Oscar Profile #537: Jodie Foster

Born November 19, 1962 in Los Angeles, California to Evelyn and Lucius Foster III, Alicia Christian (Jodie) Foster was the couple’s fourth child. Foster’s parents divorced before she was born, and she never established a relationship with her father who also had three children from an earlier marriage.

Foster began her career in a TV commercial for Coppertone in 1965 just after turning 3, having been chosen at an audition for which her mother had expected her older brother Buddy to be chosen. She was then cast in other commercials leading to acting assignments on TV from 1968 on. In 1973, she made a major impression as Becky Thatcher in the big screen musical version of Tom Sawyer and in 1974, she had the Tatum O’Neal role in the short-lived TV spin-off of Paper Moon.

Late in 1974, Foster received excellent notices for her performance in support of Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. By 1976, she was a major star with standout roles in four films: Taxi Driver opposite Robert De Niro for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, The Little Girl Who Lives down the Lane opposite Martin Sheen, Bugsy Malone opposite Scott Baio, and Freaky Friday opposite Barbara Harris. 1977’s Candleshoe opposite Helen Hayes and David Niven was her last film until she turned 18 in 1980 when she starred in both Foxes and Carny.

Foster became a full-time student at Yale in 1980, while continuing to make films during her summer vacations. She did not have another hit until 1988’s The Accused, which brought her back to the limelight, earning her an Oscar for efforts.

In 1991, Foster starred in The Silence of the Lambs for which she won a second Oscar, and directed her first film, Little Man Tate in which she also starred. She was in a relationship with partner Cydney Bernard with whom she raised two children beginning in 1993. She had starring roles in 1993’s Sommersby and 1994’s Maverick and Nell, receiving a fourth Oscar nomination for the latter. In 1995, she directed her second film, Home for the Holidays but did not play an on-screen role in it.

Foster’s films became fewer and further apart beginning with 1996’s Contact and 1997’s Anna and the King, her first films since Nell. She acted sporadically in the first decade of the new century in which her films included 2002’s Panic Room, 2005’s Flightplan, and 2007’s The Brave One. She split from Bernard in 2008.

In 2011, Foster directed her third film, The Beaver in which she starred opposite Mel Gibson. In 2014, she married her partner Alexandra Hedison. In 2016, she directed her fourth and final film to date, Money Monster starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Back on screen, Foster is nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in 2021’s The Mauritanian proving that she’s still a major screen presence at 58.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

TAXI DRIVER (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese

Scorsese’s powerful film still sizzles thanks to Paul Schrader’s superb screenplay, Scorsese’s knowing direction and the performances of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Foster. Only twelve at the time of filming, Foster’s eight years older sister Connie handled the film’s more explicit scenes as the child prostitute that De Niro’s taxi driver wants to liberate from her pimp (Keitel). Schrader had written the title role for Jeff Bridges, and Scorsese originally offered the lead role to Dustin Hoffman before De Niro was chosen, but Foster was the only one they wanted for her first Oscar nominated role.

THE ACCUSED (1988), directed by Jonathan Kaplan

Kelly McGillis had been offered the role of the rape victim in this based-on-fact film about a real-life case, but having been the victim of a rape herself, she didn’t want to have to live through the horror all over again and opted to play the prosecutor instead. McGillis fought for Foster to be given the role of the victim, her first film of consequence in eight years. It was a major comeback for the former child star who was in a three-way tie for Best Actress-Drama at the Golden Globes with Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist and Shirley MacLaine in Madame Sousatzka. The Oscar, though, was all hers.

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), directed by Jonathan Demme

Michelle Pfeiffer was director Demme’s first choice to play the fledgling FBI agent Foster plays in this, the first and only horror movie to date, to win a Best Picture Oscar. Foster campaigned for the role after Pfeiffer withdrew when the producers refused to meet her salary demands. Although the scenes that most people remember are those between Foster’s Clarice and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal, they only have four scenes together in the entire film. Part of Foster’s deal in making the film that brought her a second Oscar was Orion agreeing to allow her to direct her own film, Little Man Tate, which was released later that year.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995), directed by Jodie Foster

A dysfunctional family getting together for Thanksgiving was the basis for Foster’s second film as director. Holly Hunter has the central role, one that Foster herself might have played. She is supported by Robert Downey, Jr. as her drug-addict gay brother, Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning as her parents, Clare Danes as her daughter, Steve Guttenberg as her brother-in-law, Geraldine Chaplin as her flaky aunt, and Dylan McDermott as Downey’s friend who may or may not be gay. People tend to either love or hate this film on first viewing, but even those who hate it, grow to love it over time.

THE MAURITANIAN (2021), directed by Kevin Macdonald

Foster is nominated for both a Golden Globe and AARP Movies for Grownups award for her portrayal of real-life attorney Nancy Hollander who takes up the case of Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Salahi, held for years in Guantanamo Bay without being charged, vowing to sue U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Tahar Rahim is also nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Slahi, while Shailene Woodley, Zahary Levi, and Benedict Cumberbatch are also receiving kudos for their performances. McDonald’s film opened in early February 2021during the Oscar eligibility period of 202o extended due to the ongoing pandemic.

JODIE FOSTER AND OSCAR

  • Taxi Driver (1976) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress
  • The Accused (1988) – Oscar – Best Actress
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Oscar – Best Actress
  • Nell (1994) – nominated – Best Actress

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