Photo: Ken Regan ©2009 Summit
Interview With Jodie
Up Close and Personal
Thoughts on Directing, Acting, and Mel Gibson
By Beverly Cohn
odie Foster is one of Hollywoods 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
Roomand 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
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 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
its 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 doesnt it touch me is my
first question because often if touches me, I can find a way to communicate
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 thats 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, who is very upset
with his dad's behavior (Mel Gibson). Photo: Myles Aronowitz
©2009 Summit Entertainment LLC.
In some ways Mels life parallels his character.
Did you have any concerns about that or did you embrace it?
Foster: Its 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 hes someone who really understands trouble.
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.
(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 dont 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. Its very hard and tiring. You dont experience a lot
of the joys of acting or directing because your busy putting on other
hats and you dont get a lot of surprises from your performance.
You just get what you anticipated and you dont get moments that
come out of nowhere.
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 wouldnt notice, that allowed them to experience the
complex relationship between Walter and The Beaver in a
How did you come up with the look of The Beaver?
Foster: We talked to a lot of special effects units,
including Mels 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
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 its a psychotic episode and that
is the moment in time when The Beaver takes Walter over
and Walters psyche state is completely lost. A man beating himself
up is as real as blood and its a very jarring moment in the film.
Its frenetic and hard to watch and was hard to shoot because we
used a hand-held camera.
Jodie Foster setting up a shot on the set of "The
Beaver." Photo: Ken Regan ©2009 Summit Entertainment
What is your approach to either acting or directing?
Foster: While youre 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 thats
what youre always looking for. Should the characters handbag
be blue or green? Somewhere about either three-fourths of the way through
the movie or at least in post, you realize its 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 its
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 dont
overshoot, I print very little, I dont have long scripts, and
dont have long first cuts. But, you deal with what you have to
deal with. Its hard getting a film made, especially a personal
film, so Im delighted to have been able to make this movie.