When Jodie Foster entered New York’s Walter Reade Theater to publicize her latest film, “The Beaver” co-starring her controversial friend Mel Gibson, something about her seemed different.
It wasn’t her ability to sidestep prickly questions with a disarming grin and a concise reply, nor was it her thoughtful yet rehearsed answers as to why she would cast Gibson in the lead role. It wasn’t even the outfit she chose to wear that night: a sleeveless gray Armani dress that she already had in her closet.
Being articulate, witty and professional has never been a problem for Foster, 48, who has been in the spotlight since the age of three. What has posed more of a challenge over the years is preserving her private life while vaulting her career to the heights of Hollywood’s gilded A-list.
Now the two-time Academy Award wining actress and director has found herself in an unfamiliar role: building up Gibson after the actor destroyed his own reputation. And it’s a role that, in defending her friend, has given the somewhat guarded Foster a means of slowly baring some of her own emotional scars, a rarity that is, in some respects, as surprising as watching Gibson cobble back together his once-sterling image.
“The choices that I’ve made were personal choices about questions that I had about myself, my life, my psychoanalytic life, my mother and father, who they were to me,” Foster says, speaking of her film career. “The reason I act is to evolve, and learn things and to change and be better. My survival tool is my work.”
Despite Foster’s unwillingness to truly spell out what’s behind her neuroses, unlike so many celebrities today, the irony is that she has been speaking through her films all along, peeling away the fragility of human emotions, dissecting and accepting imperfect relationships and exploring what she calls her “issues with aloneness.”
Checking off those themes and more, “The Beaver” tells the story of a deeply depressed man, played by Gibson, whose bouts of aphasia and hopelessness alienate his wife (Foster) and their children, until he discovers his voice. That voice — spoken in a Cockney accent and delivered by an expressive-looking beaver puppet that sits keenly atop Gibson’s left hand — is how his character rebuilds his relationship with his family.
“A beaver was always the choice of animal to be used. It’s the perfect metaphor for someone who builds something and destroys it at the same time,” says Foster, who wryly noted at the film’s premiere: “I hope you don’t mind the title, I love it. When can you say to your friends, ‘Have you seen “The Beaver”?’ ”
Describing Gibson’s performance as “very raw,” Foster, as the film’s director, offers up something more sinister than a black comedy, and something with a higher quotient of optimism than most European films exploring similar topics.
The cast, led by Gibson’s muted, yet visceral performance, creates a quirky balance of lightness and gravity that for duration of the 91-minute film temporarily blots out the stigma that has shrouded the actor’s personal life.
Although the film is not without faults, many already wonder if it can revive Gibson’s career. That’s something that concerns Foster less than seeing her friend, who has eschewed the limelight in advance of the film’s release, rehabilitate his own life.
“As a director, I’m not invested in if this film makes money,” she says, explaining that what’s important is what “The Beaver” communicates. “You have to look at the film as a fable.”
“The Beaver” is out in limited release, with wide release beginning May 20.