The Beaver - Jodie Foster interview
The director on working with Mel Gibson on absurdist comedy drama
The Beaver is the third directorial effort from the iconic Jodie Foster. The 48-year-old actress burst onto the international scene as a child star in 1976 with films such as Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone and Freaky Friday. Lauded as a teenager for her acting presence, the actress went from strength-to-strength. Her performance in The Accused saw the then 26-year-old take home an Oscar. Her second Oscar came for her most famous role, playing trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling. She’s worked for a who’s who of Hollywood’s finest directors and the training came in handy when the actress decided to step behind the camera to make Little Man Tate in 1991. Her second directorial effort came in 1995 with Home for the Holidays.
The Beaver is her most unusual film. Starring Mel Gibson as a depressed man who finds solace in talking through a beaver puppet, the absurdist tale looks at the effects that depression can have on family life, as most notably his wife (played by Foster) and son (rising star Anton Yelchin) cope with the stress and hardships of having such an insular presence in their lives.
The List: Do you think cinema is therapy – directing or acting?
Jodie Foster: I do, yeah. I think all art is. I think it’s therapy through expressing yourself and coming to understand yourself, communicating who you are, expressing who you are.
TL: Can you give an example of something from your career that you experienced in that sense?
JF: I think every movie changes me, and is life changing, especially movies you direct. This film especially. An examination of loneliness and the solitary quality – that’s something that I deal with all the time; that I think about all the time as an artist. Vitality, you know, needing to have something that reminds you why you want to live and I feel like I hit that spiritual crisis continually in my life.
TL: How do you survive?
JF: Art. I think art’s the way. That, to me… it’s the best survival tool I know. I think that’s where I’ve always gone to in order to figure out myself.
TL: How do you find acting in a film that you direct?
JF: Easily. I think it’s surprisingly easy to direct and act at the same time. There are things you miss out on, there are sacrifices you make, you don’t get as many choices from yourself as you’d hoped, you don’t get surprises – you get what you wanted and what you planned but you don’t get the surprises that you might get if you were being directed by someone else.
TL: The premise on paper sounds ridiculous. Was it a struggle to make it seem real?
JF: The first time somebody told me about the script, I said, “Eucchhh, I’m not even interested in that story.” And yet the absurdity and the high concept, the simplicity of that concept, the fable quality of that is so great to underline a delicate, delicate, delicate movie. And I think you just have to keep your eye on the drama, always keep your eye on the drama and make sure that you ask the right questions: Is it honest? Is it true? Is it authentic? And never to veer away from those questions, to never get into, “Will the audience like this, or will they laugh?” To go for the joke… I just wanted to always keep my hands on the drama.
TL: You don’t have the audience in mind when you direct?
JF: No, I think that’s very dangerous.
TL: Was Mel your first choice?
JF: Yes, he was my first choice.
TL: And you’ve known him for long time?
JF: Yeah, I’ve known him for 15, 16 years. When stars reach maturity, many change their image through a film, for instance Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt, Robert De Niro has done it – Now Mel Gibson in this. Is it a need? I don’t think it was anything that was done on purpose. I loved About Schmidt and actually I thought a lot about that movie when I made this film. I loved the voice in that film and the signature of that movie, it was a strong vision.
TL: It’s a whole reversal from the tough, strong guy?
JF: Yeah, I don’t think Mel was aware of that, I don’t think any of us were aware of that. I mean, I chose him because I know that he could handle two things – he could handle the funny, witty humour guy-with-a-puppet side and he had the lightness of touch to be able to pull that off but I know him personally and I know that he’s somebody who’s a deep thinker and he’s complex and understands struggle in a very personal and raw way, and that if he was interested, really interested, in showing that side of himself, that it would be powerful.
The Beaver is out on general release now.