We don’t see much of Jodie Foster these days. Maybe it’s too much to claim that’s by design, but if you look at the massive amount of movies and television Foster has done in her career, she makes it clear she’s, let’s say, picky about how she chooses to spend her time. In other words, at this point in her career (which includes two Academy Awards), she’s not someone who is going to do a movie just for the sake of doing a movie. And that shows, since in the last eight years, going back to 2013’s Elysium, we’ve only seen her in three films.
Foster is back in Kevin Macdonald’s The Mauritanian, a harrowing true story about Mohamedou Ould Salahi (played by Tahar Rahim), who was arrested without charges and kept at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years. Foster plays Nancy Hollander, Salahi’s attorney who, herself, doesn’t always believe in his innocence.
Ahead, we talk to Foster about why this role intrigued her enough to make a movie. Also, we asked her about her directorial debut, an episode of Tales From the Darkside. Foster also tells us if she is going to watch the new CBS show about the character she made famous, Clarice. And she tells us, maybe, why we are still waiting for that illusive Panic Room Blu-ray (to this day Panic Room has only had a DVD release) of David Fincher’s 2002 thriller.
You were in one of the first four or five movies I ever saw, Freaky Friday…
Anytime it’s on cable it’s always the Jamie Lee Curtis version.
I don’t think I’ve seen it in about 40 years, so I’m not even sure what happens in the movie.
This is only your third movie in the last eight years, since Elysium. Why don’t you do more movies? Selfishly, I always want to see you in more.
Well, I did slow down. I made a lot of movies when I was young, and after 55 years in the film business, I think that I get to slow down if I want to and I really just take movies that move me. And as you get older, you’ll see, the things that obsess you and interest you suddenly become fewer and far between. So, the good news is, that when you do see that I’m in a movie, I think it’s always worth seeing the film because there will be an interesting discussion that happens around the movie. It doesn’t mean the movie will be great, but it does mean that they’ll at least be an interesting discussion around them. I’m not one of those people who just wants to work all the time and not have a life and just wants to act, and do anything — it doesn’t matter what the film is and how silly it might be. That’s just not my personality. I like to really focus on something and give everything.
Well, that’s why I say, “selfishly.” But if I’m in your situation I’d only do things that made me happy.
Well, this does make me happy. It’s an extraordinary movie, an extraordinary story. Mohamedou’s story, especially, is amazing.
How much did you know about this story?
I vaguely knew that Guantanamo was there and there were detainees there, and I knew that Obama wanted to close it, but I just didn’t know anything about the subject. And, so, I was really blown away when I read it.
Speaking of Obama, he said on Colbert recently his biggest regret was not closing Guantanamo, but this movie tells us his administration still wouldn’t release Mohamedou.
Now, look, he may have wanted to close Guantanamo Bay, but the judges said that he needed to release Mohamedou, and they kept him anyway for another five years.
It’s just a surprising moment. Because all we heard is how he wanted to close it. How do you square that?
But, look, 9/11 is a very complicated thing that happened to us. And we will be living with ramifications of that for the rest of our history. The generations will live with that. And it probably takes 20 years past it in order to be able to even go back and take a look at what we did and why it happened. What the film says, 9/11 was this moment of fear and terror. And the American government took those emotions and used that as an opportunity to throw the rule of law out the window. And the Constitution out the window. And to go against their laws, and their foundations, and everything that we believed in, in democracy, so that they could seek revenge. And maybe, and also, so that they could make sure they didn’t have a second attack because that’s really what they were worried about. And that’s understandable. It’s all very human, but people’s lives were lost. And Mohamedou suffered because of that. And his story is worth telling.
Did you see Mohamedou wrote an open letter to Biden to close Guantanamo?
Did he? Oh, good. I love that.
You thread a needle with this performance because for a good portion of the movie your character doesn’t fully believe his story.
Look, there was circumstantial evidence that pointed towards Mohamedou. Very circumstantial evidence that, had the military prosecutors spent the 15 minutes that the HCLU spent debunking them, they would have understood that they were totally debunked. But because the suspicions were high, because we were afraid, because we thought every Muslim was a terrorist, and because we had that kind of Islamophobic that was part of our white supremacy system, we couldn’t see past it. Now, look, Nancy will tell you, one of the first things she’ll say to you, that she’s very proud of is, “Look, I don’t care whether my clients are guilty or innocent. In fact, it’s easier for me, if they’re guilty.” If you have a mission, your mission is to uphold the Constitution and to challenge the government, to defend everybody. You’re going to defend a lot of guilty people and that’s hard. That took a toll on her. So, I really wanted to show that. I wanted to show that she was a damaged person, in some ways, and that it was very difficult for her to open to him, and to love him, and to care about him. But she did. And they are like mother and son, the two of them.
