Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. This interview was one of those where I kind of had to take a step back during the chat and whisper into my own ear how damn lucky I am. “Hey, you know you’re talking with Clarice Starling, right? You realize she just referenced Taxi Driver, don’t you?” said my ethereal self.
I also had the feeling that the interview was going very well. Jodie Foster was in a good mood following her premiere, was very open and frank about the film she made and about media frenzy around her leading man.
Hell, she even starts talking about how suggestive The Beaver is as a title and how early on she just embraced it.
Going over the interview now I think it’s very strong, a really fun read that covers a ton of material, including an update on the Roman Polanski adaptation of the great Broadway play GOD OF CARNAGE.
I visited the set of The Beaver last year and have my set report ready whenever Summit lifts the embargo, but you’ll see me reference that visit in the chat, particularly when it comes to Mel Gibson’s fantastic tortured performance.
So, I hope you enjoy the chat!
Quint: Hi, how are you doing? Are you holding up?
Jodie Foster: Yeah. I slept and everything, so we’re good.
Quint: I didn’t, so you’re already one up on me. You said you were going back to France soon.
Jodie Foster: I have to go back to France.
Jodie Foster: No, I go back to LA for a few days and then I go back to France, yeah.
Quint: That’s for GOD OF CARNAGE, right?
Jodie Foster: Yeah.
Quint: I want to talk a little about that. I’m a fan of the play. But first I need to commend you for your bravery in taking on a movie that has a title that everybody is champing at the bit to make a double entendre with.
Jodie Foster: I kind of embraced that. I was sort of like “Yeah, okay whatever. That’s fine.” I don’t know, I think it’s funny.
Quint: It’s the same thing with… I don’t know if you saw it, but Guy Ritchie did a movie called SNATCH…
Jodie Foster: Oh, yeah! Exactly!
Quint: … and every headline about the movie went for the joke. I guess people can’t resist it. So you’ve embraced that from the beginning? Is that something you knew when you looked first looked at the project?
Jodie Foster: Yeah. People kept saying “So, when are you going to change the name?” I’m like “I’m not changing the name, there’s no reason to change the name.”
Quint: Something I like about the title is it does allow a little bit of mystery with the movie. The title is so nondescript that there could be a kid’s movie called THE BEAVER and there could be a porno movie called THE BEAVER.
Jodie Foster: That’s right. The truth is everyone is going to know what the film is about when it comes out. That’s the way mainstream movies work, even though this isn’t particularly a mainstream film, I think people will know and I like the idea that there is an irreverence to it, that there is a quirkiness and an irreverence to what the film is about and how in some ways it’s a fable. There are no people walking around with puppets on their hands and yet it’s able to have a bit of that fantastical quality and to overcome that so quickly and become something that’s so authentic and emotional and real.
Quint: The timing of this movie hitting now, with all of the Charlie Sheen stuff going on… where you see this guy so publicly struggling with all of these issues and there’s almost an ironic fanbase that comes up for him and will ultimately leave him just as quickly. If you take away all of the family elements, it does feel like there’s a commentary on celebrity itself underneath it all.
Jodie Foster: There’s a bit of that. I think that there are other things that are stronger in the movie, but that idea of in a way publicly showing people the train wreck of your shame is something that I’ve played out. In LITTLE MAN TATE it plays out as well… He goes on a TV show and they ask him the theory of relativity and he just completely embarrasses himself and says, “I like clipper ships.” That idea of going on TV and thousands of people witnessing your worst moment of your life… that’s something I think we all think about. (Laughs)
Quint: And exponentially now with YouTube, anybody can have the worst moment of their life and it becomes an internet phenomenon.
Jodie Foster: I think what I like about the movie is that it has its own storytelling style and it doesn’t apologize for it. It’s not a mainstream movie. It’s not a big broad comedy. It has a very formal and classical way visually. The language of the music, for example, is very quirky and European. It doesn’t use a bunch of tricks in order to draw you in. It has a very simple emotional style, classic.
Quint: I found it to be a lot more melancholy than I was expecting and very sad. It is a very sad story, but like most good sad stories there’s a little kernel of hope in it. It’s not going to make people walk out depressed, but there’s no forced happy ending on it.
Jodie Foster: No, and I think… If there is a final message to the movie, which is articulated very well in the film, it’s that through this whole tragic comic rollercoaster that our lives are about where terrible things happen to you and you are destined to be like your parents, which is the last thing you want and all of these thing that can happen to you in your life that create this tragedy of your life, the good news is that you are not alone. I think all of my films sort of have that message in a way, that if you can get through this spiritual crisis the one silver lining is that you are not the only person going through this crisis and in the end you will find a family that’s more like you, that doesn’t fit in, and you will be a member of a club of people that are misfits.
