Born Name: Orville Willis Forte IV
Date of Birth: June 17, 1970
Place of Birth: Alameda, California, United States
Height: 1.75 m
Other names: Orville Forte
Education: Acalanes High School (1988), The Groundlings, University of California, Los Angeles
Occupation: Actor, comedian, writer, producer, voice actor
Notable work: Saturday Night Live,
The Last Man on Earth
Orville Willis Forte IV (born June 17, 1970) is an American actor, comedian, writer, producer, and voice actor. His work includes being a cast member on Saturday Night Live, and the creator and star of the sitcom The Last Man on Earth. After obtaining a history degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, and becoming a financial broker like his father, Forte changed his career path to comedy and took classes with the improvisational comedy group The Groundlings.
He soon found he favored writing best, and he worked as a writer on That '70s Show, before he auditioned for Saturday Night Live (SNL). He joined SNL in 2002, spending eight years as a cast member on the show, where he performed offbeat sketches. His most famous role on the show led to a feature film adaptation, MacGruber (2010), that preceded his departure from the program. Forte took various roles in comedy films, before starring in the drama film Nebraska (2013). Forte created, wrote and starred in the television sitcom, The Last Man on Earth, which aired on Fox from 2015 to 2018. He was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, for acting and writing for the series.
Early life and education
Orville Willis Forte IV was born in Alameda, California. His father, Orville Willis "Reb" Forte III, is a financial broker, and his mother, Patricia C. (née Stivers), is an artist and former schoolteacher. He was raised in Moraga, California before moving to Lafayette, California at age 13. He went by Billy in his early years until he was teased at school for it also being a girl's name, at which point he decided he would from then on be known as Will.
Forte describes himself as having been a "really happy little boy", whose parents were "wonderful" and created a "very loving environment". He was interested in comedy from a young age, growing up idolizing comedians, Peter Sellers, David Letterman, Steve Martin and the sketch-comedy television series Saturday Night Live. He often pranked his parents, and would record himself performing imaginary radio shows. He did not aim to be a comedian, however, and he initially wanted to become a football player.
Forte was "a laid-back teen with a lot of friends" and a member of the varsity football and swim teams at Acalanes High School, from which he graduated in 1988. He was voted "Best Personality" by his graduating class and served as freshman class president. He had no ambitions for a television or film career, though his mother noticed a "creative streak" in him. Following high school, he attended the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and completed a degree in history. Planning to follow his father, he became a financial broker at Smith Barney Shearson in Beverly Hills, but felt "miserable" during his time there. He started writing while he was at Shearson, and he co-wrote a feature-length script. On the subject of writing, Forte remarked, "I discovered that I loved it more than anything I had ever done in my life." He had been encouraged to attempt comedy during his years at university, and he decided to change his career to become a writer-performer.
Early career (1997–2001)
He began taking classes at the Groundlings in Los Angeles, an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe and school, while tutoring children to make ends meet. Forte's first successful foray into comedy was 101 Things to Definitely Not Do If You Want to Get a Chick, a comic book he produced that details incompetent men. The comics landed him his first professional job writing for The Jenny McCarthy Show, a short-lived variety show starring Jenny McCarthy. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to submit a packet to the Late Show with David Letterman and was told Letterman responded favorably to animation. After only nine months at Letterman, he was "let go" from the job. He recalled his stint on the program as unpleasant, noting that he did not have enough experience in writing. "What an honor to work at that show but I don't think I was fully mentally prepared. [...] I always wonder what it would be like if I’d had a couple more years of experience before going there."
Forte returned to Los Angeles and began performing with the Groundlings' Main Company, with Cheryl Hines, Jim Rash and Maya Rudolph. He tried stand-up comedy three times, mostly at open mic nights, but quit after being voted into the Main Company. He joined the writing teams of two failed sitcoms, including The Army Show and Action. Forte got jobs writing for 3rd Rock from the Sun and That '70s Show, two successful programs. He loved writing but had mostly given up on acting, aside from acting with the Groundlings. While performing with the troupe in 2001, he was spotted by Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Forte felt his confidence was higher than usual, as That '70s Show had been picked up for two more years. He was invited to audition for SNL, which he regarded as unexpected.
