Jodie Foster on Mel Gibson: 'I Knew the Minute I Met Him, I Would Love Him' Forever

 Guy Aroch Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s striking that Foster, who’s perceived as such a moral force, is forgiving of men like Polanski and Gibson who are so much less adulated than her. But it’s equally striking that both have achieved the one professional goal that has eluded her: recognition as a major director.

A brief short, The Hands of Time, made as a teenager with the BBC while it was shooting a documentary about her, was followed by Little Man Tate and the financially disappointing ensemble comedy Home for the Holidays. But two much-cherished projects, the 1930s circus movie Flora Plum and a biography of Nazi documentarian Leni Riefenstahl, never got off the ground.

With Flora, she says: “Two weeks before shooting, Russell Crowe broke his shoulder, and they pulled the plug. We couldn’t continue, and there was a strike looming; his prep was eight weeks because of all the acrobatics. Then I got it set up again on two actors’ names, and the actors left. And then I got it set up a third time, and I realized it had been 12 years, and I felt like I had done that movie.”

As for the Riefenstahl bio, “I’ve never been able to crack it, really,” she says. “I just was never able to get the scripts in the shape they needed to be.”

She shrugs, trying not to let it weigh on her. But the sense of loss is there and perhaps always will be.

Other things consume her now — like her determination to move from Los Angeles to New York; like the changes her elder son, Charlie, is undergoing as he enters his teenage phase — but equally, she must figure out a way to put herself in the pantheon of American movie masters, where many believe she ultimately belongs.

Her Panic Room helmer, David Fincher, raves about Foster, and in particular her work with young co-star Kristen Stewart, noting: “She doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but half the time I couldn’t even get in the room because it was so crowded with cameras and all this stuff. She is one of the great directors of children.”

But the truth is, after years of effort, Foster’s own directorial efforts have yielded a scant three features. “I also had a big career as an actress, I had my production company, and I had two kids — and I make really personal movies,” she says. “The combination of those things conspired to keep me away from directing.”


Jodie Foster in director's mode.

Yet her intellect craves more, craves the “dense tapestry” she recently found in Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom that she wishes to create for herself. In a few years, her kids will be out of the house; she still has decades of productive work, and it matters. So it’s heartbreaking that this second intersection with a public maelstrom might get in the way.

She doesn’t blame Gibson but says: “It’s weird, isn’t it? I thought, ‘Someday that’s what I’m going to do.’ It’s the thing I’m most disappointed about.”

Then her pragmatism kicks in. “If I go to my grave with only the work I’ve created so far, am I going to care? Probably not.”     

 

THE BEAVER: A Timeline

Spring 2009: After Steve Carell gives Foster permission to proceed without him, the director calls Mel Gibson and says he has 24 hours to respond. The next day, he asks for 10 more hours to reach his agent, Ed Limato, before giving a firm yes.

Sept. 19, 2009: Filming begins in WestchesterCounty, N.Y., benefiting from tax breaks. The shoot is trouble-free, except for an incident when Gibson is hurt by a prop lamp.

Nov. 20, 2009: Shooting wraps, and Foster begins a long postproduction process, knowing the third act of the script still needs to be resolved.

March 16: The Beaver is set to debut at SXSW with Foster in attendance but not Gibson, who recently pleaded guilty to battery.

May 6: Beaver is set for limited bow in the U.S., followed by wide release May 20 and gradual overseas rollout.

 

FOSTERS’S FIVE FAVORITE FILMS

The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle, 1971)
The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
Truly Madly Deeply (Anthony Minghella, 1990)
The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

 

FOSTER ON FOSTER: From being a child star to working with one, the actress and filmmaker reveals what she’s learned from almost a half-century in Hollywood.

Taxi Driver (1976)
"I went to a private school, with the little Peter Pan collar, and I remember being really embarrassed having to wear those outfits. But it was the first time I had been asked to play a character that was not me in any way. Robert De Niro really taught me; he sat with me for hours to get me so comfortable with the dialogue I could go seamlessly in and out of improvisation. I thought acting was a dumb job up till then, but I realized that it was me not bringing enough to it."

The Accused (1988)
"They definitely didn’t want me at first. I wasn’t at a popular place in my career. But director Jonathan Kaplan fought hard for what I brought, which was a toughness they were hoping not to have. I’m not tough — people think I am. But she was, and that drew me to her. … The hardest thing was that I felt I wasn’t giving them the performance everybody was hoping for. I wasn’t being a good girl and giving them what they wanted. And now I see that as a great strength."

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
"Lots of people ask, “How do you play strong and moving at the same time?” Well, they can do some of the things I can’t do, but that is something I can do. My head doesn’t stop working just because I’m acting. I have a specific approach that is just different from other people, more of an intellectual approach, and yet I am able to turn that into something emotional."

Little Man Tate (1991)
"The casting was crucial. I saw hundreds and hundreds of kids; we ended up with one who had never even done a school play. The boy in Little Man Tate [Adam Hann-Byrd] is very close to who I was and who I am, feeling like I had to choose between my intellectual side and this very deeply emotional side and wanting both and trying to bring them together."

Panic Room (2002)
"I just love [co-star] Kristen Stewart, but I didn’t think she’d choose to be an actress. I said to her mom, 'She doesn’t want that, right?' And she’s like, 'Well, yes, she kind of does.' Because she’s very much like me: She’s not comfortable in life being a big, externally emotional person, beating her chest, crying every five minutes. I felt she was such an intelligent technician, so interested in camera — I thought that would translate to other things."

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