Jodie Foster Conquers Nim’s Island


On screen, Jodie Foster is undeniably compelling and memorable with her powerful performances and off screen, the highly regarded actress is just as unforgettable with her incredible intelligence, her attentiveness and her self-effacing demeanor. Foster, who has continued to be intensely private about her personal life, has remained at the top of Hollywood’s elite list although the actress openly admits she wants to make fewer films. In fact, with the exception of her latest movie, Fox Walden’s family comedy Nim’s Island, it doesn’t sound like Foster will be on the big screen for quite some time. talked to the two-time Oscar winner about her latest role as Alex Rover, an adventure writer who leaves her reclusive life to help a little girl Nim (Abigail Breslin) whose father Jack (Gerald Butler) is lost at sea. Can you talk about what drew you to this project?
Jodie Foster: I’ve been wanting to do a comedy for a long time actually. “Maverick” was such a great experience. I really, really enjoyed it. Lightness is a part of your life too. You’re not all just darkness. There’s lightness too. But then I couldn’t find anything that was good enough. I read this script and kept banging down doors and lobbying for it and definitely the first studio they were at, they had a different arrangement with the studio at that time and they were not keen on me at all, understandably. They know me for my dark dramas.

CS: Did you feel silly at all while you were doing some of the stuff in this movie?
Foster: Yeah, but I think that silly is good. You’re looking for that. What’s interesting to me in this movie is that I find myself talking about things like fear and this sort of solitary world that she’s created, finding a hero in yourself. Those are all themes that I’ve played in dramas many, many times – very dark dramas. Here I am doing a comedy about them, which is kind of like making fun of your most precious thing. You’re making fun of the parts of yourself that are the little fragile parts of you. You have to have an ability in order to be a comedy actor.

CS: Is there anything that was too far that you wouldn’t do on this, or is there a limit for you in terms of this?
Foster: Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of Jim Carrey type stuff that I’m not sure I’d be well equipped to do that my sons just love. I’m sure there is. I do like wit. I like physical comedy, but I like wit. I like scripts that have a wit to the language and a wit to the timing as well. So I’m not sure that I’d be funny in like, say, a silent movie for example.

CS: Is it almost easier to rip your heart out in an emotional scene than it is to be funny in something like this?
Foster: It’s kind of the same process. It really is the same process because you have to play the same things. You’re just playing them in a way here where you bring people with you or in a way that you allow people to laugh at you, but you’re still playing the drama. You still have to play the drama. The experience of making a drama and making a comedy are different. It’s a lighter set when you’re making a comedy.

CS: What was it like working with Abigail Breslin?
Foster: Abigail is great. Because I was a child actor from the time I was three I do see bits and pieces of myself as a kid in her. She’s got a great family that comes with her. She’s very well adjusted and she likes to just get on with it and likes to just do her job and not dwell on the acting stuff. She has something that I don’t have, or that I didn’t have as a young person which is she has this kind of very strong access to her emotions. That’s so easy for her and she’s really just born to be an actress. I really didn’t have that at her age and so it’s fun for me to see that, to look at a kid and go, “Wow, that kid is born to be an actor.”

CS: Did you talk to her about a lifetime in the arts, about her possibly having a career like yours?
Foster: Not really. She wasn’t looking for advice from me. Our conversations were more about what flavor of popsicles do you like.

