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March 2006
Inside Man: An Interview with Jodie Foster

Inside Man: An Interview with Jodie Foster

by Wilson Morales

With the lack of strong female roles these days, there are a few actresses out there that you can always believe will get the best of them. The script may not be great but the role is, and Jodie Foster is one of those actresses who can make anything work and lure in a crowd. She doesn't often do films, but when she does, her fans are out there ready and waiting. Last year, she was the only actress to lead a film (Flightplan) to two weeks at #1 at the box office, especially when the film wasn't that well received. It also takes a great script to get Jodie to play a supporting role, and she does so in Spike Lee's latest film, "Inside Man", opposite Denzel Washington and Clive Owen. Foster plays Madeliene White, a mysterious power broker who gets involved in a bank robbery trying to protect the interest of her client. In speaking with blackfilm.com at a press conference in New York City to promote the film, Ms. Foster spoke about her character, working with Spike, Denzel, and Clive, and her future projects, which includes working with Terrence Howard, and a reunion with Robert DeNiro since making "Taxi Driver".

You're character is very mysterious...and why is she so powerful?

Jodie Foster: Well she's done this before. She's done it a lot of times before. So in her profession, which is as a kind of fixer figure, she's been in these dangerous situations where you have two dead hookers and a mayor, you know? And I think there's something wonderful about how she approaches it which such wit and breeziness, she's someone who doesn't judge people, and at the same time she breaks her own moral law, because she's negotiating between evils. So I did consider her a bad guy. But I like the fact that in this world of macho guys who are kind of powerful in and of themselves, there's this breezy, really feminine presence who has all the power that they do, but doesn't raise her voice, always smiles, always says please and thank you, and has time for fake tans and extensions and high heels. It's such a contrast to this man's world, and yet she's entirely inhabited this man's world without necessarily taking it on herself.

She's real tough?

JF: Absolutely. She gets where she needs to be, but not by raising her voice, or pointing a gun. She's learned the craft of toughness by doing something else. That's kind of...what I saw her as twenty years ago she may have run the highest prized cat house in England, and she used her favors to figure out a way to get into this business, and yet bring all of the immorality of that other life.

Strong female roles, feminist, characters you choose?

JF: I have no problem calling myself a feminist with a capital F, absolutely, and it's funny how that word somehow took on these pejorative connotations in the eighties, yes, feminism and I are pretty much the same thing. I don't really have a choice. And I hope that I inject humanism into the movies that I make. And yes, I am attracted to strong women, I've played different kinds of strong women, I've played dumb blondes, I've played a straight-laced straight arrows, I've played wild women, yet they're all strong. Sometimes I feel like that's my Achilles heel as an actor, cause I don't really know how to play a weak character. I think if I played a weak character I don't think you'd believe me. But it's not something we're lacking on screen...

You must be feeling terrific. Flightplan was the only female star vehicle that was a success. And this was a crap year for women. Is this woman real? Or figment of filmaker's imagination?

JF: Well, those are a lot of questions, a lot of good questions. I'm really proud of Flightplan. Flightplan is not a perfect movie, and it's not an art house film, it is a genre movie, and I make no apologies for that. But I really feel like that character was truthfully drawn and I'm really proud as an actor, I killed myself for that movie, and I'm really happy that everybody seemed to go. It's nice when people go. All the while acknowledging that it is a genre movie, it's not an art house film. And it's not an Oscar race movie. As far as I'm concerned this was a terrible year for women in film, these things happen, and maybe next year things will be different. There are things that you go through, and I'm proud of the movie I made in the midst of all that. And yeah, it is a big contrast between flight plan and this character, and I like to do different things. I think one of the reasons why I've been lucky enough and able enough knock on wood cause this one's gonna really bite me, is that I'm really picky about what I choose. It doesn't mean that the scripts I make are all perfect, it doesn't mean that my movies are great, it just means that I'm very particular about how I choose my films, I don't make three movies a year, I make one maybe sometimes every three years, and that film has to stand for something in my body of work. There has to be something in it that is rooted to me, and by extension to other people. And sometimes that's an instinct. I feel like whatever you have to say about Flightplan, in the movie there is this feeling of you walk into this situation and you've lost your child, just that, right there, really hits the core of almost every person I know. And that's what you look for in a movie, you look for something that is absolutely completely truthful, true, and universal. So if I find that once every three years, that's enough for me.

Have you met anyone like that? Did you have models?

JF: You know, I don't know, I know these people exist in Washington. But I think, by extension, are there people who perform this task? My favorite woman who I think performs this task is Pat Kingsley. I think that's....but here's a very, very strong woman who doesn't raise her voice, doesn't need to raise her voice because she commands so much respect, and the secrets, the vault that she is, I mean, if anything that's in her head ever came out, the world would probably implode. And yet she doesn't have a mean personality, it's all about how can I facilitate this? So here's somebody in our business who performs that function, but in Washington there are quite a few people that you probably know.

