men" and "Beverly Hills 90210."
Here's Forester's "commercial reel."