There’s something both beautifully fragile and undeniably fierce about Jodie Foster’s birdlike features. She looks at once like she needs protection but, if provoked, could kick your ass to Tuesday. It’s a winning combination, one milked well in her box office hits Panic Room and Flightplan. In her new movie, The Brave One, Foster plays a broken woman out on a vigilante killing spree after watching her fiancé get beaten to death by a gang of New York City hoods. If the formula holds, Hollywood will want Foster peering out of movie posters with that same feral look of distress and determination for years to come.
In person, Foster, 44, has a slight California Spicoli drawl, and often snorts when she laughs hard. She provokes a dizzying feeling that you’re talking to both the smartest person in the business and the most endearing one. On a recent summer afternoon, out on a luxe patio at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Foster looks tired but game. She’s just returned from a family vacation in Iceland with her two boys, Charlie, 9, and Kit, 5. Later this week the gang will head to Australia, where Foster joins Abigail Breslin to shoot the children’s fantasy epic Nim’s Island. From there she’ll see her kids off to their first day of school in L.A. and hit the international circuit to promote The Brave One. ”Doing two movies in one year was a dumb idea and I’ll never do that again,” says Foster. ”I did it when I was a kid and it was fine, but you can’t do it with a family.”
Over the next two hours, there’s only one subject that she firmly swats away. A recent Out magazine cover featured two models holding up pictures of her and Anderson Cooper’s faces in front of their own, under the headline ”The Glass Closet: Why the Stars Won’t Come Out and Play.” When asked if she has any response, Foster says, ”Was that the one with the Popsicle sticks?” Her thin lips tighten into a calm half smile of reproach: ”No, I have no response.”
So be it. Too many actors today flaunt their personal lives to make up for the lack of a real professional one. And then there’s Jodie Foster — Oscar winner for both The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, director of the fine films Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays, and a smart, sensitive actress audiences love to root for. If only she could teach a seminar on class and carriage (and the saving influence of a college education) to the thin bubbles of celebrity floating around Tinseltown today.
EW: There’s a rallying moment in The Brave One when you stick a gun in a bad guy’s face and say, ”I want my dog back.” How are you going to feel about the audience cheering on your character as she starts hunting people down?
JF: It’s shameful, but that’s human and that’s who we are as human beings. There will be unsophisticated people who see a sophisticated movie. Just like there were in The Accused. And thank God I only went to one screening of that movie with an audience.
EW: What were you met with?
JF: They cheered the rape. It was awful. And that wasn’t an isolated event. It happened all over the country. But I don’t think you can legislate your audience. If you’re going to make a movie that explores dramatic violence, do you change it because you’re worried that people aren’t going to take it properly?
EW: What do you think is the larger social commentary of The Brave One, which in some ways plays as a straight-up Dirty Harry revenge movie?
JF: Here’s my commentary: I don’t believe that any gun should be in the hand of a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. Americans are by nature filled with rage-slash-fear. And guns are a huge part of our culture. I know I’m crazy because I’m only supposed to say that in Europe. But violence corrupts absolutely. By the end of this, her transformation is complete. ”F— all of you, now I’m just going to kill people with my bare hands.”
EW: Then why is it called The Brave One?
JF: That’s a really good question! [Laughs] That’s many, many memos ago. The whole time we were like, ”You guys, this title is bad, this is misleading.” I don’t really know how to explain it except that it’s the first title the script ever had and [producer] Joel Silver really believes that it has a strong feeling to it. Which it does. It’s not wimpy. It would be a beautiful title for another movie. My only defense is that there are a lot of really good movies that have bad titles. Gone With the Wind. That was a bad title. The Way We Were. Terrible title!
EW: This starts off as another Jodie Foster-in-jeopardy movie. Do you ever worry about audiences tiring of seeing you fend off predators?
JF: You mean, enough already? I think it’s just the opposite. Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock do romantic comedies. I do dark dramas. I do these movies well.
EW: Do you ever feel like you’re replaying the same character? On the Silence of the Lambs commentary, Jonathan Demme talks about the urgency of you nailing Clarice’s accent, because in all of your characters before you were just playing Jodie Foster.
JF: I do find myself either being attracted to these solitary characters, or I just start killing people off in the script. ”Why do we have to have a mom? The mom serves no purpose!” I find myself making the character more and more singular, more and more bereft and abandoned, and I know that’s a whole thing in my life that keeps coming up in my movies. [Pause] He said that I was just Jodie Foster over and over again?
EW: He did.
JF: He did, well, hmm. You know, one of my favorite things that directors do is where they go, ”In every movie she’s ever done, she’s okay, she’s not so great, but in my movie, she’s fantastic!” [Laughs] I love that when they do that. This other quote Jonathan would say, and I give him a lot of s— about this, is ”Yeah, you know every other movie she’s ever played in, she’s had to dumb down and she’s had to act like she’s dumber than she is. But in my movie she got to explore her intelligence.”
