But then she confesses living with the fear of loneliness, which she has inherited from her mother who raised her and her siblings alone without ever remarrying after her husband had left her pregnant with Foster. Her mother, who managed her in her early career, still leads a solitary existence, which Foster finds quite disconcerting.
“This fear that we’re becoming our parents,” she says. “She spends a lot of time watching CNN and DVDs. This exquisite desire to have a solitary experience, matched with the fear of being alone, and then being alone as you get older. Â That’s definitely something that I carry with me,” she says in her soft yet firm voice.
During her 45-year career, Foster has consistently sought and carefully selected substantial dark roles to play in challenging projects.” The only reason to act is because it moves you and changes you,” she stresses.
And once she takes on a role, she utterly immerses herself into it, a process she finds depressive.
“To be a great actor or a great writer, you can’t just type, have it come out of the typewriter and go, “˜Oh, I’m done.’ There’s a process of thinking about it, over and over again, and asking more questions, and going deeper and deeper. That ruminative process is kind of depressing,” she says, nodding her head thoughtfully.
“Some of the most depressed people make incredible artists,” she adds, laughing.
Foster’s hard work has paid off, garnering her several Academy Award nominations and two Oscar wins for playing an FBI agent in The Silence of the Lamb and a rape victim in The Accused. But the veteran actress thinks acting is a skill-less skill that people are born with.
“You can teach somebody to be better, but it’s very difficult to teach somebody who doesn’t have intuition for acting to find that,” she explains.
Surprisingly, Foster’s true passion resides not in acting but in directing. In fact, she has wanted to be a director since she was seven years old. For many years, she pursued understanding the craft of storytelling and deliberately chose to work with the best directors, standing over their shoulders, quizzing them about their directorial decisions.
“It’s the greatest film school anybody could have,” she laughs in satisfaction. “I do believe that actors make some of the best directors, because they are truly the only people in the film business who understand why a scene works and why it doesn’t. You can have a fantastic director of photography and he understands visual storytelling but it’s impossible, unless you’ve spent time trying to work out a scene in front of the camera, to really understand why a scene works and why it doesn’t.”
Foster, who is fluent in French and has starred in French movies, grew up watching Nouvelle Vague movies, which have informed her and also inspired her to make American movies in a European voice.
“I like to make movies about the American family and about the American dream and socio-political climate in America, but seen from a more melancholic European spirit,” she says.
“I feel that the films that I direct are really me. They’re really an expression of what I think and what I feel and how I speak and how I talk.”
But directing movies doesn’t come easy. With two kids to raise, a production company to run and lots of acting to do, Foster’s latest directorial effort, The Beaver, came after a lull of 15 years since making her second movie, Home for the Holidays.
“I do personal films and they’re hard to get off the ground. And it usually takes a long time to get the script right.”
The Beaver is a dark comedy about a chronically depressed executive, Walter (Mel Gibson), who overcomes his depression by speaking through a beaver hand puppet, which transforms him into a creative family-and-business-man. Foster felt an instant connection with the script, when she read it. “It really spoke to me in a really personal way,” she enthuses.
Her first choice to play the beaver was her controversial, long-time friend, Mel Gibson, whom she had known since they co-starred on Maverick in 1994.
“I thought he was somebody who would be able to understand the lightness and the wit. But especially be able to really understand a man’s struggles in a deep emotional way, and to take the path down towards a drama,” she says.
Little did she know that the private life of her lead star would explode two days before wrapping the shoot with the release of an audio recording of him threatening violence towards his former girlfriend, and would later eclipse the interest in her film. Foster, however, remains solidly supportive of her beloved friend.
“He is an incredibly loyal friend. He is funny, down to earth, a great communicator and a great listener. Â I think he’s more thoughtful and sensitive that he lets people know publicly. I know him and to stand by your friend is not a sacrifice. I do believe that this film really shows a side of Mel that people don’t get to see, that I get to see. And I think that allows you to understand his complexities. He is a complicated man.”
Foster has a good reason to support her friend, for he masterly infuses the dramatically dark Beaver with wit and humour, rendering it thoroughly entertaining . “I’m so proud of his performance in this movie, and so grateful that he’s in it. He brought so much to the table,” she smiles. “I’d love to be able to take the credit for actors’ performances, but as we know, hopefully you cast the right person and hopefully you’ve guided the direction of their thoughts but you really depend on an actor’s talent to create that lightning in a bottle. I can’t change somebody in 20 minutes.”
Initially, Foster didn’t want to act in the movie, but when Gibson came on board, the 48-year-old actress, who knew him better than anybody else, decided to play his character’s wife, Meredith, opposite him. Â Gibson reacted excitedly when she broke the news to him.
“I needed somebody who was the right age and who you would believe that these two had been married for a long time. And I thought, why don’t I just get myself?” she laughs.
In the film, Meredith slowly embraces the beaver and gradually accepts the absurdity of it when she sees the positive effect it has on her husband, but little by little she begins to reject him when she sees that it is actually destroying him.
“I realised that I needed somebody to ground the film in drama, and who wouldn’t be tempted in some way by his facility with the humour, and who would be the perspective of the audience. Because the narrator, the beaver, is unreliable and his point of view is unreliable. The man’s crazy, clearly unstable and his tone shifts all over the place.”
Making films is not merely telling stories for Foster, it’s also a process of healing and exploration of her spiritual crisis.
“I think all of my three films are about spiritual crises -as in my life, I’ve those along the way, continually, every four or five years- Â and the ability to get through them by exploring them completely, rather than going outside and playing tennis. Exploring a spiritual crisis completely through art is my opportunity to come out of them in a way that’s more evolved.”
Unlike many actors who flaunt their personal lives to make up for the lack of a real professional one, Foster is fiercely protective of her private life and never discusses it in public. She has never been married and or dated man, but she did get pregnant and gave birth to two kids. Everything else we know about her personal life remains in the realm of rumours and conjectures.
The prodigious actress, who garnered an Oscar nomination when she was only twelve years old for playing a fourteen-year-old prostitute in Â Taxi Driver, says that the film business has lost its lustre in her eyes.
“It’s a different world than when I was a kid. There was a real delineation between news and entertainment in those days. It was just totally different time. I can honestly say that if Mel and I Â knew everything we know now and we were 17 and it was this time, I don’t believe that either of us would be actor today,” she earnestly concludes.
It seems being intelligent and famous is as stressful as being dumb and anonymous.