Quint: Anton [Yelchin]’s character is kind of stuck in quicksand, in a way. It seems the more he struggles against being like his father, the more like his father he becomes to the point where it literally sabotages real chances at romance and human connection. That’s actually a really important part of the movie. If you hadn’t cast the father and the son as well as you did, then that whole mirrored, parallel storyline wouldn’t have clicked so well. If that didn’t click, then the movie just falls apart.
Jodie Foster: That’s true. That was a very tricky part of the film and that, the father son story, has always been strong; it’s always been a part of the original screenplay. I’ve never asked Kyle [Killen, screenwriter], but I’m pretty sure that that’s a very personal thing for him. It’s his first screenplay. It came out of his own little brain and it was a novel first and he decided to make it into a movie and I’m sure that those are some very delicate and personal stuff to it. I think it’s the strongest stuff in the movie.
Quint: You mentioned last night how picky you are about casting. Can you talk a little bit about that? Who came in first? Was Mel [Gibson] first or was Anton first?
Jodie Foster: Mel was first, but pretty soon after Mel came in Avy Kaufman, who has cast all of my movies, she is pretty amazing, she said to me “Look, I’m going to show you a whole bunch of guys, but I’m telling you Anton Yelchin is the guy” and she said “Not only is he a fantastic actor and right for all of these things, but he kind of looks like a combination between you and Mel.”
Quint: (Laughs) I can see that.
Jodie Foster: “He’s kind of got Mel’s hair coloring and sort of your eyes” and I met him. I did do a lot of auditions with a lot of other guys, just to make sure that I was making the right choice, but I met with Anton privately and just met him for drinks and fell in love with him and felt like “This was the guy.”
Quint: I’ve been a big fan of his since he did a show on Showtime called HUFF, which was a really strong show. Like most really well written shows it was cancelled after two seasons.
Jodie Foster: Yeah, I liked that movie CHARLIE BARTLETT and I just thought, “This really is the guy.”
Quint: Did you put him and Mel together or did you just know instinctively that it would work?
Jodie Foster: I knew instinctively and I told Mel who he was. I said, “Go look at his stuff.” He looked at his stuff and he was like “The kid’s great. Yeah, sounds good!” It was wonderful seeing them work together, because they don’t have hardly any scenes in the movie at all except in the end and all of their scenes, one of them is just saying “Eh, fuck you” and walks away, but Mel had such a place for him. I think he sees himself in younger actors in their 20’s and sometimes Anton will struggle with a scene. He wants (Anxiously) “One more take! One more take! One more take!” I think Mel kind of sees himself as a young man again.
Quint: One of my favorite things when I went to visit the set… As a kid, I grew up with ROAD WARRIOR and all of that stuff, so I grew up idolizing Mel and it’s like there are some people that I’m like “I’ll never get to see them work” and I did and it was actually really surprising to me. You build some of these people up sometimes and you are like “Oh man, they just go in so confident and they know everything and that’s just how they always come across,” but it was really interesting for me to see the vulnerability Mel had as an actor, which is something I never would have imagined. Obviously you guys have worked together as actors before, but what was it like directing him? Just from my one little perspective I thought it was really interesting how malleable he was for you and how willing he was to just try everything and change and just how much he looked to you for support.
Jodie Foster: Well, I can’t take any credit for his performance at all honestly. He brought all of that to the table and all I really did was help him shape it for the film and to just keep his eye on the fact that it was a drama and that it wasn’t a comedy and, if there was ever question, he should always go for drama. What I feel like my job is to prepare the narrative in every way that you can before you get there, so I make every decision beforehand, I know exactly where I’m going to put the camera. Things change obviously, because people change things and to be as prepared as possible so that you open the doors, the bull comes out and you have a moment and you hopefully capture that moment on screen.
My job is to capture that within two or three takes and to make sure that I don’t burn it into inauthenticity and to keep that moment real and to have all of the decisions be made ahead of time so that that moment can happen and I think that’s a different way of working for Mel. He’s used to big movies where you do 110 takes and everything is about putting the fog this way and he’s used to that kind of filmmaking language. I think he realized within the first day he was like “Oh wow, this is a different deal” and it allowed him to kind of go, I think, in a way that was more passionate than he’s been able to… But I can’t take any credit for what he did.
We do work the same way, he and I. He doesn’t have any beefs about anything. Like he doesn’t have problems with people watching him on set. If I say to him “I would like you to go over to that chair and then I want you to close that door,” he’s like “Okay.” There’s no “I don’t want to go to that chair” or “I don’t think my character would go to the chair.” He can pretty much accommodate any physical thing because he doesn’t hold onto that stuff; he knows that stuff is not important.
Quint: Do you think a lot of that is his background as a director?
