UPDATE: Jodie Foster, who first came to Cannes for the controversial Palme d’Or-winning Taxi Driver and later for the ill timed Mel Gibson starrer The Beaver, received a long standing ovation from the Cannes crowd with stars Julia Roberts (in her first Cannes Palais premiere experience) and George Clooney. It marked the second time today that the film played strongly with the Cannes crowd.
EARLIER: At a time when lack of opportunity for female filmmakers and actresses is a zeitgeist topic, Jodie Foster is having a moment. It’s one that serves as a compelling example that listening to gut instinct is often the best approach. Ahead of an out-of-competition gala for her new directorial effort, Money Monster, Foster is in New York to discuss the thriller, which stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Jack O’Connell. While in town, Foster found time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Silence of the Lambs, for which she won her second Oscar (after The Accused in 1989); and the 40th anniversary of Taxi Driver, the seminal Martin Scorsese film that landed her a first Academy nod when she was just 13. That film, and many others she has chosen over the years, like Inside Man, The Brave One and now Money Monster, feel like quintessential New York-shot 70s films. Turns out that is no coincidence.
DEADLINE: How is it you aren’t from New York, but most of your indelible movies are?
FOSTER: Money Monster is all New York, every inch of it. I’ve done tons of movies and love working here, and people are always surprised that I come from Los Angeles. I’m an urban person and I talk fast, and I like movies that are verbal, so yeah, a lot of my stories tend to happen in New York City. Maybe I’m still really in love with New York filmmaking. And besides Sidney Lumet and all the touchstone references, you couldn’t tell this story anywhere else but New York because it’s the financial center.
DEADLINE: Funny, I always grade a New York film on whether it feels like Lumet might have made it. Money Monster feels that way.
FOSTER: Wow, he’s a real hero of mine. We could never be as great as Sidney Lumet, but this is a more modern and relevant look at some of the same things that he was looking at. A film, in real time, where all the characters, even the bad guys, have real points of view that you understand. The absurdity that happens in a little bit of the comedy; there’s a little bit of satire and loving farce, wrapped up in a real-time drama.
DEADLINE: None of the qualities you just described makes you think of the tentpoles studios make now. How hard was this?
FOSTER: Well, it wasn’t hard, because George Clooney said yes. That was pretty much all it took. We developed the screenplay with the young producers Dan Dubiecki and Lara Alameddine. We brought on a new writer who spent a lot of time getting the script right before we went to anyone, so we were able to have some control before we got a studio on board. That was lucky. No, studios aren’t making these movies; they won’t make them in the future. This might be one of the last, really.
DEADLINE: You celebrated these movie anniversaries here. Lots of movies being made by studios today won’t be remembered for 40 or 25 hours after people see them. You’ve made a few worth remembering.
FOSTER: I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve seen everything come and go, and lots of different phases. I still only trust one thing. I think you make a movie because it’s true and it feels meaningful and it feels right. That’s the only recipe I know for success, honestly. Any time I’ve ever tried to manipulate the audience, and do something I thought would be more successful, it’s always wrong. So I don’t trust it, and I just make the best movie I can.
Silence of the Lambs was successful because it’s really a great movie where people who loved it were really committed to the meaning in the film, and so was Orion. Orion was just an amazing place where they were fans of filmmakers and worked with Bertolucci and Woody Allen. Their whole thing was about being filmmaker-friendly. That movie, without Jonathan Demme, would have been [like] the other serial killer movies that happened later, that are not so great. That strong heart and Clarice’s perspective? He brought that.
DEADLINE: Deadline did an homage to the anniversary and Demme said that his meetings with you, the ones that got you the role, clarified in his mind that despite the frightening backdrop, this was the story of one young woman determined to save another young woman. He also believed you were meant to play that role.