EW: You won your second Oscar, for Silence, when you had just recently turned 30. How badly do you want another one?
JF: Ha! Sure, that’d be great. But I didn’t get them by looking for scripts that have ”the weight of importance.” An interesting lesson from Silence of the Lambs: I had just won for The Accused and — not my agent so much — but everybody else was like, ”Why are you going to do that movie? It’s a total second fiddle. Anthony Hopkins got the good part and you are just quiet and don’t speak in contractions. You could do a juicy part!” I was like, ”That’s who she is, and that’s how I’m going to play her. I’m not going to try and compete with him.” And I won an Oscar for that. So much for them second-guessing whose part was better.
EW: I watched Inside Man again recently —
JF: Did you like that movie?
EW: Fun popcorn flick. Did you?
JF: I think that script was really, really good. It’s not as exciting as I was hoping, but my character’s great, even though if you cut her out of the movie it would not matter one iota.
EW: She’s a terrific bitch, unlike anyone you’ve ever played.
JF: I wanted the fake tan in that one. I wanted the Manolo Blahniks. You know the Louis Vuitton ad with Uma Thurman where she looks like the perfect Aryan total goddess with slick blond hair and all the jewelry and the lipstick? I took that in and said, ”I want to look like that, only I’m not her so I’m not going to be as pretty.”
EW: Was that part of the movie’s allure, the chance to swan around in heels for a change?
JF: No, that’s the character. You know, I’m really not a clothes person. To me that’s just work. It’s the thing I hate to do the most. I don’t want to be judged in that way. ”Well, that’s a 5, that’s a 2, that’s a 10.”
EW: You’ve picked a tough town to call home then.
JF:I can feel a little grossed out by L.A. but, hey, it’s nice to feel superior! [Laughs] Clearly you have to wear a lot of rubber to get through this town. My kids are so innocent. They’re not L.A. kids and none of their little friends are. And I make movies with real technicians who wake up at four in the morning and wear Patagonia everything. I don’t make them with the wives of executives who have fake lips. I was never the ingenue or the pretty girlfriend of Tom Cruise in a movie. I didn’t have that career, so I don’t have to compete on that level.
EW: Did you ever want more of a shot at playing the cute get?
JF: No, but there were other things I wanted. Like, I got insecure because I made this conscious choice when I was 18 and 19 not to do any of those coming-of-age devirginization movies, to be a part of any kind of Brat Pack. They were the hot items here in L.A. and I was living in Connecticut and going to college. I knew some of those guys, so I did feel a bit like a loser. ”What are you guys doing tonight? I’m studying for this French test.” And then the whole romantic-comedy thing. There was a time when that really was it in Hollywood. But I never was interested.
EW: Not even a little?
JF: Sometimes I would do an audition for a Meg Ryan-type role and maybe I just wasn’t good. And they were probably right, because I’m sure I would suck at them. But I did replace Meg Ryan in Maverick, and that was just so cool. She bowed out, like, two weeks before shooting. So I had my opportunity to try a romantic comedy and it was successful, but I don’t need to make a career of it.
EW: How did it feel watching your costar Mel Gibson take a bath in the press after his drunk-driving arrest?
JF: I love him. I knew the minute I met him that he was going to be my friend for the rest of my life. I don’t often feel that way, and I certainly never feel that way about actors. I know Mel extremely well, and anybody who has even remotely met him knows what a severe alcohol problem he’s had his entire life. This is a man who almost died. He’s not some guy who went to rehab because he got a traffic ticket. The whole weird media frenzy was hard, but the most important thing is that he’s sober.
EW: Your performance in Taxi Driver kept coming up during the mini media frenzy over news that Dakota Fanning had a rape scene in the [yet-to-be released] movie Hounddog.
JF: What did they say about me? ”She might end up like Jodie Foster!” Taxi Driver was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I didn’t become a weirdo and squawk like a chicken. And she is spectacular in [Hounddog]. The movie, ehh, but that’s a brave, brave performance that she should be very, very proud of, and I passed that message along to her. That’s why Dakota Fanning is going to end up being a real actress. I think it was a wonderful move for her and it’s setting her up to not be a Disney bimbo. I think the [uproar] was just a bunch of Christians who didn’t see the movie.
EW: Are you religious?
JF: No, I’m an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and the rituals. Even though I don’t believe in God. We celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids. They love it, and when they say, ”Are we Jewish?” or ”Are we Catholic?” I say, ”Well, I’m not, but you can choose when you’re 18. But isn’t this fun that we do seders and the Advent calendar?”
EW: I know you don’t talk about your children…
JF: I don’t not talk about them. Do people say I don’t talk about them?
