Jodie Foster on Mel Gibson: 'I Knew the Minute I Met Him, I Would Love Him' Forever
The director, sometimes with tears in her eyes, speaks candidly in the new Hollywood Reporter magazine about the "lifetime of pain" he brought to "The Beaver," her loyalty, and what she knew as his personal drama unfolded on the set.
Summit Entertainment was one of the few companies enthusiastic enough to commit, co-financing with Participant Media. They had doubts about how to sell the project, Foster says, but that did not impact production, which commenced in summer 2009 in Westchester County, N.Y., benefiting from the state’s generous subsidies.
It was a remarkably easy 43-day shoot, she adds, with Anton Yelchin joining the cast as Gibson and Foster’s son and Jennifer Lawrence as the object of Yelchin’s affection.
“There were some issues that we knew would be problematic down the line, in terms of script,” Foster explains, “and getting the tone right took a long time, and there was a lot of trial and error. But Mel was amazing.”
The only mishap occurred on the very last day of principal photography, when Gibson had to hit himself with a prop lamp.
“It was a very big, emotional scene, the last thing we shoot in the entire movie, and his plane is waiting for him to leave,” Foster notes. “Our prop department messed up and didn’t score the fake lamp properly; half of it was real, and when he smacked his head, it just — whoosh! — blood was gushing everywhere.”
Foster raced into action. “We didn’t have a medic,” she says. “It was just me and the producer running around with a first-aid kit trying to stanch the blood, and Mel’s like, ‘Come on, it hurts!’ Your head, it really bleeds. I can’t tell you how many ‘I’m so sorry’ notes I sent.”
She smiles in fond recollection of that moment, probably the last unsullied time she’d have before being caught up in the Gibson tornado. Editing was already well under way when the disturbing audiotapes were released to the public. On July 9, the day the first tapes came out, months after principal photography had wrapped, Foster was with Gibson again for the last day of additional shoots. The drama of that event, and its inevitable impact on the film, is vivid in her memory.
“He had a lot of work to do,” she says. “It was a bad situation. His assistant called me: ‘Come to the trailer!’ And I went to his trailer, and he was a mess. Then he came on set, and he didn’t have any makeup on, anything. He came in and sat down on the chair and said, ‘OK, roll it,’ and did two takes that were just beautiful. Then he got on the plane and left.”
Where that left the film remained a mystery at the time. Summit instantly went into damage-control mode.
“We had talks with Jodie and Mel and our partners at Participant,” Summit co-chairman and CEO Rob Friedman recalls. “We had meetings, phone conversations. Jodie wants what’s best for the movie. As a filmmaker, she is very focused on making the best films she can and having them perform and is very receptive to the studio’s recommendations — which doesn’t mean she just stays shy. She and Mel are critical portions of the film, and Jodie has dedicated herself to that.”
How much Gibson can do at this point is unclear. But on March 13 via e-mail, asked if he had specific plans to help with the publicity campaign, he replied, “Yes.”
“He was like, ‘I’ll be chained to a car and dragged through gravel for you!’ ” Foster laughs. “And I’m like, ‘That’s OK!’ ”
Given everything she’s facing, it’s remarkable that she remains so sanguine.
Unlike most actors, she says she’s not emotional — on the surface, anyway. Yet she has been going through a period of profound upheaval — not just with Mel, her new film and two sons but with transitioning away from being the acclaimed actress who made such a mark in Taxi Driver and won Oscars for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs to a 48-year-old who badly wants to redefine her career as a director.
Gibson, in his e-mail, warmly recalls first meeting the young woman with “the piercing blue eyes” who looked as if “she just came from gym” and surprised him when she metamorphosed into a radiant leading lady. But she’s a very different person now, coming to terms with her own fears and insecurities — and acknowledging a depression that she says has been with her for years.
“Depression is a part of my life I accept,” she says, explaining its cause as a sort of obsessive rumination. “You think about something and you think about it again, and you keep going back to a tragic or dramatic moment and try to understand all different angles — and that’s the process of depression, which is not being able to get out of a dramatic thought or feeling. Obviously, chemical depression is very different. But it’s a big part of my life, and you have to embrace that part of yourself.”
An even bigger part has been the effective withdrawal of her mother, Brandy — the vital, anti-authoritarian presence who dominated Foster’s early life and encouraged her acting.
Foster hesitates about saying too much, at first afraid her mother will read this before realizing that can’t happen. “She’s old, and she has dementia now, so she’s in a new place,” she reflects. “She’s 82. She lives at home with lots of care.”
Her passion for her mother remains evident, with new layers added now that Foster is a mother herself. “She shaped me so much,” the filmmaker says. “And now that she’s really a new person, a different person — a very nice person, just not the mom I grew up with — I have a real nostalgia for who she was. She was brilliant and independent and came from nothing and was very forward-thinking, almost anarchically so.”
Jodie Foster with Mel Gibson on the set of "The Beaver."
Anarchy is hardly a sentiment one associates with Foster, which explains why she’s more drawn to the controlling role of director — something that will allow her to use “a mind like a razor,” as Gibson puts it, and the logic that “just oozes out of her.”
“I’ve reached that point where I don’t want to act very much anymore,” Foster admits. “I am much more interested in holding off on acting, after 45 years as an actor. It’s a long period of time to do the same thing.”
While Foster has committed to a small role opposite Matt Damon in Elysium, If she doesn’t act again, she won’t be perturbed — indeed, if she started out today, she says, “I definitely would not have been an actor; I don’t feel like I have the personality at all.”
Maybe this is inevitable after spending a lifetime in the public eye. Maybe it’s her present feeling of sickness that’s affecting her. Or maybe it’s just exhaustion following the Polanski shoot, which insiders repeatedly describe as “rough.”
“He is my opposite,” Foster acknowledges, even though she says she admires the controversial filmmaker behind such movies as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. “Every director you work with has their way, and the first two weeks is you figuring out their way and helping them. Some directors want lots of discussion and a real collaboration; some don’t want any. He’s different than I would be, but I can direct my own movies. He wants everything to come from him. There’s his crew, and they know it all comes from him. There’s no input from anyone else.”
As for Polanski’s complicated character and the resurrection of his rape charge in the U.S., “That’s not my business,” she says.