CS: And what are they?
Foster: [laughs] We were talking about the ice cream trucks in New York and what things they have and how the SpongeBob one is a rip. It’s like, “It’s all yellow, but there’s nothing else on it.” So we didn’t really talk about careers and stuff. She also doesn’t need my advice. She’s got a great career and she’s happy and healthy and all of that. I’ll tell you what was amazing. It was watching Abigail change from the beginning of the film to the end. She’s a Manhattan kid, raised in Manhattan. She didn’t do a lot of camping and stuff like that in her life. She’s a city kid. She’d never swam in the ocean before. She had put her toe in the ocean or maybe her hand in the ocean, but she’d never fully swam in the ocean before. Here she had to jump on the back of a sea lion, a trained sea lion and go underneath the water and above the water and underneath the water. That was really adventurous stuff. Also climbing rock faces and going on the zip line. She was actually a little bit afraid of heights and she had to do that zip line thing. At the beginning when we started rehearsals she was a little scared of stuff. By the end though she was diving into the waves and she had a little rabbits nest in hair and she changed, I think. It really brought her confidence in a way that was good and that’s what kids are looking for from these adventure stories. They’re looking to be able to say, “I could do that myself. I can fix a satellite dish with a toolbox and I can make my own food. If my dad was away for two days I would figure it out.” It’s important for kids to have that kind of confidence in their own self-reliance.

CS: How funny do you think you are as a person?
Foster: I don’t know. I’m witty. I think my humor is kind of language based, but my natural humor is sort of dry and nasty [laughs] and kind of R rated, a little.

CS: Did you identify with the curse jar that was on set?
Foster: Oh, yeah. We have one at our house, a bad words jar. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what’s happened to me in the last six months, but I’m going to broke soon.

CS: There was a time that you were waiting several years between projects. Have you picked up the pace again and if so why is that?
Foster: No. I think that I’ll definitely wait several years now. I go through phases. I did go through a phase where I was just sick of it and I was burnt out and I just didn’t find anything interesting or funny because I wasn’t ready to go there yet and when I did I knew it was time for me to go back to work. I think that’s the way to approach it, which is if it moves you there’s a reason and if it doesn’t move you stay away from it because you’re going to be bad.

CS: Did you also do this so that you’d have a film your kids could see?
Foster: Yes, definitely.

CS: Have they seen this yet?
Foster: They haven’t seen it yet. I’m pretty excited about the premiere. They’re excited about that and because they’ve read the book too and the book had a big impact on my son, that he could read the book and visualize me. It was so exciting to him. It was like he discovered literature in a completely different way. I couldn’t get him to come to dinner because he was too busy reading the book again. It was great.

CS: Had you read the book before?
Foster: I read the script first and then I read the books after that.

CS: What was the biggest challenge for you outside of the comedy? Were there specific scenes that were hard?
Foster: I think the biggest challenge for all of us, Gerry [Butler] and myself and Abigail too, for all of us, was the stuff that we did in the tank. It was three in the morning, nighttime and it was the Australian winter. It was cold and there was a lot of underwater stuff. A lot of days with underwater stuff.

CS: Have you done that before? Are you a swimmer at all?
Foster: Yeah. I’m pretty good in the water. I have pretty good breath and I dive and all of that, but it’s cold. In the rowboat and all of that, with those big huge waves hitting you in the face and all of that stuff it was a challenge. It was also really fun because by the end of the day you really felt like you did something. There’s one thing that I did say to Abigail which was that before I start a movie usually I do some bourgeois thing like I go on a big hike, but an all day hike and it’s not like there aren’t cars somewhere or that I don’t have a cell phone, but it just gives me this feeling that I did something big and that I accomplished something big. I try to do that before every film. I try to accomplish one big thing.

CS: What did you do for this?
Foster: We were in Iceland before this, my family, and so we did a whole glacier thing. We were on a glacier. So it’s just the sense of accomplishment in something and for kids that just translates into confidence.

CS: What do you think the message of this film is for kids?
Foster: Well, the connection with nature. A, with a film like this you see that you don’t need videogame characters and laser tag in order for it to be interesting, but I think it’s also a message of self-reliance and of making decisions that are strong decisions because they’re what you know is right and believing in yourself. Self-reliance for young girls. It was a big issue for me. I don’t know, maybe those days are over, but it was a big issue for me even though I was born in the ’60s. I still had the influence of my mom’s generation that just did not believe they could take care of themselves. They thought that someone had to take care of them and they were always looking for someone to take care of them because they were not told about taking care of themselves.

