Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
First thing you should do is read Quint's exceptional interview with THE BEAVER director Jodie Foster for the most thorough examination of the film I've read from her. The second thing you should realize is that the name of the film THE BEAVER is not mentioned once during my interview with Foster, because I had something else in mind walking into my 20-plus minutes with Foster recently, and I'm damn lucky she said yes because I hadn't had a chance to clear this with her beforehand.
The night before our conversation, I had conducted a fairly length post-screening Q&A about THE BEAVER in front of a packed house in Chicago, during which she and the enthusiastic audience seemed to have a great time. So walking into our interview, we weren't exactly strangers. I'd also had a brief conversation with her at the SXSW Film Festival at a pre-premiere party, and it was clear that day that she was mildly nervous about showing THE BEAVER to an audience for the first time. In Chicago, she seemed considerably less nervous because the critical response (including My Review) to the film has been overwhelmingly positive.
Nearly every person I've interviewed for AICN Legends has been aware of the nature of the career-spanning questions, but what I did with Foster was a bit different. Armed only with a complete list of every films she's ever made, I started selecting titles--sometimes at random, more of less in chronological order--and asked her to tell me the first thing that pops into her head about that film. Consider it a type of cinematic free association. I've seen "Entertainment Weekly" and "The Onion" do things like this, and I thought it might be fun to try it, maybe for the only time.
I was really thrilled with her recollections and her honesty. I got to talk to her toward the end of her busy press day in Chicago, and I was told she really perked up during our talk, probably for the simple fact that she didn't have to answer the same questions for the 20th time that day. Who knows. I had fun talking to her. Sorry if I left off some of your favorite titles. If I'd had 10 more minutes, I probably could have gotten to everything I wanted to, but I came damn close. I hope you guys enjoy free associating with Jodie Foster…
Capone: Hello, again.
Jodie Foster: Hey, how’s it going? It’s good to see you again.
Capone: So, you talked to one of our guys in Austin, and it was about as comprehensive an interview on this film as I could possibly imagine.
JF: Oh good. [Laughs]
Capone: There was no question that I could think of that he did not come up with. He also visited the set as well.
JF: Yeah, I’ve seen him a couple of times.
Capone: So, I was hoping that we could do something just a little different, if I could do a little free association with some of the stuff that you have done in the past?
JF: Sure, fantastic.
Capone: I'm just going to give you a film title, and you say the first think that pops into your head. I’ve got the whole list here. So, let's start with ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.
JF: My big memory?
JF: Well, all of these memories are going to be moments in my life that coincide with them, so being in a hotel in Tuscan, Arizona, and jumping over and over again in the pool with Ellen Burstyn’s son and Alfred Lutter, the three of us together. I was tall for my age, I was getting older. It was kind of an interesting moment, because my hair was short, I had just come from doing PAPER MOON and I showed up on set with really short hair and I'd told [director Martin] Scorsese I was going to cut my hair, but I think he just didn’t imagine what that was going to be. He was just freaking out the way Marty freaks out.
JF: And “She looks like a boy, what are we going to do?” So, they put me in this little dress, this dress with a little skirt and stuff for the whole thing, and they thought “Okay, that will take care of it.” And almost constantly, whenever I ever mention ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE, they are like, “Wait, that was a boy in that movie.” They always think I’m a boy and I’m like, “I was wearing a skirt!” [laughs] I remember jumping in the pool and I was just getting boobs and I had that really short hair and I was there with the two boys. I remember that being a funny, weird time.
Capone: Not to jump too far ahead, but you saying that of people mistook you for a boy, I think in PANIC ROOM, a lot of people did the same thing with Kristen [Stewart]. I thought she was a boy the first time I saw it. So, you’ve passed on that affliction.
JF: That did happen to Kristen, didn't it? But that’s what I remember from ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE.
Capone: BUGSY MALONE. People seem to have a real soft spot for that, what do you remember about that bizarre little film?
JF: It was a weird experience for me. It was a great movie. I love that movie. It’s so original. I was the only one that had ever been in a movie before, who ever really acted. I think Scott Baio had done a commercial and that was it. They brought everybody to England to Slough, just outside of London, and all of the Americans were there--there were only four true Americans who were living in a Holiday Inn there. [laughs] The English people were so jealous, and all of the other kids were living in almost like a bed and breakfast with minders. They weren’t really there with their parents, they were their with minders.
Capone: “Minders,” is that what they call them?
JF: Yeah, minders. And it was summertime, and they had been there for a long time, because they had been rehearsing, they had never been in a movie before. I arrived from doing TAXI DRIVER and I was shooting, so I could only arrive three days before I started shooting. The halls of Pinewood, it was like WARRIORS. There were gangs, mostly of girls from Liverpool and Leeds and Manchester, and they hated me because I was living in the Holiday Inn with the American boys, and they were just mad at me for no reason, and every time I would come down the hallway there would be some girls and she would have the fire extinguisher and she would go [in a British accent] “What’s the password?” “What? I don’t know!” Then when I didn’t know, they would… [Makes a whoosh sound]. They would get water all over me; it was like gang warfare, like high school gang warfare.
