Tobias Forrest’s life has been defined by a spirit adventurous enough to overcome death itself. He sees the joy in every experience. He was fearless as a boy. He is a fearless man.
Born in San Francisco and raised on a barge, at the age of two he sailed with his family to Hawaii and spent the next few years there thinking it was cool to be a minority. He says, “it was a nice taste to be outside the norm,” and then over the years, being outside the norm became the norm. He lost both his birth parents at a young age, was adopted by his aunt and uncle and, in addition to the sister he had, his cousins became his brother and sister. He says he never had a semblance of family until he was adopted, had chores and found himself answering with a consciously respectful, “yes, ma’am,” and “yes, sir.” His adventurous streak ran toward rambunctious and a little wildly mischievous, so when his parents asked him how he would like to go to military school, he, in true Tobias style, said, “I’ll accept the challenge. Let’s get to it!” And, with this his life changed. He breathes a sigh of appreciation as he admits that it kept him out of jail and out of the military.
Both his biological parents were musical, but he never embraced it himself until he started singing in the choir. He sang in a German opera in Carnegie Hall. And, then his life got even fuller. He graduated, did really well and enrolled in Northern Arizona University, majoring in psychology by default. It was not the field for him. He failed a sociology class, but always got As in art classes. He knew since childhood he was an artist but did not know the extent, did not know how much of a creator lived inside him. When friends were forming a band and needed a singer, Tobias accepted the challenge and got to it. Once again, life got again fuller and more productive. He sang with the band at the same time he discovered that jewelry was his real art medium that he had avoided forever because he was “raised as a guy and jewelry was for girls.” But, he could not resist the detail it took to “create something so delicate, to work with it, cast it and then have something that will last forever,” so he went to work at a jewelry store. His path was clear. He had a plan. He would blend his love of music, jewelry and the outdoors. He went rock climbing every weekend, skiing off cliffs, and, as he says, doing whatever he could to risk his life. This time life’s change was malevolent.
He was diving off a waterfall in the Grand Canyon when a friend suggested another spot. He dove. It was too shallow, and he shattered his 5th vertebra. He was totally conscious and knew he had broken his spine. He knew he was paralyzed. He held on underwater as long as he could but knew it was the end of his life. He remembers that being okay with him because he had “lived a wonderful beautiful life, was loved and that was enough to say it was worth it.”
No one knew he was under that water. He could feel that he drowned. When he floated up unconscious next to a girl in the water, someone pulled him out onto the shore where a doctor who happened to be at the beach helped resuscitate him. He was alive. But, life had changed. He was on a respirator for two months and felt there would never again be jewelry, never music. His only question was, “How do I return to life?” He knew he had to modify himself. He was twenty-two years old and willing to take whatever life threw at him. Fearless was about to conquer devastation.
He remained in the hospital for five months unable to move, but still he threw himself into exercise for body and mind and mastered what he had left as well as he could. And, then he could move his hands. So, he started painting. With the strength of that “I’ll accept the challenge. Let’s get to it!” attitude, he returned to school for a Master’s degree in psychology when he was asked to portray someone with Alzheimer’s as a role playing exercise. People were crying and asked him what he was doing. He had no idea what anyone was talking about. They wanted to know why he was not an actor. He did not know what anyone was talking about.
His friend Danny Murphy, a quadriplegic actor, told him go take an acting class. After graduation, he came to UCLA to take part in a treadmill walking study. Someone from what used to be the Media Access Office told him about an acting scholarship. He won the scholarship. And, now full circle and a half for Tobias Forrest. Music, found its way back into his life, and he found a his place as an actor. Psychology was still not for him, because, as he says, “I like to talk more than I like to listen and I have issues with people who can’t cope.” Tobias, of course, is a man for whom coping is business as usual and an art form all its own.
He worked at the Kirk Douglas Theater as an usher. When a role came up for someone actually in a wheelchair Tobias auditioned. They pointed out that he had not had a lot of acting experience. Undaunted, he said, “No, but I have a lot of wheelchair experience. I’ll make up for the acting experience with the real wheelchair experience.” They hired him. It was his first paid acting job. There was no turning back. The acting was no longer a hobby, it was a career.
He appeared in 6 Feet Under and Malcolm in the Middle and had a couple of guest star roles, but is perhaps best known for The Sessions, Close Up, Pie Head:A Kinda True Story. He learned, in large part due to David Zimmerman, that acting is not a solitary thing, and says that some of his best experiences have come out of the acting jobs. He knows he is never isolated and says, “We are all creators.” Not the kind of man who would simply wait for a job to come along, he is taking charge and is now writing a play about two people and their interaction with a theme never before done.
To hear Tobias talks about his life and death and life with such strength, candor and humor, is to understand the endless dimensions of adventure. Because he experienced death already, he has no fear of it. Mind you, he is in no rush to get there, but says he is aware of the freedom it will bestow on him. He used to write letters. Now, he says he “does not sit down and pull out the quill,” but maybe he will write one to himself and actually send it to his mom, the number one creator. He says his parents took him in when he was nine, and he never felt any different from his brother and sister who are not his biological siblings. He feels the same amount of love, respect and support that they do. Now, there is a love letter worth writing and worth keeping forever.