SXSW: Jodie Foster Unveils The Beaver to Adoring Austin Crowd
Even with director/actress Jodie Foster and rising star Anton Yelchin in attendance for the much-anticipated SXSW premiere of The Beaver, the packed house's buzzing was focused on one hot topic: Mel Gibson.
The troubled star takes top billing in Foster's third directorial effort, and festgoers were especially eager to see if his role could help wash away the bad taste left in their mouths after Gibson's recent meltdown and legal troubles. The Beaver features him as Walter Black, a depressed father/husband/businessman who finds solace -- and a new persona -- in a beaver hand puppet discovered in a dumpster. Foster plays his wife, who thinks that his behavior is pretty, well, weird.
Foster took to the stage to introduce the film, decked out in self-described "Jack Nicholson" sunglasses ("If you saw my eyes, you'd turn into a vampire or throw up") and casually reminding the audience they were in for something unexpected. "This is not a comedy," Foster declared before admitting that making The Beaver was the greatest struggle in her professional career.
Genre aside, the film had the theater chuckling and sniffling from sentimentality. Returning to a thunderous ovation for the post-screening Q&A, Foster fielded the first, perhaps most obvious question: What exactly was the struggle?
"It was hard to get the tone right," she replied. "What was most beautiful about the script was it had equal parts lightness and darkness. Comedy and drama... and that's always a difficult combination." The inquisitor, obviously digging for a scandalous response, followed up with a straightforward rewording of his question: "Did it have anything to do with Mel Gibson?"
Foster smirked, prepared to tackle the sensitive issue on everyone's mind. "We were incredibly grateful to have Mel's performance in this movie," she said. "I wouldn't change anything." The crowd cheered, clearly won over by the actor's off-kilter performance. Foster went on to laud Gibson as one of America's most beloved actors, on par with such international greats as... Chow Yun-fat? Foster found time to remind the crowd that yes, Anna and the King -- her co-starring gig with the Hong Kong great -- was a thing that really happened.
As for the choice of both directing and starring in the film, Foster realized she needed someone Gibson's age who could play the straight man and act as the audience's perspective to the Beaver's oddball antics. She approached Gibson privately about the possibility of taking the role and, according to Foster, his response consisted of laughter and a prolonged, "Yeeeeaaaaah."
Eventually during the Q&A, Foster called Yelchin and screenwriter Kyle Killen (creator of the short-lived Lone Star) to stage to help her tackle heavy issues like the portrayal of mental illness on screen and finding the perfect beaver voice. The night was fairly tame overall, not an ill-word or uncomfortable hesitation made in reference to Gibson -- though thankfully there was time for a Bugsy Malone question.
"I love Bugsy Malone," a bewildered Foster quipped about the 1976 kid-gangster curio. "That was a very, very long time ago..."
The Beaver is in wide release May 20.
[Photo: Getty Images]