South by Southwest: Jodie Foster to Debut 'The Beaver' With Mel Gibson

Guy Aroch Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In one of her most candid interviews ever, she tells the new Hollywood Reporter about the "lifetime of pain" he brought to the film, her loyalty and what she knew when as his personal drama unfolded on the set.

This is a condensed version of The Hollywood Reporter's new cover story, on stands March 17 in L.A. and NYC. Read the full version here.

Mel Gibson returns to the big screen in Jodie Foster’s The Beaver – his first starring role since 2002.

Now, in one of her most candid interviews ever, Foster -- who debuts her dramedy Wednesday at the SXSW Film Festival -- opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about the movie, the troubled actor and what she knew when.

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“I know him in a very complex way,” Foster says of Gibson, who on March 11 pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of domestic violence allegedly committed against ex Oksana Grigorieva last year. “He’s a real person; he’s not a cardboard cutout. I know that he has troubles, and when you love somebody you don’t just walk away from them when they are struggling.”

Foster says Gibson wasn't originally in the running for The Beaver - due out May 6, with a wider release on May 20 – about a troubled man who tries to get his life back on track with the help of a beaver puppet.

Steve Carell was first attached, but he allowed her to take the project to other actors, knowing his schedule would cause long delays.

That’s when Foster called Gibson, whom she first met on 1994’s Maverick.

“I’d never done that before,” she tells THR. “I don’t have many friends who are actors. I said, ‘Look, I’m going to send you something, and the bad news is you have to tell us in 24 hours,’ because there was another actor interested.”

The next day, Gibson called and said he needed just 10 hours more to discuss it with his agent, then gave her a yes. “I said, ‘Really, really, really?’ He said, ‘Really!’” Foster recalls.

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Gibson, who had already inflamed passions after a 2006 drunken meltdown during which he hurled abuse at a female police officer, “wasn’t a hard sell, but it was a challenge for distribution,” Foster acknowledges. “They wanted an anchor as well” — a key reason she cast herself in the co-starring role.

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.

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.”

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Editing was already well under way when the disturbing audiotapes of Gibson threatening Grigorieva hit the web.

Before Gibson’s relationship with Grigorieva exploded in the public eye, he confided in Foster. “We talked about it all the way through, about what was going on in his life," she tells THR. "I don’t think he told me until it was something he couldn’t handle by himself.”

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.”

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Now the question remains, will Mel risk exposing himself to the media to do press for the film?

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!’ ”

Foster's hope: Theatergoers will separate themselves from the man and view his performance as one of his finest.

“He’s so incredibly loving and sensitive, he really is,” she says. “He is the most loved actor I have ever worked with on a movie. And he’s not saintly, and he’s got a big mouth, and he’ll do gross things your nephew would do. But I knew the minute I met him that I would love him the rest of my life.”

She pauses, and this exceptionally intelligent, highly controlled woman has tears in her eyes.

“God, I love that man,” Foster says. “The performance he gave in this movie, I will always be grateful for. He brought a lifetime of pain to the character that we’ve been talking about for years, that I knew was part of his psyche and who he is. It’s part of him that is beautiful and that I want people to know, too. I can’t ever regret that.”