At his audition for SNL, he performed multiple original characters, including Tim Calhoun, a speed reader, a prison guard, in addition to impressions of singer Michael McDonald and actor Martin Sheen. His final character was an older piece from his days with the Groundlings, in which he portrays a gold-painted street performer who performs fellatio to pay for his face paint, which devolves into a song needlessly uttering the words "cock" and "face paint" dozens of times. He felt his time to shine as a performer was already over, as he was in his thirties when he auditioned. To his surprise, he was offered a chance to be on the show, but declined, opting instead for the financial stability of his work at That '70s Show. He felt working for SNL could not live up to the idealized version he had dreamed of, but he later realized he would be making a mistake.
Saturday Night Live years (2002–2010)
—Forte on his tenure at SNL
After Will Ferrell left Saturday Night Live the following spring, Forte joined the cast, premiering at the beginning of the show's twenty-eighth season in the fall. He was promoted to repertory player after his first year. His early years on the program were characterized by stage fright and an inability to properly interpret sketches that he did not write himself. He had to "re-learn" how to perform after years as a writer, and later felt his natural tendency to "overthink" things improved his performance. He was particularly uncomfortable portraying President George W. Bush, as he felt he was not the best impressionist and it paled in comparison to Ferrell's impersonation of Bush. His only role was often Bush, leaving him no chance for more "absurd" pieces he favored. He was nearly fired from the program following his third season (2004–05), but after two three-week extensions to decide his fate, he was brought back. Forte estimated it took five seasons for him to feel fully comfortable performing on the show. In 2004, he made his film debut in Around the World in 80 Days.
Forte's humor at SNL has been described as bizarre, and he became known for many "10-to-1" sketches: pieces deemed too odd that air at the bottom of the show, preceding its conclusion. Among these were a sketch titled "Potato Chip", in which Forte plays an NASA recruiter that warns a candidate (Jason Sudeikis) not to touch a bowl of potato chips on his desk, or his turn as Jeff Montgomery, a sex offender posing as one for Halloween. He was also well known for his characters Tim Calhoun, Greg Stink, and the Falconer. Forte's favorite sketch on the show was one in which he played a motivational coach alongside football star Peyton Manning. He also co-starred with Andy Samberg in the first SNL Digital Short, "Lettuce". He often spent long hours crafting his sketches for the program, passing deadlines, but his pieces were often greeted warmly at table reads. During his time at the show, he costarred in and wrote the 2007 film The Brothers Solomon. The film was originally a pilot for Carsey-Werner, and its creation was an extension of his agreement to terminate his contract to appear on SNL.
Forte's best-known character on SNL was MacGruber, a special operations agent who is tasked in each episode with deactivating a ticking bomb but becomes distracted by personal issues. The sketches were based on the television series MacGyver. It was created by writer Jorma Taccone, who pitched the idea relentlessly to Forte. He was initially reluctant to commit to the sketch, deeming it too dumb, but accepted after persuasion from Taccone. The first sketch aired in January 2007, and led to multiple more segments in the following years. In 2009, the sketches were spun off into a series of commercials sponsored by Pepsi premiering during Super Bowl XLIII that featured the actor behind MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson, as MacGruber's father. The advertisements led the character and sketches to receive a wider level of popularity. Following the success of the advertisements, creator Lorne Michaels approached Forte, Taccone, and writer John Solomon with the idea to produce a MacGruber film.
Regarding his experiences on SNL, Forte has remarked:
Looking back, the experience is something I’ll never forget. I still miss it, and I’ll always miss it. That’s my family.
George W. Bush
Post-SNL, MacGruber and film roles (2011–2014)
MacGruber was shot on a tight schedule for twenty eight days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, during the summer of 2009. It was written while simultaneously producing the weekly episode of SNL, and the show's production process left the trio deprived of sleep. Forte was positive regarding the film, saying,
The film was released in May 2010 and received mixed reviews. It fared worse at the box office, where it failed to recoup its budget and was pulled from theaters after its third week. Forte found the failure tolerable, commenting, "When you make something that you’re really proud of and it doesn’t do well, you can live with it." The film has since seen more positive reception and has been dubbed a cult classic.
