It's been five years since Jodie Foster starred in a movie — "Elysium," opposite Matt Damon — which seems a long time for a two-time Oscar winner and four-time nominee who at 55 is a contemporary of such leading ladies as Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. Then again, she's been acting since age 3, and who wouldn't need a break?
As well, Foster has been busy helping to raise sons Charles, 19, and Kit, 16, with former partner Cydney Bernard; getting married, to photographer-actress Alexandra Hedison in 2014; and as an Emmy-nominated director for such series as "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black" and "Black Mirror.” In the interim she also directed her fourth feature, the George Clooney-Julia Roberts crime drama "Money Monster" (2016).
Her welcome return to acting comes in a modest sci-fi movie, "Hotel Artemis," which opens Friday, June 8. As a nurse who patches up wounded criminals in a secret, neutral-ground facility in a riot-wracked near-future Los Angeles, Foster plays a quirky, emotionally rich character amid a cast that includes Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day and Dave Bautista. She spoke with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
That's some cast for a first-time feature director [Drew Pearce, co-writer of "Iron Man 3" and "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation," who also wrote this film].
It's really the script. He didn't track me down — I tracked him down. I'd read the script through mysterious circumstances — it hadn't even been out there yet; he had just delivered a draft to his producer — and I said, "I want to play it." And those things kind of engender each other: You get one cast member and then you get the next one and the next one and the script evolves a lot from the first draft on.
I'm guessing you were that first cast member.
Yes.…You know, it's such an unusual movie. I'm really proud of it. First-time director, you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes people seem like they know what they're doing but then they get there and just sit in a chair. And sometimes you get the opposite. Drew had such a strong vision from the beginning and the cast was really his thing, his baby. He ran out there and he struggled to get them and tracked them down and he was very clear about who was right for the film.
You're at a point where you can pick and choose roles. Why has it been five years?
I've been directing a lot and it was a concerted effort to say, "I'm really at the moment when I'm at the peak of directing and I made the commitment to focus on that for a while.” I was really looking for something that was a transformation — I didn't want to do the same old thing I'd done before. And honestly, it sounds kind of bratty, but there's something wonderful about having worked for so long that you can say to yourself, "I just want to act if I really love it." I don't know where it's going to take me — it could be a tiny little part in an indie movie, or a movie on an iPhone, or it could be something else. I have no idea.
In "Taxi Driver" (1976), you created one of the most indelible characters in American cinema with 13-year-old prostitute Iris, which got you your first Academy Award nomination. What was it like, filming in New York in the 1970s?
You know, I'm just honored that I was able to be part of that time. The '70s really were the golden age of cinema. …Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese were so excited and so young. And the streets of New York were so vibrant and dirty and fabulous. I have a lot of fondness for that time, and I feel like I just fell into it. I just got really lucky.
While you were shooting on location on the streets of New York, did anyone, not realizing it was a movie, come up to you thinking you really were a prostitute?
No [laughs]. I was pretty well surrounded. But I have to say, I was in tears [over the costume] because I went to a uniformed school and I'd never seen hot pants before, let alone had to wear them. And those big platform shoes and that halter top. … I was mortified, completely mortified by what I had to wear. I remember going to the costume fitting with my mother and crying a little bit. And she was like, "You'll just take it right off as soon as you finish work."
Another indelible character: Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991) [which netted her a second Oscar, after 1988's "The Accused" ]. Michelle Pfeiffer was [director] Jonathan Demme's first choice, and turned it down.
If I look back at the most important films I've made, every one of them starts with, "I had to bang down the door in order to get that part." I don't think that's an accident, because if you love it that much you have something to bring to it that you're not even aware you're going to bring to it. … I had tracked down [the Thomas Harris novel] and wanted to produce it [as a film], but found out it was already owned by somebody, so I found them and tracked [the studio] Orion down and said, "Please let me play the part."