NO FEAR OF FLYING
Jodie Foster has two Oscars and a handful of $100 million blockbusters on her resume, but this is what she thinks about her 40-year career in Hollywood:
“Actual acting, it’s just not in my personality,” she says. “I never have been [drawn to it]. It’s something that I’ve developed a skill for that’s kind of contrary to who I am.”
Perhaps that is why in the 17 years since she won her first Best Actress Oscar, for 1988’s “The Accused,” Foster has taken just nine marquee roles. But among that number are her second Oscar-winning performance, in “The Silence of the Lambs” and the mega-grossing hits “Panic Room” (2002), “Contact” (1997) and “Maverick” (1994), as well as her directorial debut, “Little Man Tate” (1991).
Foster was in Toronto to promote her first starring role in four years, as yet another unnerved mother in “Flightplan,” which opens Friday. At 42, she’s sporting a khaki suit and a new feathered-blond hairdo, radiating sensibility and class all at once. Sitting Indian-style on the couch with her shoes tossed on the floor, she smiles with warmth and ease – a sign of what producer Brian Grazer calls her “really, really, really self-confident” personality.
When complimented on her strong resume, Foster is surprisingly modest. “I’ve got some bad stuff in there,” she laughs. True, her turn with Dennis Hopper in “Catchfire” resulted in a serious stinker, but generally the second half of her career has been stellar.
“I have pretty strong instincts about what I want to do and what I don’t want to do,” she says. “When I make a decision, I don’t look back. At the same time, I haven’t made as much money as everybody else. Some people would say, ‘Well, that’s not much of a trade-off – look at me, look how much money I got! So I made three bad ones. So what?’
“Good for them, but I can’t do that.”
The mother of two sons, Charles, 7, and Kit, 3, Foster says that motherhood has given her new strength and drawn her to different material in recent years. Like in “Panic Room,” her latest role finds her in what would be any mother’s waking nightmare.
Recently widowed aeronautical engineer Kyle Pratt (Foster) is traveling on a transatlantic flight from Berlin to America with her daughter. Her husband’s coffin is stowed below in the lower level of a two-story plane she designed.
After a brief nap, she rises to find her daughter missing. Panicked, she leads the crew on a desperate search. Producers originally sought a man for the role, but Foster’s ability to radiate strength changed their minds.
“I consider her powerful,” says Grazer, who has known Foster well for the past 15 years. “She has a very strong human quality that allows you to get inside of her and care about her. I thought the way to make it interesting was to do it with a woman.”
In a twist right out of “Gaslight,” Pratt’s own sanity is questioned when an examination of the passenger manifest reveals no listing for her daughter.
“There is something that I know really intimately about this experience, about feeling that your body and your identity is so connected with your [kids] and this primal, horrible frustration of feeling like you can’t keep them safe.”
In addition to her two lastest films, a good number of Foster’s recent roles – “Anna and the King” (1999), “Nell” (1994) and “Little Man Tate” – have centered on children or their parents thrust into exceptional circumstances. It’s something Foster knows a good deal about.
As an actress since the age of 3, she first appeared in commercials such as the famous Coppertone bare-bottom ads. Later, at 12, she took on an impossibly adult role that first revealed her exceptional talent – as the child prostitute “adopted” by an unstable Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”
Many child actors wind up the subjects of revelatory documentaries on E! and VH1. Managed by her mother, Brandy, Foster managed to avoid that curse.
“That’s not the kind of person I ever was,” Foster says. “I was a good girl that got good grades and did what I was supposed to do. Thank god that there was somebody who loved me who was overseeing some of that.
“[My mother] prepared me for [a normal life] and assumed that once I went to college that that would be the end of my career. And I did, too.”
But while attending university at Yale – amid the furor generated by John Hinckley’s 1981 attempt to kill President Ronald Reagan, supposedly to gain Foster’s “love and respect” – she made a “funny transition” from young to adult actor. The real turning point, though, came with “The Accused,” an intense and brutal film in which Foster portrayed a rape victim who challenges both her attackers and the legal system.
“It was a funny experience, because I didn’t think I did a very good job and I didn’t feel good about the performance,” she says. “I [had] the whole imposter syndrome, that I was gonna be found out and now I should just go to grad school immediately.
“And then I started understanding what it was that made me feel uncomfortable about the performance – she wasn’t me. She’s the kind of person that makes people feel uncomfortable. That experience was so complex psychologically that it gave me a whole new look at what acting can be, that it could be stimulating.”
Foster’s longevity in Hollywood could also be explained by the fact that, despite many years in business, she avoids the clich√ás of stardom. She shuns L.A.’s scene-making machinery and keeps her personal life to herself, never discussing publicly the father of her children, nor her romantic life.
“Some people do that thing where they go out of their way to know other celebrities,” she says. “I don’t. I think it’s weird to always acknowledge other famous people. Why? ‘Hey, you and I, we’ve got something in common.’ (Laughs) What’s that about?”
Instead, Foster has transitioned to other aspects of filmmaking, including producing and directing. Over the past seven years, she has struggled to bring her most personal project to the screen, “Flora Plum,” about a young girl who joins the circus in the 1930’s. Stars including Ewan McGregor, Claire Danes, Meryl Streep and Russell Crowe have all been linked to the project at one point or another.
“I don’t know that it’s going anywhere any time soon,” says a slightly dejected Foster. “[It will take] time, and just total tenacity.”
For now, Foster is putting “Plum” on the shelf as she puts together her next directorial work, a part that will re-team her with “Taxi Driver” co-star Robert De Niro. The story, with the working title “Sugarland,” is about migrant Jamaican canefield workers.
As an actor, Foster immediately accepted a follow-up to “Flightplan” in Spike Lee’s next film.
“I play a rich, elegant Madison Avenue lawyer who’s a fixer, meaning, like, if you were like a state senator and you had four dead hookers in your room, you’d call me and I’d take care of it,” she says. “I know [these people] exist in publicity firms. I know they exist in the political world.”
With her acting jobs becoming more infrequent and her increased interest in directing, Foster can see her career shifting entirely behind the lens in the future – even if it might aggravate her.
“I think I probably could,” she says. “Every once in a while [directing], you get exhausted trying to communicate what you want and sometimes you’d just like to go, ‘Argh, let me do it.’ But no, I think I probably could.”
NO FEAR OF FLYING