Jodie Foster Talks About 'The Beaver' And Standing By Mel Gibson

Originally published on May 9, 2011 7:32 am

Among the movies opening this weekend is The Beaver. The film might get attention for the fact that it's Jodie Foster's first directing job since 1995's Home For The Holidays. Or it might get attention because Mel Gibson spends most of it speaking in a Cockney accent through a beaver puppet.

But in the end, much of the attention The Beaver is attracting comes, perhaps inevitably, from the fact that Gibson has gotten a mountain of bad personal publicity between the time the bulk of the film was shot and its release this week.

On Sunday's All Things Considered, Foster talks to Guy Raz about how she made the decision to act in a film she was directing — something she'd sworn to never do again after Little Man Tate in 1991 — and how she feels about her relationship with Gibson.

Foster speaks of combining acting and directing as a series of trade-offs: she loses some of the "surprises" that can come from collaboration between an actor and a director, but she gains control over the performance when she's directing herself. In this particular film, she explains, she considered a variety of factors, including the need for a dramatic actor who could counter some of the "unreliable" figures in the film, including Gibson's character and his puppet, as well as someone who could believably play opposite Gibson. She concludes: "Then I thought, 'Why not? Why not me?'"

As for Gibson, he was her first choice for the role all along. "He, on the one hand, is an extraordinary comedic presence," she explains, noting that his humor is balanced by the fact that he "understands struggle from a very personal place and a very thoughtful place."

When Raz asks her about how Gibson's Hollywood standing has been affected by his recent troubles, including the famous tapes that emerged of ugly messages he left for his former girlfriend, Foster says, "He will live the consequences of his behavior, and I think he has bigger problems than whether somebody goes to see his film or not. He has much more pressing problems and much more pressing issues in his life."

In the end, Foster reflects on her decision to continue to support Gibson when many others have not: "As far as walking away from someone who's struggling, I mean, if you love somebody, and you know them, and they have proven themselves as a friend over and over again in your life, and they're somebody who's really a member of your family, when someone's struggling, you don't walk away from them. You stand by them. I'm not interested in running away from him. The Mel Gibson that I know, that I've experienced, and that I know intimately — and I think I can probably say you don't know — is an extraordinary man. And no one can take that away."

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GUY RAZ, host:

Speaking of reviewers, many have given mixed reviews or even worse to Jodie Foster's new film. It's called "The Beaver." And even she admits it's not an easy sell. For one thing, it stars her old friend, Mel Gibson.

He plays a depressed father named Walter Black. After he attempts suicide, Walter is saved by a hand puppet, a beaver puppet, who speaks in an English cockney accent.

And in this clip, Walter introduces the beaver to his wife Meredith played by Jodie Foster.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Beaver")

Ms. JODIE FOSTER (Actress): (As Meredith Black) Is this some kind of a joke?

Mr. MEL GIBSON (Actor): (As Walter Black) I hardly laugh. Nothing funny about it.

Ms. FOSTER: (As Meredith Black) Stop it with the puppet, all right? I'm confused, Walter. And I need some answers right now.

RAZ: Foster also directed the movie and financed a big part of it. It's the first time in 20 years she's put herself both behind and in front of the screen.

Ms. FOSTER: I had acted and directed before in my first film, "Little Man Tate," and I swore I would never do it again. It's actually not terribly difficult to act and direct at the same time. It's just exhausting. And it does take some of the joy out of it.

But this time around, I felt - especially when I brought Mel on, I felt that it was really important to ground a film with a dramatic presence and to have somebody who had been a protagonist in a film before. I mean, somebody who was appropriate age and who I know Mel would work well with and he would believe that they had been together forever. And so then I thought, why not? Why not me?

RAZ: I understand that Steve Carell, and even Jim Carey, were considered for the lead role for Walter, the role that Mel Gibson obviously plays in the film. These all seem like very different actors. First of all, why did you think that Mel Gibson was right for the part?

Ms. FOSTER: When I came on, Mel Gibson was my first choice. So Steve Carell and Jim Carey, those ideas preceded me. But, you know, I really felt that Mel was the right one for this film for a number of reasons. And the first is that he, on the one hand, has an extraordinary comedic presence, and he has a real light of touch. He is witty. And I knew he could handle that side of it. But the man that I know, that I've known for 15 years is extremely complex, and he really understands struggle.

I knew that he would be able to combine the two, the wittiness and the funniness with this dark drama in a way that felt really absolutely authentic.

RAZ: Obviously, a lot of attention to this film, a blessing and a curse, I suppose...

Ms. FOSTER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: ...is because of Mel Gibson, as you know...

Ms. FOSTER: Right.

RAZ: ...and you've talked about this. During the filming, of course, those taped messages to his former girlfriend came. Many would call them racist, sexist, violent. They were released to the public - what - first of all, what kind of impact did that have on the morale of the crew, of the people and the actors working on the movie?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, those tapes were released after the film was finished. There was one moment of overlap when he was doing a reshoot on one day, the very first day that the tapes came out. And that was a sad day, a tough day. But he came in and sat down with no makeup on and did two of the most beautiful takes I've ever seen, which are both in the film. And, you know, I gave him a big kiss, and he got on a plane and left.

RAZ: I mean, clearly, he is troubled. He's a troubled person. I mean, there are things that he has said, and we all know what they are. Many folks in Hollywood, in your industry, have repudiated Mel Gibson, have sort of said: I'm not going to work with him. He has essentially become toxic in the eyes of many people that you know and also respect. I wonder how much, sort of, forgiveness you're willing to show him.

Ms. FOSTER: As far as, I don't know, walking away from someone who's struggling - I mean, if you love somebody and you know them and they have proven themselves as a friend over and over again in your life, and there's somebody who's really a member of your family, when someone's struggling, you don't walk away from them. You stand by them. The Mel Gibson that I know, that I've experienced is, and that I know intimately, and I think I can probably say you don't know is an extraordinary man. And no one can take that away.

RAZ: Knowing what we all know now about some of the things Mel Gibson has said in the past, would you still have cast him in the lead role?

Ms. FOSTER: Well, I'm so proud of his performance. And I could never look back and imagine anybody else. I'm grateful for the performance that he gave and for the partnership that I had on that set and for, you know, the character that he came up with. That's entirely him. I'd love to tell you that I invented his character or that I can take credit for his acting. I can't. I know how important a contribution an actor brings. So no, I would never regret that.

You know, it's an interesting question, you know? Can an audience - can you compartmentalize out what you may know about a star's private life through the airing of, you know, private moments? Can you separate that out from a performance? I don't know. Can you?

RAZ: That's the actor and director Jodie Foster. Her new film, "The Beaver," opened in select theaters this weekend.

Jodie Foster, thank you so much.

Ms. FOSTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.