Jodie Foster: Nope, I think that’s just his personality. He has always been that way. He and I are both that way, we didn’t… I guess he went to drama school for a little while, but he doesn’t make it precious. I don’t think he wants to be an actor for precious reasons. He doesn’t want to be an actor so that people will look at him. He doesn’t want to be an actor so he can emote on screen and have everybody pay attention to him. I think he wants to be an actor, because he loves movies and he wants to make movies. That tends to breed a different personality. We are not drama queens he and I.
Quint: (Laughs) At lunch on set I was surprised. I was sitting there eating with the publicists and he just came and threw a giant plate of meat down.
Jodie Foster: Yeah, he just came and sat down, right?
Quint: The only thing we talked about was older film stories. Bob Hope “Road To” movies and he was telling some BRAVEHEART stories, but only really as a means to how he heard stories of old Hollywood through the legacy execs that worked with him on the flick. It was really surprising just how in to film he was.
Jodie Foster: He’s a really interesting man. Obviously, my feelings about all of this is that… Look, I’ve seen Mel in his underwear. I don’t mind seeing Mel in his underwear, but I don’t want to see Mel in his underwear against his will. I have no desire to see anyone in their underwear against their will. I think it’s a shame, really… we all have struggles, but that these struggles have to become public and really the only difference between Mel today and the Mel six months ago was that there was stuff posted on screen. That’s it. And it’s stuff I don’t want to know about.
Quint: I’m with you. What counts to me is what’s on the screen. With all of the other stuff people can have opinions or whatever, I don’t know the full story; I wasn’t there, I can just appreciate the work. I think everybody agrees, even if they didn’t like the tone of the movie or expected something else and were disappointed that they didn’t get it, that Mel gives a jaw dropping performance in this film and that’s all that really matters.
Jodie Foster: That’s true and this film is not what everybody wants it to be and I’ve run into that, so I know that’s true and I’ve stopped feeling bad about it. (Laughs) This was the movie that I wanted to see and this was the movie I wanted to see when I was seven, it’s the movie I wanted to see when I was fifteen and that I feels speaks to people like me, but as I say this is the story of my life, but it’s part of the story of my life that’s the least popular. (laughs)
Quint: I’d say the only thing that I missed was the little bit in a very early draft I read that showed Mel’s character trying to take the puppet off his hand and it went into some David Cronenberg territory.
Jodie Foster: Yeah, we have that scene and it will be in the DVD in the bonus reel. It’s great!
Quint: Really? I’m really glad you shot that.
Jodie Foster: Oh, it was in up until the last minute. It was him and Cherry Jones and they have a fight where he is like “Take it off. Go ahead, try to take it off” and he can’t take it off. It’s important and it was important for the narrative. It took us tonally, at a point in the movie where we did not laugh, it took this to this absurd place and it really hurt the film.
Quint: So you think it played for comedy, because to me the idea would of taken it a lot more creepy.
Jodie Foster: You know what? I probably shot it wrong, because it’s very hard to have a character going like this (Jodie stands up, puts a foot on the table and mimes putting all her strength at pulling at something, like a tough tug-o-war) and not make it funny. We tried everything. We cut it every different way and he did, he gave a performance that was hard and very mean spirited, but there was just no escaping that. You will see that in the bonus reel.
Quint: Oh good. I’m really glad at least it will appear somewhere. We should talk a little bit about the design of the puppet itself. Were you very involved with it? It is the title character and it has to be something that can play sweet, play kind of…
Jodie Foster: Malevolent…
Quint: Yeah, just not threatening, but at certain times that non-threatening appearance in certain situations can almost become threatening. Do you know what I mean? The love scene with you and Mel where it’s like “Okay, it’s weird that he’s wearing the puppet when they’re having sex,” but then the spooning after is so much more intrusive… where suddenly you are face to face with the puppet. That’s kind of a creepy moment.
Jodie Foster: It’s absurd. It’s absolutely absurd and creepy and yeah… we wanted all of that. We wanted that uncomfortableness in the film. The design of the puppet took a lot of discussion, because it could be anything. It could have looked like a real beaver and had the major tail, it had all of the fur and all of that kind of stuff, or it could have been a sock and we could have just played it like a sock. Then there were other options like, “Look, we could CGI the eyes. We could have the eyes roll around and look at people and do things like that.” “The hands can move…” And through all of these specific choices, little by little we realized that what we really wanted was something that was a prop.
This is not a real character. What was more interesting was the framing of having that widescreen framing and with the lenses being able to keep the puppet soft and then him sharp and then vice versa to be able to include them in each other’s scenes so that you always know that it’s Mel talking and eventually later on really isolate them and change that and change dramatically how you would shoot the beaver, but I just didn’t want any trickery. I wanted you to remember it’s just something he pulled out of the garbage. He could have easily pulled out anything from the garbage. It could have been a banana peel.
Quint: A pizza box…
Jodie Foster: Yeah, I mean it could have been anything. It could have been a box and the truth is is that that’s only the fable part of the film. That’s not what the real truth of the movie is.
