‘Beaver’ directing-acting gig helps Jodie Foster support Mel Gibson
BY BILL ZWECKER Columnistfirstname.lastname@example.org May 3, 2011 6:32PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Jodie Foster has unflagging loyalty to Mel Gibson, the star of her new film, “The Beaver,” and she’s completely unapologetic about it.
Foster — who both directed the movie and co-stars as Gibson’s wife — didn’t shy away from discussing the controversies surrounding her fellow Oscar winner’s personal problems, stemming from the very public collapse of his relationship with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva.
“He has his troubles,” Foster said during an interview in Chicago. “But, that said, when you love somebody and they are struggling, you don’t run away from them — you run toward them.”
Foster believes that it has been Gibson’s “understanding of struggles that come at you in life that allowed him to deliver the level of performance he delivered in ‘The Beaver,’ ” which opens Friday.
In recent years Gibson has been accused several times of making bigoted remarks, from anti-Semitic slurs during his 2006 DUI arrest to the n-word in secretly recorded arguments with Grigorieva, who claimed he abused her.
“That’s not who I know,” Foster said. “The man I know is the man I love and who everyone I know who’s worked with Mel loves. He’s the most beloved actor I’ve ever worked with — and there’s a reason for it.
“He’s funny and bright and comes to work prepared, and he’s loyal, too. He’s a good person. Period.”
Foster said “The Beaver” follows a pattern she established with the films she directed: “Little Man Tate” (1991) and “Home for the Holidays” (1995).
Along with being about “family dynamics — how families interact, something I’ve been fascinated with since I was 4 or 5,” Foster said, “The Beaver” touches on an important theme she believes she will address in any future films she directs: spiritual crises.
“ ‘Little Man Tate’ was about a 7-year-old boy in spirtual crisis,” she said. “This movie is about someone also having a significant spiritual crisis — just at a much later point in his life.”
“The Beaver” begins with toy manufacturer Walter Black (Gibson) plunged into the deepest of depressions — for seemingly inexplicable reasons. He runs a successful business, has a happy marriage and is the father of two terrific sons.
Yet, he is virtually paralyzed by his feelings.
Foster stressed that it is important to understand the distinction between true chemical depression like Walter’s and other experiences of deep sadness — the type we all suffer from at different points in our lives.
In Walter’s case, he discovers the only way he can pull himself out of what seems like a bottomless pit is talking through a hand puppet in the shape of a furry little beaver.
“One thing is a bit tricky about this film and how audiences might perceive it before they see it,” Foster said. “You see the man with the cute little fuzzy puppet and you think it’s going to be a comedy — and it’s the exact opposite.”
It’s all about Walter’s struggle to pull himself out of his depression before it destroys him and his marriage, a story that’s “not for everyone,” Foster said. “It is quirky and has an odd tone to it that is very challenging for the audience.”
But “The Beaver” has its funny moments.
“Watching Mel — who became quite the puppeteer, by the way — can make you laugh, especially when you see how he forces everyone to talk to the puppet, as if it’s real,” said the actress and director with a deep chuckle.
“He actually got so good at it — and he did it all with his left hand, because he needed his right hand to comb his hair or open doors or do all the other things right-handed people naturally have to do,” she added.
Walter ends up a media celebrity after creating a hot-selling woodworking child’s toy kit — inspired by the rebuilding of his relationship with his younger son via woodworking.
“That media tour he goes on also takes a shot at the train wreck approach to so much we see in the media today — especially reality television or in news stories that play on people’s deep misfortune,” said Foster, who made a point of saying she’s no fan of reality TV.
“It’s just not my thing,” she said. “I have no interest in watching it, mainly because I believe it is entirely staged. I’m not really interested in seeing people being self-conscious on screen.”
Alluding to her obsessed fan John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and the pain she experienced from the intense scrutiny that followed, Foster said, “It’s such a sore spot for me. I spent so much of my life not wanting to be a reality show. It’s odd for me to see people who want to embrace that so much and run toward that, when I have always been running as fast as I can away from it!”
Asked why she felt it important to both direct and act in “The Beaver,” Foster smiled.
“I said I would never act and direct again. I don’t know what happened! … It wasn’t so much Meredith was a character I wanted to play as I saw it as a chance to support Mel’s performance by properly providing the perspective of the audience — the person on the outside looking in on this strange saga.
“After all, the guy with the puppet on his hand is too crazy — he can’t be the perspective of the audience. You need someone who goes on this journey with him. That means going from initial disbelief to temporary happiness, thinking the puppet has solved their problems, to souring on the strangeness of it all, to finally arriving at a place where true peace is achieved.”
Again stressing that “The Beaver” will not appeal to everyone, Foster concluded by saying, “It’s a disquieting movie. … I love movies like that. I love the double-entendre of the title and its irreverence, and I hope it will attract the kind of people who are attracted to things that are irreverent.”