Is that aspect what jumped out at you? Why you chose this film?
I like big ideas that are really provocative, have provocative conversations, and that are emotionally touching. And I like to get obsessed by them. I like to talk about them, and think about them, and work through them. And to me, that’s a real gift. And that’s what gets me in front of the cameras. That’s why I do it.
I’ve been thinking about the last movie you directed, Money Monster, because of the GameStop situation.
Yeah! People are calling me, asking me to explain hedges to them. How does a hedge work?
It’s about someone manipulating a stock price. You were ahead of your time on that one.
Well, I don’t know if I was ahead of my time. Because, also, it was right before the election, and I came out right before the election. That character saying, “Look, it’s all rigged. It’s all rigged against us. And it’s a fixed system.” And all that was that populist movement of people saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And that’s certainly was what the story of the zeitgeist happening at the time.
I also think it came out right before a lot of movies like that, with big movie stars and aren’t part of a franchise, started movie to streaming. George Clooney didn’t star in another movie until Midnight Sky just recently on Netflix.
It’s very easy to look back and go, what could we have done better? As a director, you do that all the time. There were a lot of choices that I made that I’m not sure I would make now.
There was a different way to go. That movie is about a TV show.
So, it would have been very easy to make it an event on streaming because it is about live television. So, it would have been natural if we wanted to go that route, but we didn’t.
I have a deep cut for you, because I went back and watched your first directorial effort…
I liked it. You don’t like it?
Well, I just came in because my friend, Bob Balaban, really directed it. And he said, “Listen, I know that you want to direct, and I’d love for you to come be a co-director. You’re not DGA (Directors Guild of America), so that helps us. You can be a co-director and not DGA. We do this as a team, and you’ll be able to participate in everything, the edit and all that.” And it was really helpful. It was really helpful to me, as a director.
What’s billed as someone’s first time directing, and you’re around 25 and directing Eileen Heckart, an Oscar-winner. That sounds intimidating.
It wasn’t intimidating. It was really fun. And yeah, when you’ve been working for such a long time, you get scared of the idea of directing, and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have so much to learn.” But then, you realize that you’ve gone to the best film school in the world. And in fact, actually, sometimes, you have to lose some of your preconceptions from all the experience that you’ve had. You have to go, no, it doesn’t have to cut that way. Or you don’t have to have it over shoulder at this point. Or, sometimes, you have to lose some of your education.
Are you going to watch Clarice?
I probably…. I don’t know. I’m really happy that Clarice has a whole new life. That character keeps coming to life over and over again. It’s a testament to the original book by Thomas Harris. Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, they’re really wonderful texts, and he’s an incredible writer. So, I’m glad that she continues to have a life moving forward.
So you’re flipping through channels, and there it is. And it’s like, oh, okay, I’ll give this a shot. Is that how you feel about it?
I guess. I’m always going to be partial to our movie.
Well, yes. I imagine so.
Like, it was this something to aspire to, and it has been 30 years since Silence of the Lambs. So, yeah, it’s time for it to evolve, I guess.
I have no idea if you’d know anything about this, but when is Panic Room finally going to get a Blu-ray or 4K? It’s never even been on Blu-ray…
Yeah, it’s kind of infamous for never having a Blu-ray release. That and True Lies are always the first two mentioned.
I don’t know, but I have a feeling that David Fincher has something to do with that because he really cares about all that stuff. There must be a reason.
That seems to be people’s guess. But I didn’t know if you ever ran into him and said, “Hey, when’s this Blu-ray coming?”
The only thing that, maybe, may have something to do with it is we shot that movie in the dark. We didn’t have to. We could have shot it in a little bit lighter circumstances, and then brought the lighting down in the lab. But Fincher was adamant that we basically shoot the movie in the dark. So, I’m not sure what happens and if it holds up.
Oh, that’s interesting.
That may have something to do with it, because of the blacks in the film.
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