Jodie Foster’s career in Hollywood spans more than five decades. That’s an impressive fact on its own, but even more remarkable when you realize she’s 55.
These days, the Oscar-winning actress from Silence of the Lambs and The Accused is doing more directing, including the upcoming Black Mirror episode “Arkangel,” which streams on Netflix later this month. Yahoo Lifestyle caught up with Foster and the star of that episode, Rosemarie DeWitt, on the set of Build Series NYC on Monday, discussing everything from directing child actors after having been one to how we shouldn’t forget about all the good guys in Hollywood in this post-Harvey Weinstein era.
“Arkangel,” which is sort of a mini feature, is about a mom (DeWitt) who, after her daughter briefly goes missing, decides to use technology to keep tabs on the girl. It saw Foster directing several child stars who played the little girl as she grew up. Given her own career path, Foster was especially mindful of the youngest cast members.
Watch the Black Mirror trailer here:
“It’s hard, but I really like working with kids,” Foster says. “There’s an honesty to working with kids. They do it because they love it. They don’t do it because they’re going to win an Oscar, or because they think their boyfriend is going to like them more… They either like doing it or they’re not doing it anymore. It’s really healthy.”
It took Foster longer to find her voice as a young star. “I was plagued a little bit as a child not knowing I was allowed to say no,” she says. “Persevering through the Arctic in a pair of Vans tennis shoes because I thought I was supposed to — all that stuff. I love having the experience of working with kids who know themselves and are confident enough to say, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’”
Because of that, she’s protective of her young stars. “When you work with kids … you have to get it right away because there’s no messing around with their time. You don’t want to take advantage of them. You don’t want to put them in a situation where it’s at all overly intense. You don’t want to use them up. I like there being that sense of doing it the right way. I feel the whole set feels that way.”
DeWitt, who was friends with Foster before they worked together — they were side by side at the Women’s March in L.A. in January, along with Foster’s sons (Charlie, 19, and Kit, 16 in their pink hats) — asks Foster if she felt that protection as a child.
“I think yes and no,” Foster answers. “I keep saying this in this new era, where there is so much discussion about men on sets: There were just a lot of amazing guys that knew that I was the only woman on the set, the only girl on the set, and they were my dads, and big brothers, and they took care of me. They taught me things. They taught me how to make little figurines out of wood. They taught me how to pull focus. They taught me what making a movie was. What being in a family was. In a way, it was my only way of being raised by a guy because I didn’t have a father.”
Foster was raised by a single mother, Evelyn Foster (sometimes known as Brandy Foster), who was also her manager, and this project had her thinking about their complex relationship.
“We traveled together. We worked together. It was an incredibly beautiful relationship — she was an incredible parent, an amazing mother — but also really painful,” Foster says. “It was really hard. That individuation process was required…” She pauses while looking for the right words and sighs. “I don’t know how it ever could have been done gently. It was hard. Because she was so enmeshed in my life in some ways and her identity was so enmeshed in my life, I think that my leaving really did feel like an abandonment. It felt like a betrayal to her. So I understood this from both points of view — from the daughter’s and the mother’s. In some ways, I really wanted to keep those perspectives equal and balanced. I didn’t want to take a side.”
Foster’s mother has dementia, which the star spoke beautifully about in her Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards in 2013.
These days, Foster shares about her mom, “She’s great. She’s far down the road of dementia. It’s been a real interesting journey that you have with your parents. I feel really grateful — everything she gave me, everything she sacrificed, all those years of commitment that she made to me — that at the end of her life, I get to pay that commitment back with being the last person she’ll ever see… I feel very grateful for that — being given that chance to redeem myself.”
On the topic of men on sets, Foster spoke about the #MeToo movement earlier this week on CBS This Morning. While she called it an “amazing moment in time,” she said, “In order to do it justice, I think we need a bigger, more complicated dialogue.” She noted, “Justice by Twitter is not the right way to go.” So what is?
“The best thing we can do is — we know what works — it’s some version of group therapy,” Foster says. “That’s what works. It’s some version of people getting in a room and saying: How do you feel? I don’t know how do you feel? Until you can hear all sides. I feel like there’s no closure at where we are at this moment.”
That said, Foster continues, “Right now it’s just such an amazing time. I have to say I was really moved by the narratives that have come out of this time — whether it’s about the [Trump] administration or it’s about the #MeToo movement. I’ve really be interested in the female narratives, our ability as women to look at an event and see our part in it, and admit weakness, and really look at the details of human behavior in a way that’s intricate and complex.”
The morning of our interview, the Golden Globe nominations were announced — and there were no female directors on the list. Foster, who has also recently directed the feature Money Monster as well as episodes of Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, wasn’t particularly shocked.
While she initially said, “I really don’t have thoughts about that,” she clearly did because she continued on. “I think it was a really weird year for features this year… It’s a very strange year for movies. I never try to extrapolate from one year to the next because you’re not really talking about a fair sampling at all times. You’re talking about like 30 movies. What were they about? Were they all franchise films? I don’t think that’s really fair.”
She continued, “But there is a problem with not enough female directors in mainstream distributed films — and I don’t think it’s a plot to keep us down. I don’t think they’re in a room: How can we keep them down? I think it just underscores and highlights the profiling that goes into the movie business when they’re making decisions about who they want in leadership positions or how they assess a risk. It’s almost like stockholders. They’re like: How do stockholders access risk? That’s really what you’re talking about when you’re talking about mainstream films. Five distributers. They’re looking at it the way like: Should I buy Time Warner stock or not? For some reason, women are seen as a risk.”
Speaking of risk, although technology plays a big role in the “Arkangel” episode of Black Mirror, in real life, neither Foster nor DeWitt has a social media presence. So how have they managed to avoid it? DeWitt, who appeared in last year’s big hit La La Land, says she has “zero desire” and equates it to sitting in a “dentist chair every day for 4 hours. No. It doesn’t look fun to me.” However, she says a positive of it has certainly been what we’ve seen with the #MeToo movement. “Prior to that, the voices didn’t reach as far,” she says.
As for Foster, “I’m old, that’s how,” says the mom of two. “I was like: That looks complicated. [And], wow, that looks like it takes a lot of time.” Though she admitted she sneaks a peek at the posts of her wife of three years, photographer Alexandra Hedison.
“I have to say I do peer over the shoulder of my wife’s Instagram feed,” Foster says. “I’m looking at the pictures and the videos that come up and the opportunities people have for being clever. I actually think that’s a great thing. I personally, having lived my life — I can’t take it back — as a celebrity, I’m not really interested in inviting intimacy from strangers. I think our generation understands the beauty of privacy and what it meant. I don’t know that this next generation does. They weren’t raised with it. They don’t know that it feels better to not have people know everything about you before you’ve met you. They’ve never lived that way.”
Lots of food for thought. So is the episode of Black Mirror, which you will be able to watch on Netflix beginning Dec. 29.
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