From child star to leading lady

Image of Jodie Foster talking about her new film Money Monster.
Image of Jodie Foster talking about her new film Money Monster.
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Money Monster may mark Jodie Foster’s move into directing, so will we still see her on screen, asks Film Critic Tony Earnshaw.

People tend to stop and gape when they realise that Jodie Foster has been a fixture in Hollywood for almost half a century.

Still only 53, she has been making movies, TV shows and commercials since 1969 and her debut on The Doris Day Show.

A child star who became a serious player and Oscar winner in movies such as The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, Foster also harboured ambitions to direct.

Half a lifetime has passed since her first trip behind the camera on Little Man Tate in 1990. Now her latest directorial effort, Money Monster, a tense, star-packed thriller, has provided sufficient clout for Foster to finally accept a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Money Monster stars George Clooney as Lee Gates, the host of a TV finance show that offers tips to the public on how to play the stock markets. Julia Roberts is Patty Fenn, his all-seeing producer, and Jack O’Connell is the frustrated investor who made a bad decision.

O’Connell storms the studio, takes Lee hostage at gunpoint and forces him into an explosive vest. Then he demands an explanation as to how he lost all his money. Lee doesn’t have one. Cut an escalation of tension and great interplay between Clooney, Roberts and O’Connell as the situation ratchets out of control.

“They have this extraordinarily interesting chemistry that I can’t even describe,” says Foster of Clooney and Roberts.

“They don’t even have to be on screen together and somehow they’re fizzling together.

“George plays a celebrity who’s goofy and sort of a showman [but] who’s sort of lost himself. He’s lost his ability to be the journalist that he was meant to be. He has this big ego and yet he feels terrible about himself. He has this Jiminy Cricket in his ear, and that’s Julia Roberts’ character who’s sort of his conscience and producing his survival.

“They really complete each other on screen. When you put George and Julia’s characters together they are the hero of the movie. One’s the brains and one is the showman. One comes up with the information and the other one really delivers it.”

The concept of the film – the worm that turns – is something that Foster can relate to. Angry and frustrated Kyle Budwell (O’Connell) has a pregnant girlfriend and no money to support her after he blew tens of thousands of dollars on a tip from fast-talking Lee.

“I think Americans are filled with rage because they worked hard, they took care of their Moms, they saved and they have nothing to show for it,” she says, stopping short of praising Kyle’s actions, which some observers have likened to a form of domestic terrorism.

The movie also represents a series of firsts for Foster – biggest movie, first thriller – that fired her dormant ambition to direct films. Foster was in London making Bugsy Malone for Alan Parker when she first got the itch to be a film director. That was 1976.

“I was probably six or seven, doing a television show and one of the actors that was in the show was directing my episode. My mouth was open: I couldn’t believe that an actor was allowed to direct. I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I’m gonna do when I grow up’.

“I’ve directed myself a couple of times and it’s not advised. The end product is okay but you’re exhausted beyond belief and you just don’t get any surprises out of yourself. You get only what you planned. So I’ve decided I just want to direct and not act in the movies I direct.”

Foster’s purple patch came in the late 1980s and in the 1990s when she graduated from ingénue to bona fide leading lady. Those two Oscars – for tenacious FBI newbie Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs and rape survivor Sarah Tobias in The Accused – didn’t harm her status.

But she’s hardly been a traditional player, choosing instead to avoid stereotyping and opt for some unusual roles such as the backwoods girl in Nell, the under siege mother in Panic Room and as a supporting player (speaking French) in A Very Long Engagement.

It now looks as if acting will take a back seat as Foster’s career veers off in a new direction.

Of directing she says, “it’s a big commitment,” adding, “I directed my first movie when I was 27. I’ve directed four movies. So it’s taken all these years just for those four films. I’m really ready now to focus more on that than anything else. Obviously I’ll always act but directing is really where my heart is.”

For fans already lamenting Foster’s slide into the director’s chair she has this observation: she’s the exception to the norm in a male-dominated industry that seemingly still views female filmmakers as an aberration. “I guess I’m rare,” she muses. “I don’t know why that is. It’s a puzzlement. The film business has changed a lot since I was a kid. There were virtually no female faces when I was growing up. I never saw another women except the woman playing my mom or maybe a make-up artist.

“That’s changed a lot but not in directing. For some reasons in Hollywood they can’t figure out how to create a place for women directors.”

One allowance she has made is to accept that shiny five-pointed brass star on the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard. She laughs that its immediate neighbour honours The Muppets…

“I was a little stubborn about it. I wanted it to be really special and I wanted to wait until it was for a film that I was directing.”

The Money Monster (15) is out in cinemas today.

Child star

Jodie Foster’s career as a child actor included episodes of Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Partridge Family as well as TV movies for Walt Disney.

She later played a controversial role as the under-age prostitute saved by Robert De Niro’s psychotic cabbie in Taxi Driver.

She is one of only a dozen actresses to win multiple Oscars. Others include Bette Davis, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Glenda Jackson and Katharine Hepburn.

She has made only 12 film appearances over the past 20 years. Her most recent was in Elysium in 2013.