"The Beaver" is sure to be a topic of discussion this movie season, much like its star: Mel Gibson, who plays Walter Black, a toy company exec so clinically depressed he resorts to communicating through a stuffed beaver that he wears on his hand.
The black comedy is a comeback of sorts for Gibson, whose stock has fallen thanks to recorded telephone outbursts and allegations of domestic violence. But the film also puts its director back in the spotlight. Jodie Foster, one of our finer actresses, with a couple of best actress Oscars to show for it ("The Accused," "The Silence of the Lambs"), hasn't starred in a movie since 2008's "Nim's Island" or directed one since "Home for the Holidays" in 1995. (She will, however, be appearing in Roman Polanski's "Carnage" next year).
She wears two hats in "The Beaver," though, and talked about the film with Newsday contributor John Anderson.
One of the film's more salient points is the genetic predisposition people have toward depression. Why did that intrigue you enough to make a movie about it?
Well, it's true, it's a real thing. If you have depression in your family, you're many, many more times disposed to have it, and it follows throughout the generations. It's something I grapple with, but I also make movies about people in spiritual crisis. I don't do it on purpose, I sort of gravitate towards that. I think it's because it's my way of getting through a spiritual crisis by looking at it from every angle and becoming obsessed with it and kind of ruminating about it and that's how I become kind of a well-adjusted person. Not by looking at a crisis and then running in the opposite direction.
Why does the Beaver sound like Bob Hoskins?
You and Mel are great friends, aren't you?
We're good friends and have been for a long time, but he's also an extraordinary actor and we'd never worked together except for "Maverick" 15 years ago.
As a director, is it a concern that his personal problems put a different slant on the movie, and possibly will get in the viewer's way?
Yeah, that happens. And there's really nothing we can do about it. But it's an interesting question: Can you, as a viewer, compartmentalize out what you know about the public airing of somebody's private life? What you know from YouTube -- can you separate that out from the performance? And should you? And is it helpful? Not helpful. Helpful's the wrong word.
But Mel is a complex man who really understands struggle. And what he brings to the screen is so raw and so truthful and he is so exposed in some ways in this movie, that I find it incredibly compelling. And I'm so grateful for it, because he trusted me to put that personal complexity, that personal investment, on the screen. I don't know if that's a good thing, but as an audience member it touches me. Because I see him wanting to change, y'know?
Doesn't his dilemma point up a problem for moviemaking now, that the public and private personas kind of merge and make real performances less possible?
It's a constant struggle for all of us. But yeah, I think it was a better place when news and entertainment weren't so fused and when an actor could have much less personal visibility. You were able to have a purer performance. Nowadays, you bring your persona, everybody has a persona, and you bring it and sometimes it's difficult to escape. It's hard for Tom Cruise to play a washed-out Puerto Rican gang leader.
Is he doing that?
No . [She laughs.] He's not.
What's the message you want the movie to deliver?
If there's one part of the movie that's a larger idea, it's that you don't have to be alone. There are no easy answers to the place where Walter finds himself, but the first step to getting out of that is recognizing you're not alone.
So you'll be keeping the movie off video-on-demand, so people don't have to watch it by themselves?
Oooh, I don't know about that one. One thing you have to do alone is watch movies, I guess.