INTERVIEW

'We are emotional beings, and the instrument of death, a gun, shouldn’t be in the hands of a feeling human being’

JODIE FOSTER TALKS TO BRIAN D. JOHNSON ABOUT GUNS, MOTHERHOOD, SURVIVING CELEBRITY, AND WHY SHE LOVES MEL GIBSON MOVIES

September 24 2007
INTERVIEW

'We are emotional beings, and the instrument of death, a gun, shouldn’t be in the hands of a feeling human being’

JODIE FOSTER TALKS TO BRIAN D. JOHNSON ABOUT GUNS, MOTHERHOOD, SURVIVING CELEBRITY, AND WHY SHE LOVES MEL GIBSON MOVIES

September 24 2007

'We are emotional beings, and the instrument of death, a gun, shouldn’t be in the hands of a feeling human being’

INTERVIEW

JODIE FOSTER TALKS TO BRIAN D. JOHNSON ABOUT GUNS, MOTHERHOOD, SURVIVING CELEBRITY, AND WHY SHE LOVES MEL GIBSON MOVIES

Jodie Foster won back-to-back Oscars for The Accused and Silence of the Lambs, as women in jeopardy who strike back with a vengeance. But her latest role, in Neil Jordan’s The Brave One, makes the previous ones seem timid by comparison. Foster plays a Manhattan radio broadcaster who survives a brutal assault by a gang that leaves her boyfriend dead and abducts her dog. Buying an illegal handgun, she becomes a vigilante killer, murdering male predators on the streets of Manhattan—crimes that aren’t met with the moral retribution expected in a Hollywood movie.

Actors like props, and a gun must be the ultimate prop. What’s it like to hold a 9-mm automatic in your hand?

A: When you’re a character like this, somebody who has become invisible—she’s like a ghost in the night that just witnesses things—the second she buys this gun it empowers her. When you shoot a gun it takes, like, two calories—probably the amount it takes to turn on a light switch. It takes that much energy to make a decision that’s entirely life-or-death and to say, “I want to live, and by inference you die.”

Q: Can you imagine yourself doing that? A: Well, unfortunately, it’s my job. I had to walk that walk a little bit, and it is astonishing to see what you find.

Q: What did you discover about yourself ? A: Well, if I was going to talk to you like an actor, I’d say, “Wow, I thought it was going

to make me feel uncomfortable. I thought shooting someone was going to stress me out. Why do I feel so comfortable? It feels like I just got a massage.” The first time she kills, in a convenience store, she walks down the street and she gets rid of the jacket, the blood, she gets rid of this and that, and she takes out a cigarette and lights it and suddenly it’s like all the muscles in her neck relax and this strange look comes over her—like aaaaah. It’s something she didn’t expect.

Q: Does it feel sexual?

A: No, I think it’s about power, and magical thinking. This is the part that really sounds crazy. If I remake this event, this terrible event that happened to me, if I recreate it but I change the ending, and instead of my boyfriend being killed, and me lying on the ground not being able to do anything about it, if this time I say, “Uh-uh, I live and you die,” then maybe he’ll come back, and maybe for that one minute I’ll have my body back.

Q: That is a little crazy.

A: It’s totally crazy.

Q: What’s most provocative about the film is the lack ofretribution, and some people will see it as an endorsement of vigilante vengeance.

A: The film is subversive. It’s a very sophisticated movie, but it lives in a very unsophisticated genre—it’s a primal film that you’re meant to feel in the gut. I see it as a social commentary, absolutely, and we’ve chosen to tell the story from the character’s point of view, period. There’s no moralizing voice at the end.

Q: If it’s social commentary, what is it trying to tell us?

A: That violence corrupts absolutely everything it touches, not just the aggressor but the aggressee and the witness and the policeman. Every single person in the movie is changed by this one act.

Q: At the Toronto festival premiere, the audience cheered when you blew your victim away. How does that make you feel?

A: I’ve been there before. I get a lot of different responses to The Accused, Silence of the Lambs and Taxi Driver that make me uncomfortable. There are worse things in the world than acknowledging that there is a primal side to us that’s ugly.

Q: The scene where you and your boyfriend are assaidted happens out of nowhere in a Manhattan we assumed was safe. Is this essentially a 9/ll film about America losing its innocence and converting fear into vengeance?

A: Absolutely. I was adamant about that— the 9/11 references in the movie—because I think you have to situate this in a certain time and place. New York in 1975 is a very different place than is New York in 2005, and post-9/ll New York is a place where Times Square is like Disneyland and there’s a cop on every corner and it’s the safest big city in the world. The victims of violence are a statistical anomaly. The fear that is just underneath the surface of that city isn’t necessarily based in reality, but why are we all so scared?

Q: Well, there are terrorists out there.

A There are terrorists out there. But the day-to-day reality is you are safer than you’ve ever been: the problem is you’ve never been safe! We realize that, underneath, that fear is a part of American culture, a part of the post-9/H culture, and fear turns to rage very quickly in America.

Q: To quote the film: “Anyone can cross that line. Anyone could be a killer.” Do you agree?

A: I do. I think, under the right circumstances, absolutely. We are emotional beings, and the instrument of death, a gun, shouldn’t be in the hands of a feeling human being.

Q: Whose hands should it be in?