FOSTER: I read the book because two writers I really respected said, you’ve got to read this book, it’s amazing and you should play the part. I read it, I tracked down the publisher and tried to buy the rights. They said, sorry, too late, Orion has them. They were in the midst of having the screenplay written for Gene Hackman to direct. I called Ted Tally and said, I am really glad you’re doing the movie; I’m obsessed with this book. I talked to everybody at Orion. And then, Gene Hackman fell out and it came to be Jonathan. And I said oh, no. He’s not going to go with me, he’s going to go with another actress. That was my first impulse of wanting to be in the film. Maybe I brought that to Jonathan. For me, it was a mythic story, an Oedipus myth that we’ve seen before about a young boy, and here’s a scourge in his town and he’s got to go to find the cure for it. He’s got to go find a cure for this disease and he goes in to the forest of experience and sees all the gnomes and demons. He learns all about himself and he realizes that he has to change because of these terrible sides of himself. And he brings back the panacea and he brings it back to his people and realizes, he will never be one of the people again because he’s changed. That tragic model? It has always been meant for men. What was exciting to me was to have a real mythic hero and have that be a female hero. This role could have easily been played by a guy, and it would have been a great movie. But that just wasn’t what Thomas Harris wrote.
We can all talk about how great we are and how we thought up all these things…but that book was amazing. And that script came out of Ted Tally’s fingers and really, there were almost no changes. That’s unheard of. All of us were so inspired by the complexity of a book that was structurally so perfect. Everything folded in on itself and paid itself off, but also, the characters did things that were complicated. She was weak, but she was strong. He was incredibly empathetic and yet he’s a monster. All of this complexity in something that was so structurally perfect. All of us did our best work; maybe we’ll never do this good of work as we did in it. It was just good writing and Jonathan was so tapped in, and committed that he was really able to do no harm. I think that’s what we really did. We just did no harm. That’s why the film is timeless, and doesn’t feel dated. It didn’t have big hairdos and shoulder pads that might have made it feel dated, and it wasn’t pruriently interested in the violence, in making the audience squeal for no reason. There was real heart behind every gesture.
DEADLINE: Before the Taxi Driver celebration, when had you last seen that film?
FOSTER: I don’t remember, but the funny thing is I just saw it a few days earlier because my son had never seen it. He’s 18, and I felt he was old enough. Both my sons saw Silence of the Lambs on Valentine’s Day on the film’s 25th anniversary. It’s funny to go back now and show my kids stuff that was part of my past. I guess I neither had the time, or I didn’t really want to introduce them to me as a persona until they were old enough to understand the difference.
DEADLINE: Some actors are self-critical or self-conscious watching themselves. What was it like seeing this plucky teen in such a rough situation, surrounded by all that manic, crazy energy?
FOSTER: You can get used to not seeing yourself on screen as much as the character you created. Once the movie’s done and out, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. When I watched, I just felt so lucky. The sad thing is, that was our movie golden age. Maybe we’ll never return to a time when there was such honesty to the films that were being made. There were a lot of characters who were unconscious and it was an exploration of behavior without needing to have a narrative result. It was so exciting to be a part of that. I made two movies with Scorsese. How amazing it that?
DEADLINE: To be in the hands of someone like a young Martin Scorsese. What are your best remembrances?
FOSTER: I just feel so lucky because the sad news is, that was our movie golden age. Maybe we’ll never return to a time when there was such an honesty to the films that were made. There were a lot of characters who were unconscious and it was just an exploration of behavior without needing to have like a narrative result. That was so exciting to be a part of that time. I made two movies with Scorsese. How amazing it that?
DEADLINE: The people who keep trying to make movies like that often have a connection to the era, like you. What’s the difference between that climate of ’70s films and today?
FOSTER: Well, Taxi Driver would definitely not get off the ground as a feature film today. No way.
DEADLINE: Because we’ve become such a PC world and your underage character was exploited that way?
