‘I de­vel­oped a sys­tem to stay alive’

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Film -

Child star­dom, com­ing out, stalk­ers – Jodie Fos­ter sur­vived them all with­out los­ing her cool. El­iz­a­beth Day asks how

Jodie Fos­ter is wear­ing shoes that are so un­stylish it’s quite pos­si­ble they have trav­elled the full bell­curve and be­come stylish again. I can’t stop look­ing at them. They are slip­per-like in their con­struc­tion and have no zips or laces, seem­ing merely to con­sist of two flaps of stitched­to­gether black leather. They are the kind of shoes I can imag­ine a Dan­ish lum­ber­jack wear­ing on his day off.

The rest of Fos­ter, 53, is more con­ven­tion­ally dressed: a well­cut trouser suit, dis­creet flashes of di­a­mond at each ear­lobe, tor­toise­shell spec­ta­cles. The shoes, though. Bizarrely, they kind of suit her.

But per­haps I shouldn’t be sur­prised. Her footwear makes a virtue of its un-showi­ness and Fos­ter, too, has nav­i­gated a four­decade ca­reer in Hol­ly­wood with a quiet in­tel­li­gence that has al­ways seen her place con­tent above style. As an ac­tor, she seems to care more about the qual­ity of the work than about how her choices look to the out­side world.

At the age of 12, she was Iris, the scene-steal­ing teenage pros­ti­tute in Martin Scors­ese’s Taxi Driver. That same year, she im­pressed the di­rec­tor Alan Parker so much while star­ring in Bugsy Malone that he ad­mit­ted: “If I had been run over by a bus I think she was prob­a­bly the only per­son on set able to take over.”

As an adult, Fos­ter went on to win the Best Ac­tress Os­car twice – for a trau­ma­tised rape vic­tim in The Ac­cused in 1988 and for FBI agent Clarice Star­ling in 1991’s The Si­lence of the Lambs. Her choice of roles since then has been both var­ied and chal­leng­ing – from a feisty fe­male con artist in Mav­er­ick to a Man­hat­tan power bro­ker in In­side Man. She is drawn to strong women. But there aren’t many of them writ­ten into movie scripts, are there?

She grins. “I mean, prac­ti­cally ev­ery movie that I work on as an ac­tress I have to go back and, you know, re­ally make the char­ac­ter deeper than it was,” she says. “It’s just part of what you do be­cause there aren’t very many wellfleshed-out fe­male char­ac­ters.”

Has she ever ex­pe­ri­enced di­rect sex­ism? “I think there isn’t a woman on the planet who hasn’t. But it’s some­thing you deal with ev­ery sin­gle day… We don’t even write it in our jour­nal, it’s just part of our cul­ture.”

Over the past few years, Fos­ter has been con­cen­trat­ing more on di­rect­ing. The new re­lease Money Mon­ster, star­ring Ge­orge Clooney and Ju­lia Roberts, is her fourth full-length fea­ture film in the di­rec­tor’s chair.

The movie tells the story of a dis­af­fected work­ing-class man (the Bri­tish ac­tor Jack O’Con­nell) who has lost all his money on the ad­vice of nar­cis­sis­tic talk-show host Lee Gates (Clooney) and who storms the tele­vi­sion stu­dio in a sui­cide vest to get an­swers. The hostage­tak­ing oc­curs live on air and it is left to Patty the un­flap­pable TV pro­ducer (Roberts) to ne­go­ti­ate Gates’s re­lease.

Money Mon­ster un­folds in real time and was, says Fos­ter, “a tough tech­ni­cal movie… The same mo­ment hap­pens in 15, 20 dif­fer­ent places. It was a jig­saw puz­zle.”

She en­joyed the chal­lenge be­cause “I’m de­ci­sive. The more de­ci­sions I make the less anx­ious I am. That’s just my per­son­al­ity. I think it’s eas­ier for me to be at the helm of ev­ery­thing and con­trol ev­ery­thing than to be one of the cogs and not re­ally know how my stuff is be­ing used.”

This de­sire for con­trol is par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing given so much of Fos­ter’s life has been lived in the pub­lic eye. She can barely re­call a time be­fore she was fa­mous.

Her mother, Eve­lyn, worked as a film pub­li­cist and started put­ting her daugh­ter up for ad­ver­tise­ment and tele­vi­sion roles at the age of three. Her fa­ther, Lu­cius, was never on the scene: the cou­ple di­vorced be­fore Fos­ter was born.

“My mother just loved movies,” re­calls Fos­ter. “She took me to ev­ery weird film when I was a kid and we went to lots of for­eign films. She re­ally took me to ev­ery­thing. She trav­elled and ate strange food and was very cu­ri­ous. And even though she had no real ed­u­ca­tion, she would re­ally self­e­d­u­cate. She read ev­ery­thing about ev­ery­thing – ev­ery news item, ev­ery mag­a­zine. She was just a great in­spi­ra­tion.”

But it must be odd to be­come fa­mous with­out be­ing given much choice in the mat­ter. When Fos­ter went to Yale to ma­jor in lit­er­a­ture (her the­sis was on the au­thor Toni Mor­ri­son) she was stalked by John W Hinck­ley Jr, a men­tally un­bal­anced man ob­sessed with Taxi Driver. In 1981, Hinck­ley at­tempted to as­sas­si­nate Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan in a bid to im­press her. Fos­ter re­fuses to com­ment pub­licly on the episode, not least be­cause the White House press sec­re­tary James Brady was left per­ma­nently dis­abled by the in­ci­dent and died as a re­sult of his in­juries 33 years later.

How does Fos­ter feel about fame now? She looks star­tled. “How do I feel about it?”

Yes. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never not been a pub­lic fig­ure, from the time I was three.”

She says this mat­ter-of-factly even though it is quite an as­ton­ish­ing thing if one gives it a mo­ment’s thought.

Fos­ter thinks she “de­vel­oped some healthy sur­vival skills”, which she com­pares to “lit­tle straws that you breathe through un­der­wa­ter. You de­velop a sys­tem for your­self to stay alive, re­ally, to stay con­scious and to stay grounded and to, you know, to

‘I don’t know how I feel about fame. I’ve never not been a pub­lic fig­ure’

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