UPDATE 9 PM with more from conversation throughout: Julie Taymor (Across The Universe, Titus) interviewed Jodie Foster, whose film Money Monster with George Clooney and Julie Roberts just got a berth in Cannes (and whose Taxi Driver is a centerpiece of this year’s festival) before a packed audience Wednesday afternoon at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Festival Hub. The pair could not be more different as directors, in terms of style and approach.
Taymor proved to be a deft and well-prepped interviewer, taking Foster through her years as a child actress to the breakthrough Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, through her conversion to directing. Her first question was, “What was your favorite book as a child?” to which Foster’s immediate response was J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey. Indeed, as a young teen she’d thought “someday I want to direct a Salinger movie. I like this idea of subset families, families of creative people that don’t fit in….My films tend to be all about reality, those are the questions I tend to ask — is it real, is it real, is it real? And your films are wild and expressive,” whereupon Taymor interrupted and said, “It’s my reality. What’s in here is real, what’s out there is,” she paused, “surreal. There’s an emotional reality and why can’t those emotions be colored in blue and gold, and why can’t they take flight?”
Having worked as an actor from age 3, Foster was 12 when she made Taxi Driver. “I met Robert De Niro. He spent a couple of days with me doing some improvisation, talking back and forth as if in character. I didn’t really understand what he was doing but I was fascinated.”
“Did you know what you were playing?” Taymor asked.
“Oh yes,” Foster replied. “I grew up to be an actor in Hollywood and lived not far from Hollywood Boulevard. It couldn’t have been raunchier. I realized this role was something I could give to and create art from.” But it was much earlier, while doing a part on the TV series The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father, that she got a sense of her ultimate calling as a director, Foster said. “It was with Bill Bixby and he was directing an episode and my eyes got wide. I thought, Oh my God, actors are allowed to direct! That’s what I want to do.”
“There’s so much artistry that’s coming out in gaming now, honestly, some of the most interesting bits of art now is in gaming. It’s just a different way of looking at reality.” – Jodie Foster
“I’m still young as a director,” Foster said, compared with Taymor, the result of so many years spent in front of the camera. “My first three films were very, very personal films — in some ways they’re almost like a trilogy — the first about a young prodigy, the second was about being 30 and the third was about depression and middle age. It’s all about the evolution of a career that’s about you personally.”
Stylistic differences aside, there were points in which they were in agreement — chiefly on the conversation over womens’ opportunities in Hollywood. “Is there anything you want to say about that before someone asks?” Taymor said. “We were talking about that earlier,” Foster replied, “how we’re a little sick of it. But we don’t want to ignore it, either. It’s been a very long time that there were not a lot of women filmmakers, it’s not just today,” she said, adding that things had improved faster for women in Europe and especially in television. “The more the financial risk, the less risky studios can be, and I don’t think it’s a plot, but studios still see women as a risk and I’m not really sure why.”
A little later she added that “Jonathan Demme is my favorite woman director. He was able to see that Silence Of The Lambs is about a woman.” She also acknowledged the fact that “women have a different leadership style” and that “sometimes it’s hard” for those styles to complement each other.
Foster gave a big nod to gaming as the new frontier: “I’m not sure all gaming is bad,” she said. “I have two teenage sons who are involved in gaming and they couldn’t be nicer people. There’s always this argument about art that when it reflects the difficult, it somehow pulls our culture in the wrong direction. There’s so much artistry that’s coming out in gaming now, honestly, some of the most interesting bits of art now is in gaming. It’s just a different way of looking at reality.”
Taymor for her part had plenty to say about her experience making such films as Titus with Anthony Hopkins, and getting her own cut of Across The Universe before audiences. Regarding the stylized violence of Titus, her adaptation of Shakespeare, she said that “Titus Andronicus is the Pulp Fiction of its day.”
Foster said that while she enjoyed making Money Monster, which Sony releases May 13, “I really will be happy to go back to less of a popcorn movie.” What that will be, however, she could not say.