TORONTO – Jodie Foster is a friend, indeed. Ask the controversial Mel Gibson, who’s lucky enough to count Foster among his loyal supporters.
She proved her devotion by hiring Gibson to star in The Beaver, which opens in Toronto May 6 and May 20 in Montreal and Vancouver. The film also has a high-profile splash in mid-May at the Cannes Film Festival as an unofficial entry.
In Toronto promoting The Beaver on Thursday, Foster was unwavering in her Gibson endorsement, which underscores an enduring friendship that dates back to 1994, when they co-starred in the movie remake of the TV series, Maverick.
Gibson has been persona non grata in Hollywood after shouting slurs at the arresting cop during a 2006 drunk-driving incident in Malibu.
Last year, weeks after The Beaver wrapped, an audio tape captured him uttering expletive-laden threats directed at his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva during a custody battle for their child.
Last month, he pleaded no contest to a charge of hitting Grigorieva. He was sentenced to three years probation, a year of counselling and community service.
The anti-Gibson sentiment is so strong that The Hangover Part II director Todd Phillips had to withdraw a Gibson invitation to do a cameo in the comedy, after the cast and crew objected last fall. The Beaver’s release was also delayed for months.
“I do care what people think, but I can’t make decisions that way,” said the 48-year-old Foster of casting Gibson.
The night before, she dutifully answered more diplomatic questions from the audience after screening the movie at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox Theatre.
It’s all part of her global promotional tour, which she confirmed would include Gibson at Cannes.
“I think he is (attending),” she said. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
In the meantime, Foster agreed she’s doing her best to stay positive about her third directorial effort.
Written by screenwriter Kyle Killen, the movie also co-stars Foster. She plays the harried wife trying to cope with her bipolar husband (Gibson), a toy-company owner on the verge of a breakdown.
To deal with his decline, Gibson’s suicidal executive decides to wear a beaver hand puppet that allows him to communicate better. The device may or may not help, as he slips into his own world.
Co-starring is Anton Yelchin (Chekov in 2009′s Star Trek) as the son, who’s in turmoil over his father’s dysfunctional behaviour. Jennifer Lawrence, a recent best-actress Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone, plays the son’s girlfriend.
Despite the strong supporting players, including an effective Foster, The Beaver is a showcase for Gibson, emphasizing a vulnerability that’s in sharp contrast to his boldness as Scottish warrior William Wallace in 1996′s Oscar-honoured Braveheart, and his brazen rogue cop Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series.
So the movie faces a challenge on two fronts. The first is the Gibson factor.
Foster insisted he was a perfect fit for the part, and acknowledged that the actor was quick to say ‘yes’ because he could see the parallels in his life. “He saw the recognition of a broken man who wants to change.”
Still, there is the backlash from past events.
“I don’t know if anybody can get past those headlines, and the baggage of celebrity culture,” said Foster.
The second challenge is the tragicomic theme of the film, a delicate balancing act for the director and the actors. “It’s hard to make a movie about depression that isn’t depressing,” she agreed.
Yet her lament during filming was, “Please play the drama; do not play the comedy.”
Further adjustments were made during post-production editing to refine the intent.
“It took a lot of work in post,” the director said of combining “the light moments and dark moments” so they would blend.
Either way, The Beaver is a very different from the broad comedy Steve Carell was going to make before he dropped out of the project a few years ago.
As it is, Foster said she’s proud of her finished product.
The Academy Award-winning Foster has two previous directorial efforts under her belt: the independent Little Man Tate in 1991, and the more mainstream 1995 studio film, Home for the Holidays.
She first earned recognition for her Academy Award-nominated performance as the child prostitute in Taxi Driver.
Unlike many of her child-actor contemporaries, Foster made the transition into adulthood with some mesmerizing performances.
She earned her first best-actress Oscar for her portrayal of the rape victim in 1988′s The Accused. Four years later, she picked up another statue for her FBI trainee on the trail of a serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs.
Since then, she’s been involved in more than 20 assorted films. Some were hits, such as 1994′s comedy remake, Maverick, 2002′s thriller, Panic Room, and 2006′s heist flick, Inside Man. Some weren’t – 1999′s historical romance, Anna and the King, 2007′s revenge drama, The Brave One and the 2008 fable, Nim’s Island.
Over the last few years, she’s slowed her hectic pace.
“After 45 years, I don’t know if I’ve stepped away from it (acting),” said the mother of Charles, 12, and Christopher, 9. “But I am in a different place in my life.”
What hasn’t changed? She still stands by Gibson, despite their differences.
“We really get each other,” Foster said, “and my friends don’t have to be like me.”
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