The fact that Jodie Foster is as lovely and articulate in person as she is on screen didn’t surprise me when I spoke with her recently in Boston where she was promoting her new film, “The Beaver.” What surprised me was her candor and willingness to answer every question that was asked of her. She didn’t shy away from the tough ones, including those about her troubled co-star, Mel Gibson, and her own struggles with depression — the theme of the movie.
The fact that Jodie Foster is as lovely and articulate in person as she is on screen didn’t surprise me when I spoke with her recently in Boston where she was promoting her new film, “The Beaver.”
What surprised me was her candor and willingness to answer every question that was asked of her. She didn’t shy away from the tough ones, including those about her troubled co-star, Mel Gibson, and her own struggles with depression — the theme of the movie.
The central character is Walter (Gibson), a man struggling with deep chemical depression who considers suicide until he finds a survival tool in the form of a beaver hand puppet. Walter, the head of a successful family toy business, communicates solely through the hand puppet to his co-workers, his wife Meredith (Foster) and their two sons, Porter and Henry.
Foster readily admitted that the movie and its premise is a hard sell.
“I know it’s a film that’s not for everybody. It is specialized subject matter and it’s treated in a special way. There are people who wonder why this isn’t a comedy,” she said.
While the film has a few light moments that will elicit some chuckles from the audience, it is a dark film. “It has an odd tone because the concept is a guy with a puppet on his hand and you’re just going to assume that’s comedic. We were very careful with every choice we made because we wanted to keep it in the realm of drama,” Foster explained.
Foster and Gibson worked together in 1994 on “Maverick” and have remained good friends. She described her co-star with admiration.
“He lives in two very different styles. He has the wit and can be light on his feet and he understands comedy. His heart really understood this movie from the beginning – the struggle that this man’s going through.”
Unfortunately, Gibson’s recent off-screen behavior — the anti-Semitic rants and verbal assaults on his former girlfriend, which were recorded and posted online — proved to be a struggle for the film’s release.
“Surprisingly, I think trying to get to the end result was much harder because there’s nothing I can do about Mel’s troubles, and those decisions about whether the film is distributed or not and when and how it’s distributed, are not my decisions to make,” the filmmaker said.
Gibson’s behavior wasn’t the only stumbling block the film encountered. The title itself raised a few eyebrows, but Foster never considered changing it.
“I think it’s fantastic that it’s as irreverent as it is and that it kind of makes people wince. It’s almost painful for them to say it. When I first started on the movie people kept asking me, ‘You’re going to change the title, right?’”
The title remained the same, but Foster said that the ending, which culminates in a valedictorian’s poignant graduation speech, required a few rewrites. Walter’s older son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is a high school senior deathly afraid of turning into his troubled father. He falls in love with the valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence) who hired him to write her graduation speech.
That final speech provides an opportunity for Foster to deliver the message she wants the audience to take away from the film, that “despite the roller coaster that our lives are, and the tragedy and comedy that we live inside, and the unfairness and heaviness of life and everything we go through — people don’t have to be alone. That idea is a revelation for people who are living this way. [They] don’t have to be alone inside the experience, and that’s enough to save people’s lives.”
Depression affected Foster’s own life and it is something she has been open about.
“Many of us, myself included, go through spiritual crises and they feel terribly alone. Very often artists are obsessive ruminators. The process of ruminating is beautiful and also incredibly painful, but it allows you to get trough the spiritual crisis and evolve through it. It’s important and it has a function. Depression has a function and I think in a weird way I feel lucky that I had the ability to find that in myself,” she said.
Gibson should feel lucky that he has such a faithful friend in Foster who described him as “the most beloved actor I’ve ever worked with. He’s genial and fun and he’s able to walk in and out of character quickly. We have the perfect working style together.”
Hopefully that working style can translate into success for this small film’s limited release.