Me and my friend Mel Gibson.
IT IS the most unlikely friendship in Hollywood.
She is the talented child actor turned highly respected two-time Oscar winner, a single mum, feminist and atheist.
He is the former married superstar turned drink-driving outcast, whose acrimonious split with a Russian pop star and anti-semitic, homophobic and misogynistic rants have positioned him on the top of most-hated lists everywhere.
But somehow Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson remain the best of friends.
While Gibson is still considered a Hollywood pariah, Foster remains faithful to the Aussie she first met on the 1994 set of the western comedy Maverick.
Foster’s devotion to her friend is so strong that when the 45-year-old signed on for her latest directorial offering, The Beaver, she only wanted one actor to play the lead role of maniacally depressed dad Walter Black – even if that meant constantly battling studio bosses to get her way.
‘‘ We obviously had a list of a bunch of people we wanted for the role and I kept saying ‘ I really want Mel, I really love him’,’’ Foster says. ‘‘ He has the right combination of wit, quirkiness and light touch, but I know he will be able to go to that dark place and give us that bit of drama.’’
Regardless of his many hurdles, Foster says Gibson remains loved by those who know him personally.
‘‘ Of anybody that I have worked with, I’ve never met an actor who is as incredibly loved,’’ she says.
‘‘ He is the most beloved movie actor on a set that I know. And it’s not just because he’s funny. He asks questions about yourself, he’s interested in people’s lives and he makes you feel present.
‘‘ He will find some really cool thing he discovered on the weekend and he will run down the block in the rain to get it for you. He’s a really, incredibly lovely man.’’
It is ironic that Gibson’s redemption movie is about a man suffering a debilitating breakdown, watched by his family, colleagues and the world’s media.
The Beaver follows Walter’s attempts to re-connect with his wife Meredith ( played by Foster) and two children ( Anton Yelchin and Riley Thomas Stewart) by communicating through a tatty beaver hand puppet with a Ray Winstone cockney accent.
It is a challenging, dark suburban drama with touching moments of comedy, thanks particularly to Gibson’s honest performance.
Walter’s self-prescribed puppet treatment initially pays off. His failing toy business picks up and he starts to bond with his sons and wife.
But then, as the world watches, Walter suddenly spirals back into depression.
‘‘ I don’t think people realised how dramatic the film was going to be,’’ Foster says. ‘‘ I think they probably thought it would stay in a whimsical place, but I’m so glad it didn’t.’’ Kyle Killen’s script, which topped the industry’s 2008 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays, was the hottest property in Hollywood. Foster was on board to make the film the moment she read it. Within 24 hours of receiving the script, Gibson was also in.
‘‘ It’s beautifully written and quirky,’’ Foster says. ‘‘ For a young writer, who has never written before, there was something very honest and touching. That really needed to be brought out in the screenplay.’’
When we meet in a luxurious suite in a Parisian hotel, Foster is breathtakingly beautiful – impossibly tiny, but with sparkling eyes and an air of relaxed calm.
With more than four decades of acting in Hollywood – including Taxi Driver, The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs, Nell and Panic Room – Foster now seems more excited by her role behind the camera.
‘‘ As an actor I always seem to be attracted to very solitary quests,’’ she says.
‘‘ But the films I direct are more about a tapestry of how different people’s lives intersect and how they change each other and how they affect generations.
‘‘ I really want to be directing again soon.’’
Foster is also happy to talk about her family – a topic once out of bounds.
She tells how, while she never watches her films, her two sons – Charles, 12, and Kit, 9 – have seen her only in her 1976 hit Bugsy Malone.
Foster refuses to let them watch anything else after a terrible experience trying to convince them to sit through a screening of Little Man Tate, Foster’s directorial debut about a seven-year-old prodigy.
‘‘ My little one started to cry because it was sad and kept saying ‘ the music’s too sad’,’’ Foster says.
‘‘ Then my other son started crying and screaming at me to turn it off.
‘‘ There were four kids there and one of them threw a pillow at me and it hit the painting above my head, which then fell down and broke my nose.
‘‘ I was bleeding and all the kids were crying . . . so it was a complete disaster. Never again.’’
Foster had more belief in her talent when she convinced the distributors three times to release The Beaver.
At each point that the film was due to be released, a Gibson saga would erupt, pushing the film further back on a ‘‘ wait and see’’ pile.
‘‘ We changed our release date three times, oh yeah,’’ she says with a laugh.
‘‘ Well, the distributors wanted to change it three times.
‘‘ Sure it was awful. There is a lot of work that goes into movies – on our side in production and in distribution.
‘‘ You want to release it on the best possible date for people to see. And the best possible date is probably not the day after a massive scandal that’s crossed the world.’’
She is reluctant to discuss Gibson’s public downfall. It is the first time she has spoken about it publicly and her jaw clenches when I ask how difficult it has been to watch her friend suffer. ‘‘ It’s hard, it’s really hard,’’ she says. ‘‘ I think when you love somebody and you know all the good that they are and all they good they give you, you don’t abandon them the second they’re struggling. But he will get through it. He is an incredibly strong man and he has gone through a lot in his life.’’
In many ways, The Beaver mirrors Foster’s commitment to support Gibson as he struggles.
In the film, there is no solution, healing or answers to Walter’s depression. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Foster says that in some ways the bittersweet idea of the movie is that there is a lot of work to be done and life is, in some ways, tragic.
There are light moments and dark moments and it’s not always going to be OK.
‘‘ But the one thing, the only tried and true thing, that will allow you to get through these moments is to know you’re not alone,’’ she says.