Jodie Foster on Mel Gibson, Directing The Beaver, and the 'Inhuman Stress' of Celebrity

beaver300.jpgWhen Mel Gibson's infamous taped phone calls leaked at the tail end of filming on The Beaver, actor-director Jodie Foster was forced into crisis mode with her distributors. "It was just about, now how do we sell it, and how do we get it out there, how do we get people to want to see it?" Foster recalled recently in Los Angeles. Two years and three release dates later, she feels like the timing is finally right. "I think they made the right decision," she said. "I feel like the film's getting a fair shake, and I'm not sure it would have."

Foster sat down last week with Movieline and Boxoffice Magazine for a joint interview about The Beaver (read Part 1 of the interview below and check Boxoffice Magazine for Part 2.) In the film, based on a 2008 Black List-ed script by Kyle Killen, Gibson plays Walter Black, a toy company CEO and father of two (Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart) who suffers from debilitating depression; director Foster also co-stars as Walter's long-suffering wife Meredith, who finds her marriage and family at first complicated, then healed by, and ultimately threatened by the beaver puppet Walter begins wearing as a means with which to cope with his mental illness.

That meant double duty for Foster during production, and patience and loyalty besides once Gibson's personal struggles came to light. But the clear-eyed 48-year-old actress/producer/director kept her faith in the project throughout and lent her support to Gibson, whom she first met when they both starred in 1994's Maverick.

Audiences will have their chance to support Gibson or not this Friday when The Beaver opens in limited release (it expands nationwide on May 20). But regardless of how the film performs, Foster cherishes the experience of directing, something she's only done twice before (Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays). "It's a life-changing thing," Foster said of directing, "and it allows you to get through a spiritual crisis in a completely full way."

Read on as Foster reveals her struggle to find a studio to embrace The Beaver, her decision to cast herself opposite Gibson, and the answer to the question "Would I be OK if I never acted again?"

How did you first find Kyle Killen's script, and what about it spoke to you personally?

Well, like everybody in Hollywood, when there's a really great script, whether it's ever going to be produced or not or whether or not it's crazy quirky, I think everybody tries to read it. My agent said, 'You've got to read this one,' and I said, 'Listen, if it ever falls out with the director, give me a call.' And that's kind of what happened.

Was this before it made it onto the Black List?

No, afterwards. Everybody knew about it but nobody was touching it.

Why do you think that was -- do you think the subject matter was too difficult?

It was, and what we found when we went to distributors - we didn't even bother with mainstream distributors, but we went to indie distributors - was that there were things and there were moments in the movie that everybody wanted to cut out. And they wouldn't really discuss distributing the film unless you cut that out. So we said, 'OK, let's go on to the next one, then.'

The film isn't just about the effect of manic-depression on one man, but the effect it has on his entire family and everybody in his life.

I would even say generations to come, because of Walter's father and the effect of his unmedicated, untreated depression on his progeny.

In one scene we actually see them all literally riding a rollercoaster, which sums up this family's experience.

Tragedy and comedy, you know? You have to accept one to accept the other. I liked how that paid off in the movie; she's a rollercoaster designer and here she is doing something that's supposed to be passionate and filled with thrills and screams, and yet she does it on a computer screen 9,000 miles away from Japan, in the middle of the night -- such an alienated experience, completely cut off from her own passions. And she has to change, too.

Did you always envision yourself acting in The Beaver as well as directing?

No! For many years I said I would never act and direct again. Famous last words. [Laughs] You know, Mel said the same thing after Man without a Face. He said, 'I'm never doing this again' -- and then he did Braveheart. So sometimes you're racking your brain trying to find an actor for the role, and in this particular situation I really needed somebody opposite him who would honor the drama and who would really anchor the film and the drama. Somebody that I could hang the audience's point of view on because he's an unreliable narrator. He's not stable. So it can't be his point of view, in some ways. But her point of view really is the anchor to the film.

How much of your decision to cast yourself came from first casting Mel?

Completely from casting Mel. I don't think I would have cast myself if it was another actor -- and I asked his permission when I thought about it. I just went to his house. I didn't even tell the producer, I didn't tell the distributor, I didn't tell anybody, I just went to his house and said, 'Look, how would you feel about this? If you would feel awkward about this in any way...' And he started laughing. He said, 'I don't care, I think it's going to be great!'

As an actor and director, are you able to learn from the experience of making a movie, either about yourself or about a problem that a character has?

Directing movies is life-changing. It's an absolutely life-changing thing. That's why you can't throw it away on some shooter movie about scuba diving. I can't do that. It's waking up at three in the morning, it's coming up with ideas, it's downloading your whole childhood and the people that you've known and the experiences that you've had... you can't just do that for something you don't believe in. It's a life-changing thing, and it allows you to get through a spiritual crisis in a completely full way. You think about it, you ruminate about it, you ask people, you do research, you inhabit each one of the characters and say, 'Well, what about from their point of view?' 'What about from his point of view?' How does it look, how does it sound, what kind of music will be playing... it's a way of evolving and changing and getting through an experience in a full way. It's fantastic.

How do you now distinguish that from when you're acting for another director?

Well, I think that has its own benefit depending on the part. There are some elements of that that stick with you forever, but you're not in control of the film. It's not the music you would use, it's not the other cast members you would hire, it's not the dialogue you would agree with... you know, you try to bring as much to the table as you possibly can, but it's not your film. You're there to support the director.

How tough is it at this point to find roles that you find interesting or challenging?

It's hard! [Laughs] As an actor and as a director, especially, because that's such an enormous commitment. But as an actor, yeah, it's impossible! It just gets harder and harder all the time.

How did you find your way to [Roman Polanski's] Carnage [formerly God of Carnage, based on the Tony-winning play], for example?

