Me and my friend Mel Gib­son.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

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.

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