Two-time Academy Award-winning Best Actress Jodie Foster (The Accused, Silence of the Lambs) has also carved out a career as the director of films such as Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays. With the new dramedy The Beaver, Foster reunites with her Maverick co-star Mel Gibson, this time as his director and co-star. The one-time child star's other films include Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and Taxi Driver, David Fincher's Panic Room, and Spike Lee's Inside Man, as well as Nell, The Brave One, Contact, and Freaky Friday, among many others. In her barnstorming press tour for The Beaver, Foster met the San Francisco press at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Groucho: When the film started and I saw Participant Media on it, I’ll admit I was a little surprised at first. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. And then by the time the end credits rolled, it was apparent that the film...had made this artful and clear statement about how depression can be answered...So I guess I wanted to ask that you talk about your own understanding of depression—
Jodie Foster: Sure.
Groucho: And how and why you wanted to approach it on film.
Jodie Foster: Yeah. I mean it’s one of the things that really spoke to me about our distributers Summit and Participant—they share equally in that—was when Participant said, “You know, we understand that this film is about, you know, us. It’s about depression, mental illness.” And I was like, “Oh yeah. I want you to distribute the movie, because they weren’t saying, “We understand this movie is about high comedy, and how can we make them laugh as hard as you possibly can.” I think they really understood that the film was a drama. And this film has always been a drama to me. And you know, the understanding of depression in this film is a broad spectrum. So you have clinical depression, chemical depression, that’s—you know, talk therapy is not going to work. You need medicine, and you need to be incarcerated, and you need help because you can’t do it alone. I mean, that is at the furthest end of the spectrum. And at the other end is life, which is sad and it gets heavy and it’s a rollercoaster. And things don’t make sense, your parents get older, and people die at age thirty from cancer. What do you do with that? You know? What do you do with that grief? Where do you put it? Do you go play ping-pong instead and just not think about it? Or how do you evolve through a spiritual crisis, and how are you going to be okay? You know, all those questions are all questions that we have about our life that occupy the second part of—the other side of the film, which is the son’s story. And the issues of real, you know, acute mental illness is the first story. And how the intervene, is that they have the same answer, which is, “I don’t know, but you know, you are not alone, and we get through this by reconciling with each other. And I’m so glad that Participant understood that. I’m not even sure I understood that articulately at the beginning of the movie. I knew where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t as clear about how the film was going to get there...
G: You had some rehearsal time, though, too, right?
JF: A little bit of rehearsal time, but the rehearsal time, the way I like to use it is really shaping the script. And really sitting down and talking about what dialogue works, what needs to get cut, how we can shift things. Let’s move this from here to there. And there were a few scenes in the film—quite a few scenes in the end of the film that just weren’t working really, and we had to—which I never do—but we did have to do some improvising just to try and find a way for the writer to get his hands on that. And so usually it’s about work on the script, and a little bit of blocking, if it’s something difficult.
G: Yeah...I also wanted to ask about the acting process, and Mel’s process, and your process. You mentioned that you’re both intuitive and economical, having had so much experience, but I wonder what sort of prep did you do before coming to the set. I know you partly worked things out about your backstory for your character that wasn’t in the script…
G: And I wondered if Mel, you know, looked into dissociative disorders or those sorts of things, in addition to the puppet prep.
JF: Um, he does a little bit of research. I think he does the right amount, which is not enough to detract from the story he has to tell. And the film is a fable. It’s not—there aren’t real people running around with puppets on their hands.
JF: Um. He did a lot of work on the accent. That he worked on quite a bit, and he has a lot of dialogue in the film, so there was a lot to learn. Uh, Anton worked tirelessly all the time. He wrote down things, and he went places, and he did all that stuff, and he memoed me a lot, and I loved it. And I’m going to save all of them. And he’s just such a bright boy. Such a bright boy. And so I really look forward to seeing where he’s headed in the world. Quite intellectual.
G: Could you talk a bit about developing the back story for Meredith?
JF: The back story for Meredith. Well, originally she was a stay-at-home mom, and we found that her life was a little empty on screen because she was just sitting around waiting for everybody to come home and have scenes with them. And she felt passive. She didn’t feel like she was active in that life. And I felt like the second that I brought myself on as an actor, I just felt like, you’re not going to buy that. She needs to have a path in some ways, and it has to be something that informs the narrative and informs the bigger story. And I wanted it to be something that's alienated, so the idea that she’s on a conference call at three in the morning to Japan, and she has this whole life where she puts on a fake suit and talks to Japan and is an engineer who creates these dynamic physical beasts that take you through tunnels and stuff and huge primitive experience, but she’s doing it like a machine, you know, I thought really showed that she’s got a lot to learn, too. She has to change. And I thought that was important.
G: And she’s been sublimating her own needs to serve everyone else in the family.
JF: That’s right. And scared, in some ways, of that ride, you know? Scared of the ups and downs, and unwilling to take part in any ups and downs, and living in the past. And yeah—the metaphor of the rollercoaster is a strong one, I think, and comes in in the end and really says a lot about what the film’s about. You know, life is tragic and comic. And it is excruciatingly painful and totally joyful. And you cannot embrace one without embracing the other.