Jodie Foster: my pal Mel Gibson is one of Hollywood’s best-loved movie stars
Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster tells Kate Whiting why she has cast the controversial actor in her latest film and how their friendship has endured despite the Aussie star’s tainted reputation
Loyalty is a rare commodity in the movie business, unless it's on screen. So when Mel Gibson delivered a drunken, anti-semitic rant five years ago to a police officer, his working relationships in Tinseltown unravelled as quickly as his reputation.
However, there was one director willing to publicly support him.
“I can't excuse Mel's behaviour, only he can explain that,” says Jodie Foster honestly, as she discusses her decision to cast Gibson in her latest film, The Beaver.
“We're all responsible for our own behaviour but I do know the man that I know, who's been a friend for many, many years and somebody who is probably the most loved actor in Hollywood.”
In Foster's first directorial effort in 15 years, Gibson plays a former toy shop executive who deals with depression by talking to a bedraggled beaver glove puppet. And in doing so, has made his name a little more palatable.
“As a friend, he is kind, loyal and thoughtful, and I can spend hours on the phone with him talking about life,” says Foster, sincerely.
“This is an extraordinary performance and I am nothing but grateful for that. He just gave from his heart without asking for anything in return.”
While few players in the Hollywood world would take such a stand for a friend, the former child actor who was nominated for an Oscar when just 13, playing a prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and went on to become a graduate of Yale, has come to be defined by her nonconformist, courageous approach.
She turned to directing in 1991 with Little Man Tate, a drama about a child prodigy, in which she also played the mother. The Beaver is only her third film as director.
“I make personal films and personal films are incredibly hard to get made,” she says simply, acknowledging there are fewer women directors who work in mainstream movies.
Used to having to fight her corner, Foster relies on her instinct to carry the work through and reveals she wouldn't have wanted any one else to play her husband Walter Black in The Beaver.
“He was definitely the first on my list because he's somebody who really understands how to handle humour, and the lightness and charm of the character, but also has a deep understanding of his troubles.
“He would keep his feet firmly placed in the drama and I can't say that of most actors. Mel's very un-neurotic as an actor and I knew he wouldn't have a hard time with me directing him,” she says about the man she met while co-starring in the 1994 comedy Maverick.
While The Beaver had a mixed reception when it was released to limited cinemas in the US, it was given a 10-minute standing ovation after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
“It's an independent film, it's not mainstream so it wasn't designed to be loved by everyone,” Foster says, shrugging off the low box office takings in America.
“You make movies because you love them and you can't second guess how other people will receive them or you'll make terrible mistakes.”
She admits she doesn't know whether the film will rehabilitate her friend in the public's eyes, but adds: “I do know that he's incredibly proud of the movie, what he's shown and he wants people to see that side of him.
“He's an incredibly private man, so what he shows on screen is as deep as you can possibly get.”
Like Gibson, Foster is an intensely private person. Although she will talk about her sons Charles (12) and Kit (9), it's not known who their father is. Her sexuality has been the subject of much speculation, since her older brother claimed he'd always thought she was gay or bisexual in a book he wrote about her, Foster Child, in 1997.
Born Alicia Christian in Los Angeles, Foster was always destined for stardom — and has had her fair share of life's ups and downs.
Her wealthy father left her film producer mother Evelyn before she was born and her career began in commercials at the age of three.
She was the original Disney-moulded child star, appearing in children's films until her teens.
At the age of 13, she stepped away from the Disney glow when she starred alongside Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver as child prostitute Iris — a role which won her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
While studying at Yale, she was stalked by obsessive fan John Hinkley Jr, who shot and wounded then-president Ronald Reagan in March 1981, claiming his motive was to impress Foster.
The ensuing media scrum knocked her confidence but, by the end of the decade, she'd won her first Oscar for her portrayal of a rape survivor in The Accused, followed by an Oscar for braving Hannibal Lecter as an FBI trainee in The Silence Of The Lambs.
She readily admits that making films has been a way of working through issues in her life.
“I make movies about spiritual crises, which is what Walter's character is going through. I suppose I'm drawn to them because I feel that making movies is my own way of coming to terms with my own crises, looking at it from every character's angle”, she says.
The Beaver is released in cinemas next Friday