CS: What’s the difference do you think between being a child actor now and one when you were growing up?
Foster: There are so many differences. A child actor now, I don’t know, but definitely an adolescent actor and a post-adolescent actor for sure. That’s a whole different world now than it ever was before with the intrusions and the visibility and being paid so much. We didn’t have that. All of those things impact on your emotional well being, on your health and it’s much harder to be a healthy young actor now than it was when I was young.

CS: Was that a real seal that kissed you or an animatronics one?
Foster: No. That was a real seal. Oh, yeah. The only fake seals, and I’m not sure that we even used a fake seal – I think we might’ve had to CGI the real seal on the beach. The seal could not physically go on the beach because the real seal would leave and they didn’t want, SeaWorld didn’t want to lose their million seals, or sea lions.

CS: Were you comfortable with them?
Foster: Yeah. They were amazing. The sea lions are the best actors in the movie and they’re just amazing. They did everything that they were supposed to do. It was just incredible. I mean, not only will he kiss me on the lips, but he’ll hold the kiss until somebody says okay. Then he can turn three quarters like this and then three quarters this way. They can get him to do all this stuff on the ground and on the tables. It’s just amazing what these animals can do.

CS: So working with children and animals, that whole edict went out the window?
Foster: Yeah. I love working with them. I’ve made a lot of movies with children and animals and I love working with them even more. I think it’s because it’s just a simpler process. They don’t want to throw the spaghetti again. They’re just not going to throw the spaghetti. There’s no bribery or no guilt tripping that’s ever going to make them throw the spaghetti again. Once they’ve decided it, it’s just not going to happen. There’s a nice simplicity to that.

CS: What was it like working with Gerard?
Foster: Gerry. First of all he’s hysterical. I don’t know if you’ve met him, but he’s a funny, funny, funny guy. He’s sort of always performing and he’s always giggling and I love seeing him in this movie because he kind of makes fun of the characters that he’s played in dramas. I think that we’re both doing that in some ways. I’m making fun of my fearful characters and he’s making fun of his big hero characters. I think it was a blast for us to do.

CS: Do you have anything lined up at all to do next either as a director or an actor?
Foster: I’m working on stuff as a director and that’s kind of where my focus is right now, but who knows if anything is going to happen or if it’s going to turn up.

CS: Was it a double doing some of your stunts, like when you fell on the treadmill because of the mailman?
Foster: Lets see. Just the one with the hit. That was a double, that one with the Stairmaster. I’m trying to think of where the other double is. I don’t know about the other one. The rowboat is me. All the rowboat is me, coming down in the rowboat and all of that.

CS: What about the scene in the boat and you’re in heels and a dress?
Foster: Oh, yeah. That was me.

CS: Any bumps and bruises?
Foster: No. It was a pretty tame shoot. It wasn’t so bad. It was just freezing, really cold, but that’s about it.

CS: You mentioned that you had to kind of lobby to get this part. After all of your accomplishments and trophies was that an odd experience?
Foster: No. I’m used to it. I think that all the movies that have really been the most satisfying to me in some ways, the really big, kind of fundamental performance experiences like “Silence of the Lambs,” “The Accused” were all movies that I had to lobby for. They didn’t want me for them. So I’ve learned that’s a key to something. If you want it that badly then there must be a reason why.

CS: What did you do to seal the deal?
Foster: I just kind of waited. I waited and waited and waited for their deal to kind of fall out with their distributor, the one that they had and the directors were always behind me and that always helped.

CS: In what ways do you think you’re like your character in real life?
Foster: I’m not in a lot of ways. I think I’m pretty different than Alexandra. I have this solitary kind of creative experience. I love the thinking and I like to be alone in that thinking and I like the fact that other people don’t really understand it and I don’t really share it with people, but at the same time it’s kind of lonely. That’s pretty similar. I think that’s similar.