Quint: And the family dynamic really is where the melancholy I was talking about comes in. I think everybody has had some trouble with family, but I think because you cast it so well it was really easy to buy the dynamic and to kind of understand almost immediately even if we didn’t have the beaver narration over the beginning, just the way you shot it tells us everything we need to know.
Jodie Foster: Yeah, it has a very specific style to it that a lot of people have complained about, too. They are saying “Wait, why didn’t we see this family happy? Why don’t we see them at Disneyland with Mickey Mouse? Why didn’t we have some sense of who they were before?” I’m like, “Because the story starts now.” The story starts with the birth of the beaver, it doesn’t start before the beaver was born and it is the beaver narrating and he has a very alienated perspective on this family, but the idea and what Kyle said in the original script was “It’s an ink that stains everything it touches, a black hole that swallows up everyone who gets near.” That is the story of the family movie. The family movie is a tapestry about how everybody’s fucked-upness just invades each other and permeates their relationships and their dynamic for the rest of their lives.
Quint: It kind of feeds everybody else’s, too.
Jodie Foster: And it’s beautiful. That’s what I love. When somebody tells me their story and I say “And then your grandfather did what? How did that happen?” I’m fascinated by that, how we all touch each other’s lives. Before I did LITTLE MAN TATE my obsession was all of the J.D. Salinger books, The Glass Family stuff, about this family of people who were exceptional and yet what was exceptional about them was their handicap as well as this idea of these prodigies. I think in some ways this family is prodigious as well in their aloneness. Each one of them is isolated. Each one of them is dealing with being different and being alone and yet in the end, once they get through this spiritual crisis in a way they discover what we knew all along which is “You are a family of misfits. You are a family of people who don’t belong and a family of people that are isolated and you have that with each other.”
Quint: Let’s talk a little bit about Jennifer Lawrence, because she is great in the movie, but what I love about what you got with her is that it’s so easy to find the beautiful girl in Hollywood… It’s so easy to find a young up and coming actress that’s gorgeous. It’s not so easy to find one you can buy has the smarts that this character has and has the vulnerability.
Jodie Foster: And has that tragedy. It’s like she has tragedy etched in her face and trust me, Jenn Lawrence is not a tragic person. She is funny. She is happy, she’s from Kentucky (laughs), but she has that thing in her face that’s like she has been through something, you know she’s been through something and that’s what’s so beautiful about WINTER’S BONE. She doesn’t have to say anything in WINTER’S BONE and I think in a way, even though it’s a very different character and she plays a very different character in this, she can’t avoid that, it just seeps out of her.
We did change that character a lot from Kyle’s original script, with Kyle’s help, and really once we brought on Jennifer, and I looked at hundreds of girls, and for some reason could not land on anyone until I met her, what I realized is that it was the part that needed to change and initially she was perfect.
She was beautiful. She was smart. She was a valedictorian. She was an artist. And she was “Ms. Psychobabble.” She knew everybody’s psyche and figured them all out and I was like… What I would like to do is make her completely and totally unselfknowledgable and somebody who doesn’t know anything about herself and is really suffering because of that and allow her to have all of these big, bold gifts and yet no ability to interpret them in any way. That’s what changed and when Jennifer brought that into that, I think that’s what’s so ironic that she is this icon, she’s Cybill Shepherd in TAXI DRIVER, and yet when you find out that she is suffering and she doesn’t know how to handle any of this, she doesn’t know what to do with it I think is quite nice in the film.
Quint: Cool, so last question. As I mentioned, I’m a big GOD OF CARNAGE fan, can you talk about how that’s coming together?
Jodie Foster: I think the greatest thing about it is how much fun the four actors are having with each other.
Quint: I imagine it’s probably opened up a little bit more from the play.
Jodie Foster: No, not at all. It is just in one house, one room, all in real time and I think that’s what interested Roman was keeping it in real time. You don’t even go to the bathroom, it’s all in real time, and I think the relationship between the four of us is just we are all madly in love with each other is pretty funny. We are all very different people, I mean Kate [Winslet] is so different from John [C. Reilly] and Christoph [Waltz] and we spend every minute together and we have a little room on the set that’s our little room where we go in and we talk about people and sometimes we will be asleep in the bed (Laughs) like three of us will be asleep in the bed and then one person will be on the chair waiting for the shot and it’s been great. It’s like a little family.
Quint: Do you know when that is coming out?
Jodie Foster: I think it will probably be released in Europe probably for Venice maybe, so like September I would think in Europe and then all of the other releases from September to December.
Quint: Cool. Alright, well thank you very much, I really appreciate the time.
Jodie Foster: Yeah, you too. Cheers.
And there you have it. Hopefully my set visit will hit sooner than later and you’ll get a little more detail on my adventure there.
Keep your eyes peeled for yet more SXSW interviews as they roll in!