FOSTER: I don’t know if it’s the PC stuff as much as this is just a risk-averse film economy. It costs a lot of money to make movies now. At that time, it cost $1 million to make Taxi Driver, and that was a lot of money for then. Now, it’s all about risk aversion, and the global economy that the film business is now, and the way the studios are organized. But the good news is, it’s not just studios that make movies. We have other avenues. What’s happening on cable now is more interesting than almost anything happening in features, in terms of performance and narrative. You can explore characters over 10 seasons, something you could never do in features. You can make more complex characters that change over time. In Breaking Bad, he starts out one way, he ends up another way. With places like Amazon and Netflix, there is a real trust building in filmmakers again, that is kind of like it was in the ’70s. That’s an exciting place to be.
DEADLINE: Where does Money Monster fit in that scenario?
FOSTER: Money Monster is a small-budget movie compared to other studio films. It would have been pretty hard to make this movie without the money we had; we needed these resources for the guns, bombs, cops and helicopters, New York City, and two stars. If you’d said there was no George Clooney, and I can only have $3 million or $6 million… yeah, I know how to tell that story, too. But it would not have been able to be a high-technology movie. It would have been two guys in a room, which can also be fantastic. The story is so compelling; these two men who are changed by each other. One filled with rage, who has worked hard and done everything you’re supposed to do. He listened to the good advice, he saved his money, he took care of his mom and got totally fu*ked, and it’s not fair. That rage is really part of our culture now, not just in America, but everywhere.
DEADLINE: You started this in 2012 when 2008 was fresher in our minds, but there is still loathing of this murky financial system that encourages greed…
FOSTER: It’s also self-loathing. Both men are filled with self loathing; they don’t understand their own value so they’re looking for money to tell them that they’re valuable. That’s what the financial markets are. Dominic West’s character Walt [head of a publicly traded company] feels the same thing. People see themselves as failures and have to create these personas that have to do with money and winning. And some of that failure is a feeling that’s reflected in the eyes of the powerful women that surround them. That interesting character dynamic, I could make that movie for $3 million. It wouldn’t have any guns and bombs and cops, but I can make that movie. I very often feel like, less resources is sometimes great because you’re forced to make choices for the things that are really meaningful. This one was hard to make on the amount of money that we had because it was real time, with all these camera. Very technically complicated though it’s hard to explain when the seams are gone. Julia, for example; except for the first and last scene in the film, she was never in the same room with George. They weren’t even in the city at the same time. Everything she did in the control room was either play back, green screen or acting against nothing.
DEADLINE: Having Clooney and Roberts gives Money Monster the feel of a throwback dual-star movie. How hard was it to convince them?
FOSTER: I didn’t convince him at all. I sent George a script, he liked it and said yes. He was the first person we went to. He’s a producer himself, but to his credit he really let us make the movie we wanted to. He came in with great ideas; he’s the one who thought his show host character should dance. I said, “Really? You’re going to wish you never said that.” I was so glad to see him go for it, to commit to being this awkward white guy who just has no idea, who’s so self-unaware; the ultimate idiot. And through the movie he is able to become the hero that he should have been, with the help of a woman. Only George Clooney would be able to spend 65% of the movie being really flawed, and still be able to embrace his better side.
DEADLINE: Why did he want to do that?
FOSTER: There was a lot he liked, but the thing that got to him was journalism. His dad was a newspaper and radio guy and George is really interested in where we’ve come, and where journalism has come and the responsibility journalists have to just being real and human as opposed to being entertaining.
DEADLINE: What about Julia?
FOSTER: I just assumed Julia Roberts would say no; it never occurred to me she might say yes. George gave her the script, and talked to her. It wasn’t very long before shooting that she said yes.
DEADLINE: She reminds me of you a little. She built this star career, and then went off and lived her life, but didn’t wear out her welcome so when she returns it’s like seeing an old friend you’ve missed.