CS: Alex has all these quirky habits that are funny. Do you have any of those?
Foster: I have a lot of those things. I have a lot of anal habits. I squeegee my shower every single time I take it. I’m like just a dictator about my cappuccino maker. No one else is allowed to touch it because they don’t clean it up properly. I have things like that, I guess. I like my towels folded in thirds. All my towels have to be folded in thirds and when the kids don’t I’m like, “Well, use your own towels! These are my towels.”

CS: Did you have an idol, a role model actress when you were younger?
Foster: I didn’t. I really, really didn’t. I liked Katharine Hepburn a lot because I just had this idea that somehow that’s how I wanted to be when I was her age and I loved the movies that she made as a younger person. I kind of saw myself like that. She wasn’t some beauty queen or something, but she was witty and bright and self-determined and she had all these different layers of emotion and some of them were the stoic side, the side that was covering up and I liked that about her.

CS: How do you motivate your kids to read?
Foster: “Nim’s Island,” it’s funny because the book really changed Charlie’s life. My younger one doesn’t quite read yet, but he’s into it. He takes the books out and he can say the first letter and stuff and so he’s on his way. I think the best way to motivate your kids to read is to read to them, and I still read to my older kid. I don’t care that he can read. I still read to him, and then also read yourself. Be one of those people that reads yourself. They do this things in schools now which I love which is the current event thing. I love it. I love it when he has these current event projects because we get to comb through all the newspapers and go, “Isn’t this a cool story? What about this story?” We can look at the news or look at magazines and the story of the two thousand pound whale that was put in a formaldehyde jar and kept for all those years and now it’s starting to corrode, but the artist is going to go back and re-shellac it and it’s only going to cost $1 million. There are just so many great stories that are not about the grizzly headlines and I think that’s a fun way to get kids interested in reading.

CS: What books did you read as a child?
Foster: When I was a little kid – this is funny because I hate these books now – I loved these little short non-fiction histories about characters like Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Amelia Earhart or Florence Nightingale or John. F. Kennedy. There were these little books and they came in series and you’d learn everything about that person and where they were born and then stories about their brother dying when they were little or something and that’s what motivated them to do this or that. I liked those as a kid.

CS: Have your kids shown any interest in acting and is that something that you’d encourage?
Foster: Well, I know I don’t believe I’d promote it at all. I’m trying to avoid the question. Every once in a while my older son will say, “I want to be on TV.” I go, “Oh, that’s nice.” But I try to get them interested in the technical sides of making movies, about how things are made and how does CGI work and whatever blue screen. I’d like them to be interested in the behind the scenes because to me that’s the real world that I live in, being with a crew of a hundred and twenty five people and really making a story come alive through your particular talent and your particular skill. I’d be scared of them being actors.

CS: Was there a movie you saw when you were younger that you looked at and made you think about movies changing people’s lives?
Foster: Many, many, and they really can. For me I think that’s what I love about them, that they can be so socially pervasive. And not just like, “Oil companies are bad…” or “We’re on the side of the revolutionaries.” Not in real obvious ways, but in having people discover sides of themselves that they might not have recognized and by discovering them in some ways you take the onus off of it. You take the shame off of it. You take the magic aspect out of it and demystify it. I guess that “Deer Hunter” really changed my life as a young person. I think that I was probably maybe thirteen or fourteen when I saw that movie and it just really changed my life and I felt like, “This is why I make films, because of that.”

CS: Is there anyone out there that you haven’t worked with yet – it doesn’t seem possible – that you’d like to work with?
Foster: Oh, I’ve never worked with Meryl Streep and that just kills me. I almost worked with Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis and/or Sean Penn. All three of them go beyond anything that I know as acting. There’s really a transcendent connection with the character that they have. It doesn’t make them smarter than anyone else, but it just means that they have a skill that is miraculous.

CS: Have you seen any of your films in the new Blu-ray Disc format yet?
Foster: I haven’t, no. Have you seen any of them in that format?

CS: I don’t know which ones of yours are out yet.
Foster: Right, me neither. I’m not that into the technology. I’m usually about six years late on everything. I finally just got “Guitar Hero.” I’m like, “This is so fabulous!” They said, “Where have you been?”

