Jodie Foster hasn’t made many political Films because they’re not so entertaining to her. “Everybody is born and then they die. There’s nothing new about that.” But all that changed for the Oscar-winner with her latest film The Mauritanian (in theaters and streaming on February 12), which tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who was held without being charged at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 until 2016 on allegations he was a member of Al-qaeda. Foster plays defense attorney Nancy Hollander. “We let fear and terror discard the rule of law and discard our own humanity,” says Foster, who adds it was the “first-person look at the life and the character of this Muslim man” that inspired her to do this film. “We were all there to serve his story,” she says. Of course, getting that story out was more difficult because of the pandemic, the impact of which, Foster says, has accelerated what Hollywood has known for years: “There will be a major shift in audience habits and in the strength and power of streamers.” But Foster says she’s ready. “Look, I’m happy to act on an iphone” [laughs].
Why do you think this story is so relevant right now?
It’s about a dark moment in our history as a country. We have these moments in time that we have to revisit and recognize our part in and see where our emotions got the best of us.
What was it about Nancy Hollander that stood out to you?
Most people don’t know a lot about her. That allowed me to change parts of her character in order to serve Mohamedou’s story. I had to basically say, “Look, she’s going to be rude and short with people and self-protective.” She’s had to build walls of protection in order to uphold her mission.
Did the way you approach a role change after you started directing?
I remember being 6 or 7 on this television show and an actor who I’d been working with was the director that day. My mind was blown. So I always had my eye on that. How I’ve worked as an actor is a little bit like a director; it wasn’t a big switch.
The Silence of the Lambs’ 30th anniversary is coming up. Did you foresee it becoming such a classic?
I’m kind of in awe of that movie. For me, it’s the best movie I’ve ever made by far. It’s timeless. But I have to also give credit to the Thomas Harris book because it was that text. Literally, Ted Tally’s first draft was virtually the script that was shot. So it really did feel like there was something magical about it.
“We let fear and terror discard the rule of law and discard our own humanity.”