FOSTER: We’ve all been in this for a really long time; me, George, Julia. We all have our survival tools, and I think we’re all fairly well-adjusted. But we each did it the way that was right for us and the good news is we’re not like casualties lying in a hotel room at 3AM. It does require some thinking and some organizing to make sense of it all. Man, she is just so great in the movie. She brings something that I could never anticipate. I watch her on the screen, on the monitor, and I’m just like, “My God, she’s so connected and so real and lovable.” I don’t know how she does it. You just want to follow this character she found. I realized it on set, but I shot so fast. Once I got in the cutting room I saw things that just made me want to be with Julia all the time. It was only then that we realized how much she really is our anchor. She is the voice in the ear of this host being held hostage, and she’s producing his survival as he is held captive in a chair, faced with a This Is Your Life treatment of all his failings and things he’s done wrong. She’s his Jiminy Cricket; an interesting dynamic I hadn’t fully realized until I saw it. After all, they weren’t in the same room; I did everything with George and then later with Julia. But I sure saw it when I cut it together.
DEADLINE: The movie pivots on Jack O’Connell, who plays this gunman who takes the Money Monster show and its host hostage. He reminds of Tom Hardy. What of his work most stood out to you?
FOSTER: Jack did a movie called Starred Up where he was a young kid who spent his life in reform schools. That and ’71. He might be the most committed actor I’ve ever worked with. Take after take, the sweat and the fury he brought, it was a joy to watch. By his own admission, he’s a primitive actor who works on instinct, emotions, physicality and that’s it. There’s no head in there at all. That is a joy for his director because I’m just a Border Collie, there to tell him where to go, and he just brings everything to the table.
DEADLINE: Was there a movie or director who taught you to tell stories in chaos, and keep it all together?
FOSTER: My life as an actress has been the best film school anybody could ever have. I learned from the greatest; Scorsese, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker, Claude Chabrol, David Fincher, Spike Lee, Neil Jordan. I’ve been able to look behind their shoulder and go wait, how do you do that and why do you do that? I just watched them put their movies together.
DEADLINE: When did it get in your head you wanted to do this?
FOSTER: From the time I was little.
DEADLINE: Why? You said you watched Bill Bixby direct when you guested on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. He seemed such a comforting influence, but why did that appeal to you?
FOSTER: It seemed like the full experience. Acting is by its nature physical and emotional and you’re trying to keep your intellect out of it. Even though the way I work I work as a director is the same as I worked as an actor, but in general acting is really a physical emotional experience. But there’s a piece missing, which is the brain, you know? The idea of creating a complete experience and being a full visionary. Being in full vision is something I’ve wanted from the time I was little because I wanted to create the whole thing. The way it sounds, the props of the language of props and the language of costume or art direction. Lens choices, editing techniques. All of those things create this one reality and I wasn’t in control of any of it. All I did was serve the director, hopefully help his vision and then walk away, never knowing how it turned out. I haven’t been disappointed by that experience; I’ve really enjoyed serving directors and by the way that’s what I do as a director when I work in TV because I serve a creator. But I really had a full vision in my head and it was frustrating.
DEADLINE: Much has been made about the lack of opportunities for female filmmakers. You’ve indicated it’s a complex topic. Does your own path, from when you decided to direct to when you made Little Man Tate, contain anything that might be instructive in making the leap to directing?
FOSTER: Well, I had an exceptional path and there’s nothing I can do about that. I directed a short subject when I was little, but with my first movie I was able to find a script that was already in the system. I attached myself as an actress and said, “I want to direct it.” So that meant I was going to bring you a movie that is already financed and I’m not going to take any money as an actress. You’ve already sold the movie, so you’re covered. It wasn’t a financial risk to Orion to make that movie.
DEADLINE: That’s a persuasive sell since you’d already won, what, two Oscars by then?
