Jodie Foster on The Beaver | Interview
With her new film The Beaver, the two-time Oscar winner adeptly handles depression—and Mel Gibson.
“I don’t want you to feel like you got gypped,” Jodie Foster says. A publicist has signaled that my time’s up, but Foster extends the interview. The two-time Oscar winner, in town recently to promote the impressive new film she’s directed, The Beaver, then adds, “Gypped is a politically incorrect word, by the way. My son was telling me that. He goes, ‘Because it comes from Gypsies.’ I had no idea!” The moment illustrates her humor and her maternal affection—and the fact that she is, after all, the director. She’s the one who’ll say “cut.”
In a hotel room, the mother of two boys sits on an overstuffed armchair, leaning forward, her gaze focused and intent, as she speaks about the film in which she plays the mother of two boys—and wife to Mel Gibson’s Walter.
The premise—a depressed man speaks through a beaver puppet—doesn’t scream “easy sell.”
Was it a struggle to create a serious take on depression and not a light comedy about a guy with a puppet?
Yeah. Not so much in prep and in production, but in post it was difficult. There was a bit of fighting for the movie, but [distributor] Summit has always been incredible about it.
You’ve said you don’t want to act much anymore. Yet here you have a significant role as Walter’s wife.
The second I brought Mel aboard, there were things I needed from an actor and they were going to be really hard to get. Who was gonna be able to anchor the drama and not be tempted by his humor to go off in that direction? And [she] has to be somebody that you believe loves him and would fight for him. I would never have done it if I had had a different actor. I know how easy he is to direct and how uncomplicated he is professionally.
A couple of recent headlines: “Jodie Foster Defends Mel Gibson,” “Jodie Foster Praises Gibson.” Does it feel like you’re doing a publicity tour for Mel as much as for the film itself?
Yeah, it’s been interesting. I wish that wasn’t the number-one topic. I don’t defend his behavior, I can’t defend his behavior. Only he can. But I’m really proud of him in the movie. I think he’s extraordinary. I don’t believe anyone else could understand the struggle of the character in the way that he did.
Because his personal struggle relates to the character’s?
I think his depth, really. That’s the guy I know. He’s a guy who has a lot of contradictions; he appears simple, and he’s not. I was hoping that beautiful complexity I know of him would find itself onscreen, and it did.
Given all the charges of sexism and racism that surround him, do you feel artistic expression should be considered separately from the politics of anyone involved in it—that those are two distinct things?
Well, they are two distinct things. I don’t know if it’s possible, [Pauses] especially in America, to dissociate what you know of somebody publicly and what you know of them onscreen. A lot of us ask this question: How do we live through this lifestyle? How do you live through that microscope?
The lifestyle of celebrity, you mean.
Yeah. It’s a very cruel thing for a human being to go through, and it affects you in deep ways. I know it affected me, too. It does take an enormous toll to offer yourself up in a real way.
You’ve said, “Depression is a part of my life I accept.” How did that part of yourself inform your approach to this material?
Oh, it informs everything. I mean, you have to separate between true chemical depression—that’s what this character is suffering from—[and] obsessive rumination, people who think about things that are hard to think about over and over again and find joy in that and also find that unbearably difficult. That is the artistic process.
So you see yourself in that latter category, the obsessive—
I do, I do.
Which can lead to depression.
I think it’s very parallel to the depressed experience.
Walter’s communication via a puppet seems to speak to the process of acting itself.
Absolutely. Survival tools. Acting can be a survival tool for people, and that has been true for Mel.
Is it for you?
Yeah, it would be if I didn’t have to do all the other stuff that goes with it! But creativity is vitality—I want to live, I want to live, every creative breath is saying, “I do want to live.”
How do you see the theme here of generational repetition—Walter’s son Porter inheriting his depression—playing out for you as a parent?
I think about it all the time. You find yourself running as far away as you can from your parents and then you’re like a cartoon character: You just turn around and—vroom!—you’re running back in that direction. I totally relate to Anton [Yelchin]’s character and wanting to control the uncontrollable and not being able to.
The Beaver opens Friday 6.