LIFE THROUGH A LENS: JODIE FOSTER FOR
She’s back — or she never went away. Whichever you prefer, Jodie Foster, one of the most influential women in Hollywood, is seeing things from a new perspective. The star of Nyad and True Detective tells STEPHEN WOOD why she feels like a ‘whole pin has been taken out’ of her spinal column.
It is November, 1976. The final Sunday of the month. Carter has just beaten Ford, the Founding Fathers have just turned 200, and Jodie Foster, who is nine days past her 14th birthday, walks into Hotel Pierre on New York’s Upper East Side. It is cloudy and mild, but dry; Jodie is wearing blue jeans, black boots, a tweed blazer and a newsboy cap. She is there to have lunch with Andy Warhol, though not just to have lunch: Warhol wants to feature her on the cover of his magazine, Interview. The resulting story — presented in Interview’s signature style, a near-verbatim transcript of their conversation — is, like all great magazine moments, an antique. Warhol plays Warhol: affected but intimate. He invites Jodie, who is 14, to order a Bloody Mary. He asks her when she’s going to marry. And he’s bowled over when Jodie, who is 14, speaks fluently in French to a passing acquaintance of his. (“I think you’re really something,” he tells her.) Foster is the ingénue, though she is not naive or unsophisticated. Far from it: she displays a fierce mixture of intelligence, self-possession and finely honed teenaged haughtiness. When her mother, Brandy, who is her chaperone, leaves the restaurant and asks her daughter whether she should return, Jodie’s response is withering: “I don’t care.”
In November ’76, Jodie’s life is changing almost as quickly as she talks. Hours earlier, she’d hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time (becoming the youngest person to have done so), and that year she has five feature films in theatres — five! She is an ingénue and a grafter. One of the five is Taxi Driver, in which she plays the child prostitute Iris Steensma. In a few weeks’ time she’ll receive her first Oscar nomination, for her performance opposite De Niro. She is the child star hoping for acceptance as an actor, and she has it all in front of her. But she doesn’t know what on earth that will constitute, and she is anxious and insecure and already under pressure to conform — to Warhol, the culture, her mother’s expectations. Five decades later, when she reflects on what has transpired — the long reel of movie legend she’s created, the awards, the exposure, the prurience, the fear, the loneliness, and beyond, to an almost mystical ‘other side’ she didn’t even know existed — she will come to regard those teenage years as the most difficult of her life. But at lunch in New York that Sunday, she cares about ‘it’ more than anything, and so she leans in as best she can. Never, she tells Warhol. She hopes never to marry. “It’s got to be boring — having to share a bathroom with someone.”
Christmas, 2023. When Foster appears on The Rake’s Zoom screen from her home in Los Angeles, the picture could not be more ordinary. Her office walls are cream, bare and a little drab (“I’m going to open up the light,” she says, pulling back some curtains), and Foster is dressed in a loose, striped T-shirt and metal-rimmed glasses. She wears no make-up and has wet, unstyled hair, which she’s happy to scrape and sweep into various patterns. This is a glimpse of Jodie Foster in private: unadorned, unfussy, and largely unconcerned. “I just need this,” she explains, holding out her hands like a robot receiving an imaginary box. “I just need, like, three feet by 10 feet. And I need a good light. I’m super-easygoing. I mean, I’m crazy, of course. Who wouldn’t be? But yeah, I don’t need a lot from people. I’m super-easygoing.” She considers this anew and adds: “To a fault, actually. I’ve had to work on that.”
By the sounds of it, Foster, 61, has been doing a lot of ‘working on’ things. She’s certainly been doing a lot of looking back (and not just to oblige magazine writers). It is the effect, she suggests, of chalking up another milestone — sixty — and of the inevitabilities, welcome or otherwise, that come with ageing. What she has been granted in return are revelations and re-evaluations, some of which she will talk about this morning. What we — viewers; the media; outsiders — have been granted is evidence of a new candour and confidence in her public persona. Foster was the victim of stalking when she was young — worse, she was dragged through no fault of her own into the story of an attempted presidential assassination — and at the turn of the century she was called upon not only to state her sexual identity, as if for the record, but to act as a representative. It is hardly surprising that she would sympathise with Marlon Brando’s old axiom — that privacy was not something he was merely entitled to, it was a pre-requisite — and so this newfound candour and confidence, Foster at 61, has become a noteworthy moment. (Cf. In January this year she tells W magazine she’s a Scorpio, and adds, “Scorpios are strong, hypersexualised. They are attackers, and they’re quite the fighters. They can be vindictive. That’s me!” You’d not have caught fiftysomething Foster freewheeling like that.)
Given that she appeared in only two films between 2014 and 2023, and directed one other feature, it felt as though she’d slipped off the Hollywood stage — “the fifties sucked, too,” she clarifies. So here we are, suddenly spoilt by a couple of major projects in quick succession: Nyad, the Netflix movie in which Foster plays coach and best friend to the ocean swimmer Diana Nyad, and True Detective: Night Country, the return of the supernatural-crime-noir series in which Foster cusses and scowls her way through an investigation into the deaths of several research scientists during a gory Alaskan winter. The Irish Times wondered if we might be in a ‘Foster- naissance’. Do we call it a comeback? “You can call it anything you like,” Foster says. She glosses over it, though recently she also tells CBS in America: “I didn’t think I’d come back at this level, or I didn’t think I’d come back to acting as often as I have now.”
Either way, there is an irresistible narrative at work, one that connects her to the teenaged Jodie. Her performance as Bonnie Stoll, in Nyad, has earned her the fifth Oscar nomination of her career and, with it, a distinction for the ages: it has been 47 years since her original Academy Award nomination, leaving her behind only Katharine Hepburn (48 years) for the longest timespan between first and last acting nods from the Academy. Now Foster becomes animated. “Oh, really,” she says. “That’s cool, I like that statistic. Look, I worked in the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties”— she uses her fingers to check off each decade — “the noughts, the tens and the twenties… That’s amazing, all those different eras.”
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The Rake’s Women’s Issue comes but once a year, though like Christmas it has been in our diary for several years now. The great thing is that again we have had no shortage of women about whom we have been able to wax lyrical. At the centre of it is our feature on women in design, compiled and written by Fiona McCarthy, who has no equal in this particular subject matter. Fiona has chosen to highlight women from different areas of design (for example, jewellery, interior design and board games), and we hope it portrays the breadth and depth of talent that women bring to their métier.
Elsewhere, we kick off proceedings with profiles of two different but distinctly rakish women. Ava Gardner and Diana Vreeland were both trailblazers in their own right, with one reinventing the idea of the Hollywood screen idol, and the other transforming the use of fashion and design in the media.
Our regular columnists are back with their various escapades, and we are also delighted to have interviewed Jeremy King, the legendary restaurateur whose unceremonious removal from his restaurant empire (by what Stephen Fry called the “greedy, soulless and mean”) left London pining for him for some time. But King has emerged from the ashes to tell the writer Stuart Husband about his trio of new establishments soon to open in the capital.
We hope this issue helps get the year off to a good start for you. It is an Olympic year and a year of important elections, and, as a result, a year with the potential for fear and doubt. Open these pages and let the positivity and the light emerge.
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