There just was a lot of stuff in that play that fascinated me. Really, it's just the dynamic of four people; it might as well be a family. It's four people intertwining and acting out their whole psyches on each other. Once again, a family crisis.

You've worked closely now with both Mel Gibson and Roman Polanski, two filmmakers who've had their share of public controversies. What it is about them that makes these relationships work?

Well, I don't know. Carnage isn't coming out for so long that I don't need to talk about that movie. But I'm not the only one that's made a movie with Mel Gibson. I'm not the only one that's made a movie with Roman Polanski. Hasn't he made, like 40 movies? People work with all sorts of people.

Do you find that your interest in directing has overtaken your interest in acting?

I do think it has. I think it has. But I can't imagine never acting. That seems pretty rash. But the last 15 years I feel like one of the reasons that I've continued acting was to look over a director's shoulder and say, 'Why did you do that?' And, 'How come this happens?' Just to kind of continue the film school. To be on movie sets and see why the choices were made, and to help them tell their stories.

Knowing him as well as you do, do you think that Mel really would be OK with never acting again, as he recently said?

I think it probably sounded more glib than it was; it's a conversation he and I have had many times, and I say it all the time. You know, I've worked for 45 years as an actor and it's a long time to do one job and there are a lot of other ways to tell stories.Would I be OK if I never acted again? Who would I be? Would I be somebody new? We ask ourselves these questions all the time. He was a kid, too, when he started. There are times when I really put it aside, and as I say to him, 'Look, there's only one reason for you to act, there's only one motivation, and that's because it moves you.' And honestly, you shouldn't do it for any other reason. Because you don't need to -- he doesn't need to, he doesn't need that identity. And he doesn't need the extra inhuman stress of being a celebrity.

The Beaver is in limited release May 6.


  • Leon says:

    Jodi Foster is a nazi sympathizer and a terrible human for allowing Mel Gibson to be in this movie. She will be boycotted. She is just as bad as mel Gibson. Boycott Boycott Boycott

  • Ben says:

    He's not a Nazi, Leon. He's an alcoholic with bipolar disorder.

  • Karen says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I for one, certainly will NOT be boycotting Jodie Foster or the movie or Mel Gibson.
    No way do I think that Mel is some sort of evil person - that kind of hyperbole comes across idiotic. One of my best friends is bipolar and it is unbelievable the things she can do and say. Does she mean it? Does it come from her heart? Nope.
    I say cheers to Jody for not being a fair weather friend.

  • Jordan Poling says:

    Definately gonna see this movie, much love for Mel and Jodie. Nobodys perfect. Like Roman Polanski who was mentioned, I dont approve of some of his actions in his life, but Chinatown will always be one of my favorite movies. The great artist Caravaggio killed a man in a brawl. His art still speaks to me. So does Mel Gibsons. Lets boycott crappy movies and crap actors if we are to boycott anything. I've made mistakes in my life too.

  • SogWoo says:

    OK those guys are making a lot of sense.

  • Jonni says:

    I will see this film dont give a s**t of his personal life or what he believes, Mel Gibson is one of the best actor/director in the industry and I want him back to work NOW!

  • David says:

    Leon, Gibson is about as much of a "nazi sympathizer" as Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg." Enough with slandering this talented actor who is no more or less controversial than hundreds of other actors.

  • Carcotas says:

    Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a chronically depressed, miserable man who has been lost in a dark cloud of despair for years. He has driven the toy company his father founded to the brink of bankruptcy and that's nothing compared to the damage he's done to his family. His youngest son (Riley Thomas Stewart) doesn't essentially doesn't have a father, his oldest son (Anton Yelchin) despises him, and his wife (Jodie Foster) has kicked him out of the house. As the voice-over tells us, Walter died inside long ago but his body didn't have the decency to follow suit. On a serious bender, Walter finds a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and when he comes to after a failed suicide attempt, he begins to speak to himself through the beaver (with a British accent, no less). He develops his own form of therapy, speaking only through the beaver and begins to reintegrate himself into the lives of his family members and his company with great success. Before long, however, Walter can no longer find the line of reality between himself and the beaver and watches as all the progress he had made washes away.

    The similarities between Walter and Gibson himself are obvious and significant. Add in some unfortunate voicemail rants and a touch of anti-Semitism and this could play as a Gibson documentary. These similarities are also where "The Beaver" makes its money. Walter's transition seems authentic (to a point) as if Gibson himself is undergoing the therapy along with his character. He exhibits the right character traits of man who has lost his way and is struggling to find a way back and the work he does with facial expressions, body language, etc. is rich. It's quite possible that, as a Gibson fan and someone who wants to see him get back on track, I could be exaggerating the overall quality of his performance but I think a great deal is asked of him in this roll and he delivers. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a superb performance but it is solid and compelling and an example of just how good Gibson can be when he gives himself a chance.

    The other elements within "The Beaver" represent a decisive step down from the work done by Gibson. Foster's character never really finds a foothold to become substantial and her work as director is satisfactory but unspectacular. Kyle Killen's script is uneven, too drawn out in some parts but rushed in others resulting in a film that doesn't develop quite the way I believe it was supposed to. And while I am generally down with a darker narrative, "The Beaver" is almost overwhelmed with it to the point of frustrating bleakness. Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence (the Valedictorian cheerleader) have some nice moments together but their relationship is poorly developed and is treated at times like a distraction from the storyline involving Walter. A lot could have been done with Yelchin's character and his relationship with Walter but it stagnates early on and just barely reaches for redemption in the end. All totaled, "The Beaver" is a good movie with one great performance that carries the film much further than it could have gone otherwise. It is a worthwhile viewing but not one that I'd look forward to seeing again.

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