EW: I thought you didn’t talk about your personal life.
JF: Well, no, it’s kind of weird to go into long detail about them when you’re trying not to invite scrutiny in your private life. But it’s hard not to because I love them and they’re so fun and they’re on my mind all the time. It’s funny — we went to a parade the other day. And the whole idea of a parade is to get joyful and loose. When you have a kid, you hope that they feel that way, because you’re spending the whole time going, ”Do you have your eye on him?! He’s wearing an orange hat! I hope he’s not going to get lost in the crowd!” You can’t turn off all the worry. So I purposely don’t drag them into places where it’s going to be a nest of public attention.
EW: What do you think when someone like a Lindsay Lohan, who seems willingly caught in a nest of attention, blithely aspires to a career like yours?
JF: I think the reason is just because I’ve lasted so long. I did movies in the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and the year 2000s. I did Alan Parker’s first movie, I did Adrian Lyne’s first movie, and Martin Scorsese had only made a few movies when I did Alice. Everybody tells you as a child actor that by the time you’re 18 it’ll be over, so you need to be prepared. I knew that. My mom got me real nice and prepared for that. It’s a weird business. It’s a weird thing for a child to be doing. And it’s a really, really weird thing for an adolescent to be doing. When you have pimples and you feel bad about yourself and you’re kind of overweight, you should not be a public figure. That’s just mean, it’s mean to do that to an adolescent.
EW: So why’d you do it?
JF: It was the job I was born into. I didn’t have an actor’s personality, it’s just what I did, I guess. When I was 25, somebody at my agency said, ”Well, what is your goal?” and I was like, ”Look, my goal is to be in this for a really, really, really long time. I don’t want to make a bunch of money and be really famous and then figure out what the hell I’m going to do for the next 20 years.”
EW: What the hell are you going to do for the next 20 years?
JF: I don’t know about my late 40s and 50s. I’m looking forward to those characters that I’m going to play in my 70s, not having to do some of the bulls— that I still have to deal with, like getting into the outfits and the makeup. Not so much my late 40s and 50s.
EW: You’ve never been busier. Things don’t seem to be drying up.
JF: They were before Flightplan. I mean, I hadn’t worked in three years. Did you ever think I was quitting?
EW: I preferred to think you were being discerning.
JF: I was being discerning, but I was fully aware that that could mean that I was done. My mom would always say, ”When you’re 40, your career’s going to be over, so you need to figure out what you’re going to do next.” She’s been telling me that since I was 18.
EW: So it’s not Hollywood that shelves female actors of a certain age, it’s their mothers.
JF: Exactly! [Laughs] So I was like, ”Okay, well, I’m 40, but I’m going to keep squeezing this out. I want to do some really good stuff because this may be it for me.” [My publicist], Pat Kingsley, made me do Flightplan. Not only was I not on the fence, I was like, ”Oh, no, forget this script.” And she was like, ”Look, maybe the whole package is not everything that you ever wanted, but if you keep doing that, where everything has to be perfect or you’re not going to do it at all, then you’re never going to work again.” And she was right.
EW: On the flip side, what’s some of the crummiest advice you’ve gotten over the years?
JF: A nameless person in my group was really against me directing Little Man Tate. She basically said, ”You might win an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs, it’s a big movie, this is your opportunity to make a lot of money, and you’re completely blowing it to get paid scale plus 10 to go do this directing thing. Are you crazy? Pull out of it now.”
EW: Sounds like something your mother might say.
JF: [Laughs] Yeah, you can hear the voice saying, ”You’ll never work again! You’ll never make that much money again! Your life is over when you’re 40!”
EW: Are you still going to direct Sugarland, about migrant workers in Florida?
JF: It just fell apart again. And that was a great part for Robert De Niro. That’s the story in Hollywood. You make personal movies and they’re really hard to get off the ground. S— happens. Usually it’s actors who screw you. That’s what happened on Flora Plum [a Depression-era story about circus performers Foster first tried to shoot in 2000]. Russell Crowe had that accident [he injured his shoulder while prepping for the film], it shut down, there was a [potential] strike, I lost my financing, we got it together again with [someone else], he left, it was done. But on Sugarland, I said, ”I’m going to write this part for myself so that I’m in it and at least I’ll have one actor I can count on for financing who’s not flaky.” So I did that and the studio pulled the plug despite that.
EW: Are you pissed?
JF: I don’t hate anybody for it. What I was mad at is that [the studio] didn’t tell me earlier, because I had taken a big window out for that time and as an actor, when I don’t work it costs me a lot of money.
EW: Did you turn down anything interesting?
JF: No. [Laughing] Not really. That’s just what I told them… If I never acted again, I wouldn’t care. I like making movies and talking about them and conceiving of them, but the acting is more of a pain.
Interview published on Entertainment weekly, August 2007