CS: Can you play it well?
Foster: No. I’m still on easy, but I’m at like 99% on easy. It’s great.

CS: Can your kids beat you?
Foster: Not yet.

CS: Can you talk about working with two directors on this, and can you imagine working that way as a director on film?
Foster: I absolutely cannot imagine co-directing. That’s not something that I will ever do. You can totally quote me on that. It’s not something that I will ever do. It’s amazing how that worked out. It’s so funny that no one has asked me that question and it’s just fascinating to see two people who are so completely in sync and that are true shadows of each other. They’re completely opposite in terms of what they do on the set and it’s not like they’re both doing the same thing. They’re on the same page, but they’re doing completely opposite tasks and it’s fascinating to see how well that’s worked for them. They have two small kids as well and so it’s not easy feat for them to be away from their kids so much. I think that was hard on them, but they so complete each other that it’s just really wonderful to watch.

CS: Was there a division of labor between them?
Foster: Yeah, they do have a division of labor although I’m not sure they know what it is, but we all know what it is. It’s easy for us to see because we see their dynamic more clearly, I think, than they do. A lot of it is an emotional dynamic between them because they’re married. It’s different. I’ve worked with a two director team once before, two guys that were writing partners but they weren’t married and so it was different, a different connection.

CS: What are the things that a young performer and their families should remember to follow more of a path that you had instead of some of the other pitfalls?
Foster: I really don’t know. So much of it is just who you were born as, your kind of character as it were. I mean, adolescence is a terrible time for everybody. It’s an impossible time for anyone to navigate in any profession, certainly, but even in high school it’s an impossible time to navigate and potentially to do that in front of millions of people is cruel [laughs]. It’s hard. It was hard on me. I’m not saying that it wasn’t hard on me. It was hard. I really don’t know. We all know what the pitfalls are and there is also a price to pay for navigating it successfully. The way that you have to become in order to protect yourself has implications, has an impact on your life.

CS: What do you mean by that?
Foster: Well, people always say, “You’re so well adjusted.” I’m like, “I’m nutty as a fruitcake. Did you not know that?” There’s no way that I could have been raised with the series of events that I’ve been raised with and not be affected by it, not be affected in some ways whether that’s phobias or whatever. But you come up with a methodology to protect yourself and my way is to compartmentalize. So I work from 9:00 to 5:00 and my job one day might be acting and emotion and another day it might be putting on makeup and wearing fancy clothes and another day it might be talking about myself all day and that’s just my job because at 5:00pm when I come home I put that away. That’s not who I am. I have to designate a real difference between my personal life and my professional life. That’s not so easy for a lot of people to do. How do you compartmentalize your emotions? There’s a real impact from that which makes me as nutty as a fruitcake.

CS: When you’re acting are you able to turn off the part of your brain that thinks as a director, or do you watch and learn?
Foster: I do both. I mean, it is a little bit hard for me not to recognize that I would do things differently, but it’s okay. I think that any director you ask if it hurts them or helps them they will all say that it helps them to have an actor that’s directed before because they really know how to give you what you need. They know what you need in the cutting room. They know that when you say you need this or that they know why. So it’s a lot easier for them. But turning that off? I’ve always said, “What’s that mean, turning off the character when you go home? Of course I can turn off the character. Was it ever really turned on?” But as I’ve gotten older I’ve just realized that’s not true. It’s like PMS. You kind of just deny it and then someone says, “Yeah, but you were really mean.”

CS: Do you look forward to doing more comedy?
Foster: Well, I’ll always be a dramatic actor. That’s where my heart is and that’s my place. That’s what I do, but I’ll do comedies every once in a while. It has to be a certain kind of comedy and touch me in a certain way. Otherwise it feels like it’s just all about executing performance and not necessarily about telling a story. I really need to tell a story. That’s the thing that I need to do. I’m not so good at just doing an improvisational dance and being happy with that.

Nim’s Island opens in theaters on April 4.