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Bev Cohn: Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster
Photo: Ken Regan ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

Interview With Jodie Foster
Up Close and Personal

Thoughts on Directing, Acting, and Mel Gibson
By Beverly Cohn

odie Foster is one of Hollywood’s most respected and highest paid actors whose compelling performances have brought her Academy Awards and multiple nominations. The consummate actor, her vast array of characters are so fully actualized that you can taste her fear, (“Silence of the Lambs,”) feel her physical pain (“The Accused,”) experience her steely determination to win, (“Inside Man,”) identify with her as she risks her life to save her child (“Panic Room”and “Flightplan,”) go through an emotional roller coast when her husband returns after the Civil War, (“Sommersby,”) or understand her acts of revenge, (“The Brave One.”)

Foster made her directorial debut with “Little Man Tate” and has directed several films since then, her latest being “The Beaver,” the story of a depressed man, played by Mel Gibson, who enlists the aid of a hand-held puppet to help him navigate through his crumbling life. The cast includes Miss Foster as his wife, and Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart as their sons.

The director recently sat down with a select group of journalists to discuss the film and the following interview has been edited for print purposes.

Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson in a scene from the movie The Beaver
Jodie Foster as Meredith Black with Mel Gibson as her husband Walter, and The Beaver. Photo: Ken Regan ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

If you were describing the complex story for the first time, what would you say?

Foster: I would definitely call it a family drama, but the film has a lot of light moments so most people might assume that it’s a comedy. It could also be described as a fable and has a tone that has both lightness and darkness in it.

What attracts you to a script either as an actor or a director?

Foster: I make personal films and the first audience member is myself. Does it touch me or doesn’t it touch me is my first question because often if touches me, I can find a way to communicate that.

Was Mel Gibson your first choice to play Walter and do the voice of “The Beaver?”

Foster: I felt he was right for the part and he was my first choice for sure. He has an exceptional quality that is very difficult to find. He has a light touch and can do roles that require a lot of wit so I knew he could capture the charm of “The Beaver.” He is also someone who understands trouble and that’s the part that he knows personally. Mel has his own demons and wants to change. I know the raw side of Mel and feel like I know his sensitive side as well so I never questioned that he would be able to find this in the character of Walter Black and get it on the screen.

Anton Yelchin as porter Black with Mel Gibson in a scene from the movie The Beaver
Anton Yelchin as Porter Black, who is very upset with his dad's behavior (Mel Gibson). Photo: Myles Aronowitz ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

In some ways Mel’s life parallels his character. Did you have any concerns about that or did you embrace it?

Foster: It’s certainly not why I chose him, and the scandalous stuff happened after we finished shooting the film. But we definitely bring our personal experiences to the table. And as I said, I think he’s someone who really understands trouble.

Jodie Foster as Meredith and Mel Gibson as Walter in a dinner scene from The Beaver
Meredith (Jodie Foster) tries to enjoy dinner with her troubled husband Walter
(Mel Gibson) and his alter ego, The Beaver.
Photo: Myles Aronowitz ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

Jodie Foster, Riley Thomas Stewart and Anton Yelchin in a scene from The Beaver
(L-R) Jodie Foster (Meredith) tries to protect her children, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) and Porter (AntonYelchin) from her husbands escalating attachment to The Beaver. Photo: Myles Aronowitz ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

Do you think this was a good experience for him?

Foster: I don’t know. I know it was for me. Making films, especially as a director, you work on a film for two-and-a-half years. You dream about it and wake up at 3:00 am in the morning thinking about angles and changes that need to be made in the script to keep it true to the characters.

Do you find directing and acting in the same film very difficult and that perhaps the acting suffers in some ways?

Foster: Mel and I have had many discussions about this and we both agree that we never want to act and direct in the same movie again. It’s very hard and tiring. You don’t experience a lot of the joys of acting or directing because your busy putting on other hats and you don’t get a lot of surprises from your performance. You just get what you anticipated and you don’t get moments that come out of nowhere.

Mel Gibson as Walter in a scene with Riley Thomas Stewart as his younger son Henry
Walter (Mel Gibson) has a private moment with his younger son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Photo: Myles Aronowitz ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

But in this case, once I brought Mel aboard, I started thinking about whom I would hire to play his wife. I needed someone who would be a stabilizing influence and who the audience could see “The Beaver” through her eyes. It also had to be believable that they had been together for over 20 years and ultimately I thought I was the best one for the role.

How did you go about creating “The Beaver” as a character?

Foster: I knew Mel had the skill to play both characters and there was a lot of planning. Shooting decisions were made, that the audience wouldn’t notice, that allowed them to experience the complex relationship between Walter and “The Beaver” in a certain way.

How did you come up with the look of “The Beaver?

Foster: We talked to a lot of special effects units, including Mel’s company, and everyone came in with different ideas. The spectrum was you could have a perfectly real looking beaver you could fish out of the water that has a little fur and little eyes, or a sock and two eyes, and somewhere in between were other choices. So the choice had to be made intellectually. It comes down to how do you want to audience to experience “The Beaver,” who is actually a prop.