Capone: Did anybody ask the question, “Why are is this story being told with a bunch of teenagers?”
JF: [laughs] No, I think it was just a crazy, insane idea and I just think it’s such a lovable movie, it’s great.
Capone: TAXI DRIVER. Was that a shock to your system doing that?
JF: It was actually kind of a big revelation moment in my life. I had been acting for a long time and I had made more movies that both De Niro and Scorsese at that point.
Capone: That’s true.
JF: And I had done TV shows and. It was the first time that anybody asked me to do more that just act natural. Usually, when I was a kid, they would just say, “Just be more yourself. Can you say that line more like yourself?” Suddenly, I asked and I realized that I was being asked to create a character that wasn’t me, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head, because I really thought acting was this very dumb profession and I thought “This is not something I can do when I grow up, I mean saying lines that other people write. That’s just not very satisfying.” And in that moment in doing that movie, Robert De Niro kind of took me under his wing in a lot of ways, and I realized that it was me that had not brought enough to it, and there was this whole world of depth involved in a portrayal and how much you brought to the storytelling process that I just had no idea before, and I don’t know why I didn’t. I loved movies, but I guess I was just young and I guess that I just had that kind of epiphany.
Capone: When did you host SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Was it around that time?
JF: No, I was a little older. Between 13 and 14, yeah. 14 maybe…
Capone: But you at the time were the youngest person to host it, I remember that. They have been like reissuing the first five seasons, so I just recently saw the one that you did. What do you remember about that experience?
JF: That was not a pleasant experience. Do you remember Orange Julius?
Capone: Yeah, sure. I think they are still around actually.
JF: Okay, well I had one of those before we went on and I dumped the whole thing down my shirt and pants and I had to go on and I had to do the opening monologue and the whole thing wet. They tried to use a heater to get me dry as quickly as they possibly could, and that just started off the whole thing wrong. I just was so… I just couldn’t come back from that. [Laughs] I just never came back from it and I just felt bad the whole time like, “Why am I so stupid?” and it was right before it happened and right before I went on. I just kind of never recovered.
Capone: Did you get through the rehearsal process okay?
JF: I did. I think it was an odd show. I don’t know if you remember it, but they didn’t know how to write for me. I was young and they couldn’t figure out whether they were supposed to write for me as a tiny baby or whether they were supposed to write for me as an adult. So I kept finding myself in scenes where I was sitting on some lecherous man’s lap. They thought that was funny.
Capone: That sounds about right. I actually just read an interview in "Rolling Stone" the other day with Robbie Robertson and he was talking about CARNY. What do you remember about that?
Capone: I have a friend who really loves that movie.
JF: Really? Wow, well it was very inspiring milieu of carnival life. It was the '70s and it was one of the last of those legendary '70s rock and roll movies, and I was 16, getting through my SATs, trying to get through my baccalaureate and I was not of that era, and it was very hard for me to watch really. Robbie Robertson, who is such a great guy, but not an actor. A rock and roll guy. He gets up at noon, maybe, and is up all night and then of course Gary Busey, who was as for all intents and purposes, as he used to say in town, “I’m Buddy Holly.” It was drugs in the '70s, that’s what I remember. That was a train wreck. Their trailer was called “The Black Hole of Calcutta,” because anyone that knocked on their door and went in there, never came out.
Capone: One that I remember liking was FIVE CORNERS. I remember particularly how that’s the first time I really realized how crazy Turturro could play.
JF: Great actors in that. Really good actors, and [writer] John Patrick Shanley, what an incredible mind he had. He was so young then, too and really had such a playwright's mind, which was so interesting to see, and it had a different feeling than MOONSTRUCK, you know? MOONSTRUCK was much broader, and I think had maybe a lot more chops to it in a way, but it wasn’t as filled with feeling, and there’s something about “It’s 1962 and it’s the Bronx, and this is how it was and it will never be that way again,” that was so filled with something that I think was really special about that movie.
Capone: THE ACCUSED, which got you your first Oscar. When I first saw that film, it kind of changed the way I thought about the world in a lot of ways. I didn't know people were capable of behavior like that, and I'm not just talking about the men.
JF: Yeah. I feel like I was completely unconscious when I took on that film. I think I read the script once before I started it and I kept putting off re-reading it. I think I couldn’t face it. I think I only read the script once when I went up to Vancouver to shoot the movie and I think I was scared of being prepared. I think I was scared of what it was going to be, so I just decided to not think about it, and I think I was 24 and I think it was a good idea. I think that it was good to be unconscious, because I felt like that performance came from a really pure place, and when I finally saw the movie, I was appalled and I said, “You know what? I’m doing my GREs [Graduate Record Examinations] and I’m going back to grad school, because this is really bad. This is the end of my career.
Capone: It put you off acting for a while.
