TV is where it is at for Jodie Foster. While she hit a bump with her 2011 feature directorial, the Mel Gibson drama, The Beaver ($971K), her TV directing credits over the last year for House of Cards and Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is The New Black earned the two-time Oscar-winning actress her first DGA noms of her career. The helmers’ union recognized Foster for her work on the House of Cards second season episode “Chapter 22″ as well as the first episode of The Orange Is The New Black‘s second season, “Thirsty Bird”. Foster’s pair of DGA noms follow her Emmy nom last summer for comedy series directing on the third episode of Orange Is the New Black entitled “Lesbian Request Denied” (which marked her second Emmy nod overall, the first being for the Showtime 1999 movie she executive produced, The Baby Dance, starring Stockard Channing and Laura Dern). “Thirsty Bird” is about the dilemma Piper (Taylor Schilling) faces when she’s on trial suddenly to testify against Alex’s (Laura Prepon) drug boss Kubra Balik. “Chapter 22″ revolves around the political Underwoods (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright) entanglement in a scandal spurred by Tusk (Gerald McRaney).
It would be an understatement to say that the word ‘bold’ is always associated with Foster’s oeuvre, whether it’s playing a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 iconic Taxi Driver to producing and acting in the 2007 femme vigilante film The Brave One. Orange Is the New Black is arguably the first time that Foster as a director has dealt with the subject of lesbianism on screen. Frequently, feature directors are finding creative redemption in TV, read Doomsday British helmer Neil Marshall who was behind two Games of Thrones episodes, last season’s being “The Watchers on the Wall”.
Orange Is The New Black landed on Foster’s radar after she read Piper Kerman’s novel. “I asked my agents, ‘Can I be a a part of this?’ and they said that Jenji Kohan just bought it for Netflix,” says the actress. Foster soon learned that a friend of hers was a line producer on the show, and before she knew it, was being handed a script to direct. “They (Kohan and Netflix) essentially said ‘Hey you get this one'”, says Foster, which is not unusual when script assignments are made to actors-turned-helmers on a TV series. Don Cheadle was in a similar scenario when he was handed the telescript for the House of Lies episode “Associates” this year.
“As a director, dramedy is what I do,” Foster tells Deadline who adores Kohan’s unique sensibility for moving, bawdy comedy, “It’s not who I am as an actor. The genre requires a very specific skill in terms of recognizing what is quirky and perverse, and to be moved by it. The female prisoners on Orange Is The New Black have a very spiritual journey that’s so complex. They’re all soul-searching and they change through each other”.
Each Orange Is The New Black episode in season one dealt with the backstory of a character, i.e. “Lesbian Request Denied” centered around Emmy-nominee Laverne Cox‘s transexual character Sophia Burset, a former New York City fire fighter who underwent a sexual transfomation in jail (there’s a great shot of Cox looking in the mirror and seeing herself as a man during the episode). The main gist of Orange Is The New Black focuses on Taylor Schilling‘s character Piper Chapman, a newly engaged upper-middle class woman who has been thrown in jail for transporting cash on behalf of her drug lord girfriend. In “Lesbian”, Piper is being pursued romantically by “Crazy Eyes” (another guest actress comedy Emmy nominee today, Uzo Aduba) who eagerly desires to be cellmates with her. The episode title comes from one of the prison administrator’s remarks to Piper that Crazy’s request will not be honored.
“It’s all about the journey of Laverne’s character and it’s the beginning of the audience really understanding what Orange Is The New Black is really about,” explains Foster, “It’s about identity and struggle.” One key moment for Foster was when Sophia dresses like a woman assisted by her wife, who advises her not to go through with the sex change operation. “It’s one of the least verbal scenes and it’s beautifully written” adds Foster.
Foster shot the episode in eight days, which is typical for a TV production shoot. Unlike a film production shoot, TV actors don’t have time to get into a method prep mode for their characters before a scene. “I am an actor’s director, the first of whom signed with Orange. A lot of the actresses on the show are fresh out of Juilliard.” says the two-time Oscar winning actress who advised Cox “to dive a little deeper” into her character and “not play a heightened version of herself.” Cox made Emmy history today as the first transgender nominee.
Foster easily took to the fast-natured pace of TV directing, explaining, “I’m not one for lounging around and having long soliloquies about a character. TV is the biggest team effort and the pace happens so fast.” As such, she found some time to meet with the actors in advance of the episode.
While it was anticipated that Orange Is The New Black would fare well in the Emmy acting noms today, particularly following its TV Critics Choice award wins for best comedy series, guest actress Aduba and supporting actress Kate Mulgrew, Foster was completely floored by her nomination. Says the actress-director, “I was shocked and confused. I don’t know anything about the Emmy nominations. All I knew was — they were happening.”