How did you get Jon Stewart to do the film?

Foster: John never did a film playing him before, so we were lucky that he saw the beauty of the film and wanted to be a part of it.

Can you explain the scene where Mel seems to get attacked by “The Beaver?”

Foster: I think it’s a psychotic episode and that is the moment in time when “The Beaver” takes Walter over and Walter’s psyche state is completely lost. A man beating himself up is as real as blood and it’s a very jarring moment in the film. It’s frenetic and hard to watch and was hard to shoot because we used a hand-held camera.

Director Jodie Foster setting up a shot on the movie The Beaver
Jodie Foster setting up a shot on the set of "The Beaver." Photo: Ken Regan ©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.

What is your approach to either acting or directing?

Foster: While you’re making a movie, you try to create the most honest portrayal you can and that comes from your own experience. You ask yourself what is the thing that I know that is true. Especially in drama, authenticity is worth its weight in gold and that’s what you’re always looking for. Should the character’s handbag be blue or green? Somewhere about either three-fourths of the way through the movie or at least in post, you realize it’s a good thing that you have all this confidence because you could fall on your face.

With regard to using “The Beaver” as kind of an alter ego, have you gotten any feedback from people who are depressed?

Foster: I did hear from people who were either depressed, or knew people who were depressed, and the feedback was encouraging. Puppets are used all the time for children who have problems, so it’s very common. But, we were definitely biting our nails as far as how this movie would be perceived.

What gave you the most anxiety?

Foster: I knew it was possible that no one would love this movie and you live with that fear. But truthfully, my biggest rollercoaster was finishing the film. The post-production was probably one of the most challenging times of my professional career. It was hard getting it right and getting anyone to understand what I was trying to do. Usually my films in post are pretty easy because I don’t overshoot, I print very little, I don’t have long scripts, and don’t have long first cuts. But, you deal with what you have to deal with. It’s hard getting a film made, especially a personal film, so I’m delighted to have been able to make this movie.

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Let Bev know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Thanks so much for those lovely tourism photos, especially of Ireland. I certainly enjoyed all the places you suggested, and am working towards my next vacation. Don’t forget Cuba. That’s an exciting place.

Rosalie, Los Angeles

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Enjoyed your article on Mira Sorvino. Such an interesting background – family, education, career and now human rights activist. I'm not a gossip mag fan so getting more meaty news about movie celebrities from you gives me hope that there are some inteligent life forms in Hollywood.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

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Thank you, Bev. This reminded me to go see the movie, "An Education," which I had already almost forgotten about, having seen the preview a few weeks ago. I enjoy this actress quite a bit--she has a uniqueness about her and she pulls me in. I enjoyed this.

Sandeee, Seattle, WA

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Thank you Beverly,I really enjoyed reading about your intimate conversation with Forest, of whom I am a great admirer. I look forward to seeing the film "Our Family Wedding."

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

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Thank you for the sending me the beautiful article you wrote about Ireland. We will use your recomendations for hotels in the Southern part. We plan to also go to Dublin and some other Northern cities so I will get some recommendations for these from others. After reading your article, I am getting more excited about going. I think we will be in Ireland for 8 days altogether.

Leah Mendelsohn, Santa Monica, CA

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Very much enjoyed Ms. Cohn's article about Munich, especially the visuals. Though it has been 25 years since my last visit, the piece brought back countless pleasant memories of the city and the people!! Many thanks.

Lawrence, Los Angeles

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Marianplatz and that general area is truly one of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Between that and Oktoberfest (which I can only imagine) Munich is one of the greatest cities in the world for major annual events.

Christopher Dale, New York, NY

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Hi Bev, you have done some wonderful pieces on some great celebs...Great work. The travel articles are just wonderful too.

Scott Mueller, Huntington Beach, CA

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Your great Zurich article makes me want to go there for the holidays! I love the photos, too, especially the ones of you in the sleigh, the view over the houses and the zoo!

Anna Marie, Santa Monica, CA

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Lovely article! As a European, and having been to Zurich (albeit in summer) I can vouch for this lovely city. Great pictures, too!

Helene Robins, Santa Monica, CA

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Hi Bev,

Nice review, nice seeing you, nice website interface "...Talk to Bev" - Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Richard D. Kaye, Marina del Rey, CA

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Hi Bev,

Your interview with John Cusack is very interesting. I always wondered why these actors/actresses always get top billing when really, if you think about it, the real work come from the animators, writers and tech whizzes who spend far more hours on the movie than those actors. I know, I know, it's the all about marketing. The names of these actors are what bring in the big bucks. Still, I think these actors are way overpaid for the "little" that they do.

I remember that once upon a time, the early animation classics never mentioned the voices behind the characters. I think it was only later when Walt Disney tapped into the voices of known celebrities like Walter Matthau in the Jungle Book or Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Rescuers that the voices became a marketing magnet.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your interviews as you peer into the lives of the Hollywood celebrities.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

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