A: I don’t know. Maybe it shouldn’t be in anybody’s hands.

Q: But is there a streak of feminist empowerment in your character’s actions? A cop in the film says, “Women kill their friends, husbands, shit they love.” You kill strangers in the street.

A: Such a big part of the female psyche is that we hate inwards. What if there was a woman who said, “I’m not going to be that kind of victim. I’m not going to hurt myself, I’m going to hurt you.” What would that feel like? This was no feminist design on my part— although I call myself a feminist—but that’s exhilarating to women who see this movie.

Q: The vigilante’s gun and the paparazzi’s camera could be metaphors for each other.

A: That was Neil [Jordan] who made that happen. In the film, they have the video where they’re videotaping the beating. Apparently that’s a phenomenon that’s happening very, very often in Europe, and he read about it.

Q: Since we first met, in 1991, the wattage of celebrity journalism has cranked up exponentially. Does it alarm you?

A: When I was 18 they didn’t have those lenses. We were wild and nuts and we did stupid stuff, and we hung out in New York and never went to sleep. I don’t know who I would be if they had had those things.

Q: You ?nean you did Lindsay Lohan stuff back then and didn’t get caught?

A: I had my moments, I guess. It was a different time, and yes, there was not the celebrity culture that there is now, and I think I might have quit.

Q: You’ve succeeded in staying out of the tabloid glare. How do you manage that?

A: I’m not really sure. I’m not as interesting as people who are 20 and under. I don’t go out past 9:30 or 10.1 mean, I’m tired. I have two kids, you know? And I learned very young to do whatever it took to safeguard my life because I knew it would be taken away from me if I didn’t pay attention, if I didn’t set boundaries.There are aspects of celebrity culture I don’t participate in.

Q: You have had the one incident of being

stalked. What kind of a scar has that left?

A: I don’t talk about it. You know, it’s history, it happened.

Q: Anybody in your position—you’re out there. It must feel vulnerable.

A: Yeah. I have to say it’s weird being part of popular culture. I mean, I’m never going to be normal. I had to accept that at a young age. You have to try and figure out how to be healthy and well-adjusted, and part of the thing that saved me is my work, because so much of the rest of my life is so weird and hypocritical and insincere and shallow. I have to do something that feels like I’m actually living, and a lot of what celebrity culture asks you to do feels like death to me. I mean, if somebody said to me, “You can’t shop for your own food,” I’d be like, “Are you kidding me? Like somebody else is going to pick what I eat?” Or, “You can’t take your own kids to school.” I’d just say, “I’m sorry, I quit.”

Q: If one of your kids wanted to become an actor, what would your response be?

A: I’d have to try and have a good attitude, because if they really, really were dying to be an artist of course I would try and support them, but I’m not going to help them. My little one is quite shy, but when my older one—who loves being the centre of attention-says, “I want to be famous. What do I do and how do I get to be on TV?” I say, “Well, there’s this great little kids’ theatre program up the street and I’ll happily drag you there every Saturday and you can work on a play and maybe when you work really hard, someday—and you’re really good—then maybe you can graduate and do something else.” And he said, “I don’t want to work hard. Can’t I just get famous now?” You realize they just want people to pay attention to them, and that’s such a normal, natural impulse.

Q: They want to be famous like you.

A: Yeah, they want to be like mom. I suppose it should be flattering, right?

Q: As a mother you’ve inevitably, I guess, had to make career sacrifices. Any regrets?

A: Well, probably a couple of movies here and there, but not really. I feel like I got away with something in being able to figure out how to make films that were so meaningful— and make so few. This year I went to Iceland and France, to New York, Hawaii, Australia, Fiji, I went skiing—three different ski trips— and I got to take my kids to school almost every single day, and I went to every school play, and I made a movie. How great is that? And that takes design. You can’t make 2,000 movies a year and then go, “Oh, my God, my life’s eaten up. How’d that happen?”

Q: Coming back to movie violence. What’s up with your pal Mel Gibson?

A: Mel Gibson’s a great director and he’s going to continue being a great director. I

loved Apocalypto.

Q: That’s one of the most savagely violent films I’ve ever seen.

A: More than Passion of the Christ? I think that’s pretty much out there!

Q: He’s competing with himself isn’t he?

A: I loved Passion of the Christ. That was a really transcendent film for me.

Q: Are you religious?

A: No, I’m atheist, and I was so inspired by that story. I love religious stories, and he really captured the essence of the story of Jesus. When you meet Mel he’s a great guy, right? Nicest guy, great friend, funny, but people don’t see him as a profound feeler, because he doesn’t let them, you know?

Q: You’re obviously not a woman who recoils from watching disembowelling and torturing.

A: Well, if it’s gratuitous and there’s no emotional dramatic context to it, absolutely.

'When you meet Mel he’s a great guy, great friend, funny. But people don’t see him as a profound feeler.’

Sin City, I mean, I was so close to asking for my money back. My nephew loved it to death and thinks I’m an old fogey idiot. But I feel Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, The Brave One, these are movies that are trying to discuss violence in dramatic terms, and—in some ways—showing it for what it is.

Q: What’s your unfidfilled dream?

A: I’d love to direct Meryl Streep, that’s my big dream. M

For more on Hollywood’s new breed of vigilante violence, see page 82.