FOSTER: I’d won one. Yeah, that helped, but it was also that the place I worked, Orion, was all about auteur driven films and helping first timers. When I went to Eric Pleskow—and women lose their breath when I tell them this story, but it’s true—I said, “Here’s my script. I’d like you to finance the movie; these are all the things that I’m going to do. First I’m going to do this and that and I need this kind of music.” He says, “Whoa, stop right there. You don’t have to sell me. I’m going to tell you something that nobody else is going to tell you. Your first movie—this movie—it’s probably not going to make any money. But we don’t care because we want to make your second movie and your third movie and your fourth movie. So this is an investment in your future; an investment in you as a filmmaker. We want you to be happy because we want you to come back. And so don’t start to sell me on the soundtrack, okay? Just make the movie and let us worry about selling it.”
DEADLINE: How do you respond to that?
FOSTER: It almost made me want to cry, really, that these men saw me as a prodigal daughter and they believed in my work and they were proud of me. So it’s hard for me to go, “Yeah, nobody supported me in the film industry.” They were very supportive. And I continually get offered movies that I don’t want to make that are very popular, general public movies. I haven’t had the same experiences as other women and I’m not a good spokesman for it. But like any woman in any business, I am out there and I know that the job is to educate people. You do see how people falter and don’t know how to work with you, or how to handle you. They bring prejudices they don’t realize they have.
I do see that it’s confusing for people used to working only with men in this leadership capacity. They don’t know how to talk to me. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a woman or that I was raised by my mom a certain way. I don’t yell at people, ever. I’m never going to punch anyone in the face and I’m never going to say, “I’ll sue you.” Some people in leadership capacities are used to that kind of friction. I don’t do that. So the conversation changes. But on the other hand I also am not going to nod my head and go, “Wow, okay; I’ll do whatever you say.” Somehow, that’s what they’re anticipating from women. Like, “Let me take care of you. You don’t know anything.” I don’t think it’s a plot; I think it’s just human beings.
DEADLINE: You don’t seem to be a person who has made decisions to get yourself to the top of the star heap, or make a commercial choice to boost your bankability. Where did that sensibility come from, when it must have been hard transitioning from kid actor to adult?
FOSTER: I did make decisions that were calculations, I think we all do. It was always clear to me that if your only goal is to be the biggest and the best, you’re going to get really disappointed. You’d better make a movie because it’s good and meaningful. That’s all I trust. Or else, you get exploited and manipulated. Your best judge is quality first. I wasn’t going to win a beauty contest, or most lovable, but I did trust my ability to be able to say, this is real, or that is funny. And that’s usually the best litmus test for material and for how to create a career. I love the words. I trust scripts and directors.
DEADLINE: There are plenty of reasons to feel insecure as you move into adulthood. How much did you worry that time out for college could cost you all momentum in a perishable career?
FOSTER: Yeah, well, all the wisdom said if you go to college, your career will be over but I’d also heard my career would be over by the time I was 18. And I later heard my career would be over by the time I was 40, because women don’t get any roles after 40. I also heard this. Wait a minute, you just won an Oscar, what do you mean you’re going to be the dull character in the movie about the serial killer. The one nice thing about having success by doing meaningful work is you learn not to listen to the fear, and to really go with what you think is quality. So there’s no way I wasn’t going to go to college. No way. There’s no way I was going to miss out on that. I did five movies while I was there, though. They weren’t successful, but I worked while I was getting a career.
DEADLINE: How important is acting to you, now?
I haven’t made anything lately and I really made a point to focus on my directing career. I’m sure I’ll act again; I want to and it’s not like I’ve said I want to quit. I just was pained by having done my first movie at 26, and here I am at 53 and I’ve only directed four movies. I really want to prioritize my directing career now. I know that at 53 it’s going to be different. I don’t want to play the same parts I did when I was 25, or keep up where I was in my 30s. People change. I am excited about the movies I’ll make as an actor in my 60s and 70s. I think those experiences as an older person might not be as mainstream, but they’re exciting because they’re character parts. I feel like I’ll act forever, but it doesn’t have to be everything that I do. I guess it seems weird to have gone from being a movie star, but I never saw myself that way. I do recognize there comes a time where you have to reinvent yourself a little bit. I’m ready for that.