JF: I just felt like I had failed everyone. I felt like I had drawn a character that I didn’t like, and what I realized was there was not a lot about her that is not likable and that’s not like me. She’s not polite. She doesn’t speak well. She's too loud and she is continually pointing her finger at everyone. She’s all of these primitive things that I was not and that I couldn’t relate to as a genteel, well-bred, straight-A student, and there was a part of me that found that aggressiveness really hard to watch. In the end, I’m really glad, because I think it’s a very unconscious performance, and if I thought about it a whole bunch, I think I probably would have done something different.
Capone: You did SILENCE OF THE LAMBS a couple years later. That kind of blew the doors off of the world.
JF: It’s a great movie.
Capone: Is there one thing in particular you remember about that?
JF: You know, it was a movie that I fought for, because I loved the book and I was fascinated by in ways that I understood and ways that I didn’t entirely understand, and I really think that book was so inspiring to all of us that I think we are better in that movie than anything we have ever been in, you know [director] Jonathan [Demme], I think that’s true of Tak Fujimoto. He’s a fantastic cinematographer. We all say that when we look at the film, “We are never going to do that good.” It’s just something that came from the book and Ted Tally, I mean Ted Tally gave us the perfect screenplay. I don’t think they changed 10 words of that screenplay when it came out of the typewriter.
Capone: Did you anticipate it becoming such an iconic work that is still being referenced?
JF: Never, never. I don’t think any of us ever saw that. I think we knew that there was something really so true about it that we couldn’t stay away from, so that probably translates to other people not being able to stay away from it either.
Capone: LITTLE MAN TATE, first time directing and you were acting in it too. And you said last night that after doing both, you vowed never to do that again.
JF: And yet I did [with THE BEAVER]. Gosh, that was such a huge experience. It’s the experience of your first film and the first film directing. That movie is kind of the story of my life, feeling alone and different as a child and feeling like I had to choose between my head and my heart, and that seemed like an impossible choice. It felt like a cruel choice.
When I was young, I loved "Franny and Zooey" and I loved Salinger and I thought, “Some day I’m going to make a movie that’s a version of that,” and when I found that script, that was really what I was looking for, and it wasn’t so much the story or the prodigiousness of the characters, but it was that loneliness. I think, once you find that think that speaks for you, you never let that go. I didn’t realize that it was the loneliness that I was drawn to that felt so true to me, and at the time, although I had to do a lot of defending about like, “Why aren’t we discussing his genius more?” “Why aren’t we seeing how he does math?” “Why aren’t we explaining the joy of learning and what that means, and how fantastic that is?” I was like, “Well, because it’s a movie about loneliness,” and that to me was the most important and true part of that. To him, doing math was not the most precious thing.
Capone: For some reason, in line to see the new film in Austin, NELL came up, because we thought that it had a similar tough-sell feel to it. What can you tell me about making that?
JF: Well, I produced the movie, so we bought the rights after the play and went through many drafts with different writers and developed the language. And even having done all of that, I showed up for rehearsal and was like “Wow, what am I going to play?” I really didn’t know and so I went out desperately trying to figure out what other actors would do and I thought, “I should just go to a vocal coach,” or “I should go to a dance coach.” I went to all of these different people and I kept going, “What should I do?” I didn’t find any answers anywhere. I did research and there were no answers. Finally, I threw up my hands and said, “You know what? I’m just going to drink coffee and then I’m going to say the lines and the gestures and I’m going to understand the language and I’m just oing to have faith.” I think that in some ways it was the hardest movie that I’ve ever done and the best performance, and in some ways the easiest.
Capone: I’m going to see if I can get a couple more in here, before they kick me out.
Capone: CONTACT. One of the biggest-budgeted films you've ever done. Were you even aware that "South Park" went after that moment at the end of the film…?
JF: With all of the kids?
Capone: No, more about David Morse coming out after we've waiting this whole movie for aliens. "South Park" may have sparked this controversy.
JF: [laughs] Maybe. You know, the best and most incredible part of that movie is Carl Sagan came, and I had met him before and talked to him before, but after 15 years with living without the movie, he wrote the first screenplay and he didn’t think the screenplay was good, so he went and wrote the book, which took another 10 years. Everything he went through to get that to happen. It was originally a George Miller movie, and then that got pulled and then waiting another two years, and in the midst of all of that he’s dying, and he’s had two bone marrow transplants. And he came to set and he gave us "billions and billions-like" teaching moment, and that’s the part that I will never forget. And I think that his awe and his kind of religiousness about how he felt about science was so inspiring and so incredibly communicable. That’s my big memory, that one moment in some weird hotel in Washington, D.C. or something with Carl giving us all that speech.
Capone: I was going to ask you about the unparalleled responsibility of giving voice to Maggie Simpson.
JF: Aw, it was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Maggie Simpson finally speaks, and it’s my voice, that’s pretty funny.
Capone: Elizabeth Taylor first, and then you. Anyway, thank you so much playing along.
JF: Hey, thank you. This was fun.
I know, I know, so many titles left on the cutting-room floor. Next time, I promise…
-- Capone email@example.com
Follow Me On Twitter