Jodie Foster Makes It Work

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To prepare for Silence, both Foster and Scott Glenn, who plays her FBI superior, spent time with John Douglas, the bureau's top specialist on serial killers. Demme worked up his own psychological profiles of his killer, Jame Gubb, and submitted them to Douglas for critiques. Glenn's characer is based on Douglas, who offered the actors all sorts of study aids, including audiotapes made by real killers of their victims' torture sessions. Foster did not listen to them.

"Scott did," she says, "and lived to regret it."

Foster says the film's plot was grim all right, but here's the really weird thing: "I was so happy on that set. On a film that's about death and darkness. That was strange to me. But Jonathan really taught me that you don't have to be miserable. It doesn't have to be a horrible event to make a good film."

She was also cheered by the fact that Clarice is a savior, not a victim. It was a welcome change, though it's her screen casualties that she has the greatest affinity with. She has this victim thing. . . .

"Not that I want to overplay what I do in LIFE or any of that."

This is one of many considered disclaimers that punctuate these talks, the conversational tics of a woman who's compelled to speak her mind but wary of inflicting damage – to herself and others. "I play disenfranchised people that are in most cases pushed out of the way or cast aside," she says. "Part of my agenda with that is out of some kind of need to save them. To be the representative of those people." They are alienated schoolgirls and runaway teens, factory-town waitresses, carny hustlers and stout-hearted Appalachian white trash – American misfits, misunderstood and rarely short on pain. When Martin Scorsese cast her in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, it was as an achingly wise Tucson, Arizona, subteen compelled to explain her after-school wanderings. ("Mom turns tricks from three on at the Ramada Inn.") A year later, when the director asked to meet with her in Los Angeles about the Taxi Driver part, the girl who had also played Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer showed up in her school uniform, with pixie-short hair.

No matter. Scorsese told Brandy Foster, Jodie's mother, that he had never considered anyone else for Iris. The California Labor Board objected because of her age and ordered a psychiatric evaluation for her protection. After two hours, the board-appointed UCLA shrink emerged from his office, laughing. It was no problem. Jodie could handle it.

"I grew up three blocks from Hollywood Boulevard," Foster says, describing that strip where hookers in fuchsia spandex blossom at every bus stop. Hers was not an especially privileged childhood; she is familiar with these marginal people. And she says she likes putting them on the big screen "to portray their stories in fiction and have them resolved and be heroes in the end." They are by their nature flawed heroes and, as Demme noted, rarely the sort of people Foster could discuss Balzac with. The hardest part of The Accused, she says, was not in playing a victim but in being allowed to play a very imperfect heroine, a hard-working trailer-park honey who drank and smoked dope and spent her table-busing tip money on a vanity license plate that read, SXY SADIE. Foster says her concentration on Sarah Tobias's K mart aesthetic was fine with Kaplan but not so popular with Paramount executives. Playing it the way she wanted to was, she says, "a big milestone for listening to my instincts. You have to take huge risks to create anything people WANT to see. They'd rather see comedies. They don't want to see a drama unless it's going to take them someplace breathtaking and controversial. Someplace they normally wouldn't have gone. You have to take those risks or all you're ever going to be is mediocre." She makes a face at the last word. To Foster, who always got straight As, mediocrity seems to hold more horrors than the autopsy table.

What's going on here?"

Foster jerks her head toward a loud posse of mink and sable leaving the restaurant. It's nearly eleven, but the sidewalks are jammed. "Is everyone out?" she says. "I mean, it's Wednesday. Working Wednesday." Tonight Manhattan looks as gem cut and flawless as it does through Woody Allen's reverent lens. Fifty-seventh Street is dressed for Christmas; the women are dressed for murder, Thierry Mugler style.

Except for Jodie Foster, working girl. She strolls along unrecognized, even beneath the megawatt marquee of Carnegie Hall. Her collegiate-looking beige coat flaps open over a blue-denim work shirt, with a sweat shirt beneath and khakis. A kitschy revolving RFK photo medallion bounces off her chest. She totes a book bag stuffed with scripts and novels. In her wake, a yard-long printout of messages from her hotel switchboard snaps smartly in the breeze.

She has an Oscar but no attitude; she has had two armed and psychotic admirers but no flying security force. She owns a chic rackful of Armani but prefers this uniform of the day. She's working here in New York and came to dinner straight from the set. Having just starred in and directed her own movie, Little Man Tate (due out this fall), she says she was thrilled to leave the editing room for a week to come to New York for a very small part in the next Woody Allen film. "I'd do anything for him," she says. "ANYTHING." She laughs, throws an arm toward the traffic on Seventh Avenue. "Here I am, the California movie brat," she says. "I've done – what? Almost thirty movies. But to have worked with Scorsese and Woody Allen. That's IT. At least to me." Besides, Foster likes Woody's New York. Talky, kvetchy, neurotic New York. It was that Eastern-seaboard intellectual chatter that drew her to Yale, away from the beaches and her Angeleno roots.

"I talk a lot," she says, "probably too much. Some of my friends do call me Miss Authoritiva, and I doubtless deserve that. But I need to talk. It's not something people tend to do where I come from." By now, we sense the disclaimer forming. "Don't get me wrong, I love Los Angeles," she says. "My family is there. My heart." The BA in literature chuckles at her own archetype, the bifurcation of head and heart on either side of the Mississippi. Long before the creations of Fitzgerald and Wolfe, hardy Westerners have been ferried east to fall into love, art and trouble. For Foster, the thrall began in earnest with Taxi Driver. And Yale. "Yeah, the Foster Shuttle," she says. "Check any excess baggage."

The following morning, Foster sees her third dawn in Queens. Through the bluish rush-hour smog, it looks more like Scorsese's New York – two-family brick fronts, warehouses and chain-link fences. But this is where Woody Allen builds many of his Manhattan fantasies, on a sound stage at the Kaufman Astoria Studios. Woody starts early, and Foster's hair and makeup call was for 6:30. She is playing a small part Which We Cannot Discuss. Madonna also has a minor role. We can say that it's a comedy. The majority of Foster's week here is being spent in this small cinder-block-wall dressing room – under wraps, like the rest of the project. Allen's obsessive secrecy makes her giggle, but she is happy to comply. "With Woody, hey, whatever works," she says. "I mean, he is the greatest."

A wardrobe woman arrives bearing a pair of pink silk stockings, hand painted and artfully distressed. Foster bends to put them on; her calves are hard and well sculpted by another past "obsession," kick boxing. Her stage makeup is light; at twenty-eight, she has no reason to fear the morning sun and the harsh fluorescents that light the room. Curled tendrils of a long wig spill onto the collar of her big terry robe. Underneath is her costume, an antique silk teddy – peach and pale green.

Finally she has grown into the R-rated roles she was playing as an adolescent. Even then, Pauline Kael called her "an unusually physical child actress." She had a deep, almost froggy voice and a hitchy, tomboy walk. During the agonizing years most girls cloister themselves for the duration of a single zit, Foster endured film scribes' quips about baby fat. Once she got to college, they sniped about the visible consequences of junk food. As recently as the casting period for The Accused, she was asked to present herself for inspection, this time by coproducer Stanley Jaffe. "Jodie called me," says Jonathan Kaplan. "She said, `Well, I met Stanley, and he saw I'm not fat.' In truth, that was the [producers'] first concern." Despite such plucky sang-froid, it is the one area of her professional life she seems less than comfortable discussing. But hey, okay, she will. "At some point, you've got to accept that you're an object," she says. "It's not personal, but ultimately somebody's going to say your voice sucks and your body sucks, too. You have to learn to make the personal not so personal."

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