This month’s Total Film Interview is with the frank and funny Jodie Foster, which you can check out in the December issue of Total Film, on sale on 3 November. But here are a few bits that didn’t make the mag, including Foster on women directors, her cameo part in A Very Long Engagement and what it was like shooting Inside Man with Spike Lee and Denzel Washington.
You’ve done Panic Room, you’ve done Flightplan and you were going to do Double Jeopardy…
Yeah, I had to leave Double Jeopardy cos I was pregnant. I would have liked to have done that movie but they couldn’t change the schedule for me.
What is the attraction with women-in-peril thrillers at this stage in your career?
I like thrillers. I like them as audience member, but I also like playing that tension from beginning to end. And not only is Flightplan a thriller, but it’s also a thriller in a tight space and in real time. And that’s a great discipline because you can’t cheat, you can’t cut to the cat or “10 years later…”. You really depend on your lead characters’ changes to change the music and the tone of the film.
Is it still difficult to be a woman director in Hollywood?
Well, a lot easier for me than most people. I’ve been very blessed and very lucky that I was supported by producers that have known me for 25 years. They know who I am, they know how I work so it’s been a great advantage. But it’s the one area that women have not managed to make an inroad into in Hollywood and there are a lot of reasons…
What are they?
I don’t believe that Hollywood has some plot to keep women out of directing, I think they’d really love to bring up women directors. But, intrinsically, when you’re bringing on a new director, there is no way of knowing what a first-time director will do, and the psychology is, I want to put somebody in that position that looks like me. I want them to look like me, I want them to have the same education, I want them to have the same skin, I want them to be the same sex – whatever it is to lessen the risk of it going wrong, I want somebody that looks like me. I think that’s what happens. I don’t think it’s a plot, I really don’t.
As far as working with new or first-time directors, are you able to turn off one hat and just be an actor?
Yeah but I still bring a director’s mind, a director’s perspective. It’s just how I work. My character has to make sense for me or I can’t play it so I feel like I have to put on a director’s hat to architect the character throughout the piece so that it has a real flow to it.
Do your sons know what you do?
They know what I do. They also know that I direct and produce films. I tend to talk to them about what I’m interested in so I’ll talk to them about film technique, about how CGI works.
Sounds kind of heavy for a four year old!
Well, they need to know about greenscreen, right? They need to know, like, How does Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fly?
So you watch a movie with them and start telling them the secrets behind them?
They ask, so yeah, absolutely! It’s like the way you train a musical ear: you can listen to a symphony and go, Well, the drum parts came in too quick, that violin was too squeaky – you can pick it apart but love it at the same time. I’d like them to know about filmmaking. Like I always tell them, “You know that actor? He’s the lion in The Lion King”, or “He’s Mr Crab in SpongeBob.” I think it’s good that they know that the characters aren’t real.
You speak fluent French. Are you raising your sons to speak it as well?
The littlest one is going to a French school once a week. The older one’s been kind of rebellious about it, and I didn’t want to force him. Maybe as he gets older he’ll be more interested because he knows the little one’s trying to speak it.
Does it come in handy knowing two languages?
Honestly it’s given me the most joy of anything that I’ve done in my life. To be able to speak another language fluently, it’s like having a whole separate personality. And even though I am American, there’s a part of me that can come to France and think I’m a French person.
Do you feel more anonymous here?
I’m probably more recognisable in France than anywhere else in the world. But French people, even if they know who you are, keeping your distance is part of the culture whereas Americans, you get in an elevator and they slap you on the back and tell you how much money they’re worth and how many wives they’ve had. And then they leave and you never see them again! Americans are so comfortable being false friends.
It was intriguing to see you pop up in A Very Long Engagement, speaking French no less…
I’d made a couple movies in France when I was young and I’d been dying to make a French film for years. So I was in Paris and I knew Jean-Pierre Jeunet was here and I tracked him down. I said, “I really want to make a French movie and I’d like to be in one of your films, so if you have a part in a movie you’re doing, you know, a small part, a big one, whatever, just call me up.” And that’s how it worked out.
Are there any other French directors you’re targeting now for roles?
[Laughs] I get offered French movies from first-time directors and even though I speak the language well, I don’t feel comfortable enough to put myself in the hands of somebody that doesn’t have a lot of experience. But I hope I get to do more. I grew up on French films and those are the kinds of movies I want to make.
You’ve made quite a few period films, including Sommersby, Maverick, Anna And The King. What’s the appeal of corset roles for you?
Well, I like ‘em. I’m so used to the whole petticoat thing. I don’t even think about it. You get so used to the corset so quickly. I think the interesting thing and the challenging thing is to apply contemporary psychology to people of a historical time. And to not necessarily travel on how things were but to really have it reinformed by contemporary psychology. That’s interesting to me.
You didn’t feel so comfortable in the clothes you were in Taxi Driver though, right?
The hardest thing for me in Taxi Driver was having to wear those awful clothes, cos I was a kid that wore sweat pants and shorts. I was not the kind of kid that wore make-up and platform shoes and hot pants. So that was hard for me, to be a 12 year old and walk down the street and feel embarrassed.
Are you glad that you worked when the whole obsession with celebrity gossip wasn’t so prevalent?
Yeah, it’s changed a lot, especially for young people in their teens and twenties. It’s just a completely different world. And thank God I’m not 20. It’s pretty awful but, as the years go on, you learn how to manage your life so that you can try and seek out some happiness and some privacy. But it’s not easy. That’s part of the reason why I don’t work as much.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a film with Spike Lee called Inside Man with Denzel Washington. I play a great character. She’s sort of a fixer: a rich Madison Avenue lawyer who fixes things when they go wrong. Say you were a mayor and you got caught in bed with three dead hookers, then I would be brought in to fix the situation.
How do you do that?
Call in lots of favours. You use people and kind of puppet behind the scenes, manipulate them. She’s a dubious bad guy.
How’s it working with Spike Lee?
It was a really interesting experience. He shot it a little bit differently than he usually does. He put three cameras on and just let it go and printed the first two takes. It’ll have a much more messy feeling than his other films. But it was so great to work with Denzel, it was just a dream of mine. It was really exhilarating to be in a scene with him. I just have never worked with an actor who’s that good. It was really lovely.
Is it true you’re going to star in the revenge thriller that Joel Silver’s producing, The Brave One?
I might. I have to see the script first. They always announce everything and then the script doesn’t come in and I don’t do it and then it just makes them look dumb...