She was the scariest one?

JF: Yeah, that's what I was thinking of, I was thinking of the kind of power that comes from having done this a lot of times. And holding a deck of cards that none of these people even are necessarily aware of. That's why she can be so breezy. It's because she knows that this is all going to come down, and it is all going to be fine. And that ultimately she's not the one that's got the problems. They're the ones- this guy's got the holocaust past, and that one's facing a death sentence. So ultimately her role in it is to touch on each area, but to not necessarily be involved. And that's what makes her so sinister. It is that lack of involvement.

Did you get chills shooting near the world trade center?

JF: I go there every day when I'm here so...it really has become part of the New York landscape, it's a desperate moment, but also it's a shining moment for New Yorkers. After 9/11 is when I wanted to come here because of how my friends were, and what they were doing here, the beauty of this community and how it's doing better, specifically New York, such an international place with people from such different walks of life, that made me proud, made me want to be here, made we want to be part of it, so in some ways yeah it's that chilling thing, but also it's New York's shining moment

Is the movie saying that women in control are bitches?

JF: That is just rude. I love my dog, and that's what she is too! It's just a word...I think yes, clearly that's a big stereotype...the character in this movie could easily have been a man. I don't know why, but I like to play parts that could have been a guy or a girl. That's true of Flightplan for example, which was written for a man. It's true of Silence of the Lambs. It could just have easily have been a man, it really didn't matter at all that she was a woman. However, when you put a different gender in the circumstance, of course it changes everything. And it gives the role a completely different feeling, and a different sense of history. In the same way when you put - Denzel's character could just as easily have been a black cop, a white cop, a Latino cop- it didn't make any difference. And yet you put an African American in that role, and it feels as if it has a different history, as a women I bring my past to this. That's why I say to you yes, I consider her a bad guy, but I feel like there's a long history to her that's interesting. And if you go to her and say, here's a woman who twenty years ago in a corrupt system said I'm the best cathouse in New York, and then used every opportunity, every bit of information, every piece of loyalty, to get into a legitimate business but still brings that lack of morality. Still does that, well I'm going to screw somebody, but I'm screwing them nice. That's true, it's an interesting bit of psychology, I think.

Do you like doing supporting roles, foreign roles, what's next?

JF: I don't know, I'd rather take it as it goes, but it's a wonderful thing to be in a supporting part, because you don't have to be the head banana, and it's very freeing. And you actually end up getting cast in things you wouldn't normally be cast in, you're not necessarily right for them. I did a really small part in a French movie A Very Long Engagement with Jean Pierre-Jeunet, and it was such a freeing thing, cause no one would have ever hired me for that in the United States. EVER hired me to play somebody's wife who was having an affair with this guy, and didn't really want to but was drawn into it...NEVER, and also if they did hire me there would have been pressure of opening in thirty thousand theaters "to see Jodie in..." kind of thing, and it's nice to not have pressure, so I hope that I can continue doing foreign parts off and on just for myself. . My next movie will be shot in New York; I'm co-starring with Terrence Howard, which is thrilling, and it's directed by Neil Jordan.

Is it art house?

JF: No, and I have to say, this is my new recipe, this thing that I like doing is taking mainstream movies that I feel have a real heart to them, but, you know, mainstream movie, and having extremely talented directors from different walks of life coming in and approaching them. So, you know, Spike Lee directing a bank heist movie is exciting to me, Neil Jordan who is known for the quirky Irish movie, gender bending Irish movie, to do something with a real mainstream fore...you get the best of both worlds in there.

What's it called?

JF: It's called The Brave One.

What's it about?

JF: Well, it's kind of about somebody who was the victim of a crime and can't quite get over it and finds herself blowing people up.

What kinds of movies are you attracted to as a director?

JF: It's a totally different deal, and I'm attracted to completely different movies as a director than I would be as an actor. It's almost surprising to me how different the movies are that I'm directing. My next movie is called Sugarland, I am acting in it, and I haven't acted and directed since Little Man Tate, so that's a new thing, it's also with Robert De Niro, it's about immigrant Jamaican cane workers in South Florida and their relationship with a big fat-I mean that he's a rich guy- plantation owner.

When does it start?

JF: That'll be early 2007, and Brave One starts in like ten days.

Since Flightplan, you seem to be choosing a lot more work.

JF: I don't know if it was conscious, but it's kind of happened to me that I wanted to be back working a little bit. You know, my kids are young, my little one is just four and a half now, so it feels like the right time to go back to work a little bit.

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