Forte left Saturday Night Live shortly before the beginning of the show's thirty-sixth season in 2010. He felt it the "right time to go," considering his eight-year tenure there, his expansion into film with MacGruber, and his age. In addition, his sister had just had kids and he wanted to move to the West Coast to be closer to them. He soon regretted the decision, calling the following year an "emotionally trying period," as he felt "devastated" that he would no longer be on the program. He assumed his shot at a film career was ruined, and he imagined that if acting did not work out, he would return to writing primarily. Following this, he entered what he has called a "lost period" and had small supporting roles, such as Rock of Ages, That's My Boy and The Watch, all of which were not successful. The only commercial successful film he worked on was Grown Ups 2, where he made a cameo as a male cheerleader. He also took a role as Paul L'Astname, the cross-dressing boyfriend of Jenna Maroney on the critically acclaimed sitcom 30 Rock.
Forte took his first dramatic role for the 2013 film Run & Jump. Director Steph Green offered him the part, and Forte imagined it a "fun thing to try," though he noted that she had more confidence in him than he had himself. Later, he sent an audition tape to Alexander Payne for a role in his next film, Nebraska. He equated his casting in the film to his fear of joining SNL a decade prior, noting that he was "terrified" to begin working on it. He felt scared initially, but followed Bruce Dern's acting advice to "look for the truth" in each scene—in other words, "In every scene, you're just trying to play it as honestly and as real as you can."
Recent work and The Last Man on Earth (2015–2018)
Forte began work on The Last Man on Earth, a sitcom, with longtime collaborators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in 2013. Though it was the duo's idea, Forte attached himself to the concept, crafting a treatment over a weekend. The series was pitched around Hollywood to positive responses and was picked up in 2014 by Fox. Forte serves as the series' creator, a writer, the lead role, and showrunner for its first season. He felt odd being in charge of its writing team (composed of longtime friends), and awkward at delegating tasks, so much so that he would end up doing the work himself. Being a showrunner "truly was an amount of work I never knew existed," he said, which involved him working a "minimum of 12 hours" daily. The series premiered in 2015 to positive responses, and was renewed for an additional 3 seasons.
In 2016, Forte played Hulka, a low-level weed dealer, in the comedy Keanu, starring Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. In 2018, he starred as National Lampoon magazine co-founder and writer Douglas Kenney in the Netflix biographical film A Futile and Stupid Gesture. The film was directed by David Wain and also features Domhnall Gleeson as co-founder Henry Beard.
Forte is a supporter of the camp Wampler's Kids and recorded a promotional piece at SNL with Will Ferrell. Forte was a childhood friend of founder Steven Wampler and previously the national spokesman for SciEyes, a non-profit organization created to support research, training and public education in stem cell biology and to further the field by recognizing and supporting its potential for creating new therapies for the treatment of blinding and debilitating eye diseases. He was a primary donor towards the establishment of a research fellowship for third-year medical students at Duke Medical Center. He serves on the Board of Directors of the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness.
Forte resides in Santa Monica, California. He purchased his home just two weeks before joining SNL and being forced to move to New York City; "It was not the greatest timing," he later said.
Forte's mother has visited every film set on which he has worked. She made an appearance on a Mother's Day episode of SNL in which he sang a song to her on Weekend Update. Forte officiated his sister Michelle's wedding and filmed the birth of his niece and nephew.
Forte has discussed and joked about his obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies. He recounted listening to only one song in his office at SNL for an entire year because he wanted to challenge himself. During an interview with Larry King, Forte discussed his OCD as a challenge he had to overcome but not one he wished he did not have, as it is a part of his personality. In a feature on him and his Fox television series The Last Man on Earth in February 2015, the writer of the article said that Forte mentioned OCD often but it was not clear if he had ever been formally diagnosed, though Forte related how he and a former girlfriend had gone through an OCD questionnaire and it concluded that Forte "should immediately talk to someone about this".
Forte is currently engaged to Olivia Modling since the end of 2019, whom he met in 2018.
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