This week sees the premiere of The Beaver, Jodie Foster's third directorial effort and Mel Gibson's first role since we were all apprised of his peculiar phone demeanor. I spoke with Foster about the film at the Ritz Carlton. She was wearing all black and carrying a subtle Chanel pocketbook, and she seemed eager to defend her co-star and friend.
YOU'VE MADE A FILM ABOUT DEPRESSION, A TOPIC TYPICALLY RESERVED FOR LITERATURE. EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE BECAUSE OF HIS NEW BOOK AND BECAUSE HE COMMITTED SUICIDE.
I xeroxed his [2005 Kenyon College] commencement speech and gave it to everybody on the film. I think it's incredibly moving and a great piece of writing, but also incredibly humble — so humble and hopeful. I think that's the spirit I was looking for in the film. You can have a drama that's about a bummer subject and have it not be a bummer. I feel like discussing depression is incredibly uplifting.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FORGE AHEAD ON A SUBJECT THAT HASN'T BEEN DONE SO MUCH?
I like making movies that are original, and this has a really original voice to it. Whether you like it or not, I think you can say that you haven't seen a movie like it. I think its greatest strength is Mel's performance. I think it's incredibly delicate and, at the same time, very funny and touching and deep. I feel like he never missed a beat, even though the film is quirky and the tone is jarring.
HOW DOES OUR APPREHENSION OF A STAR AFFECT THE WAY WE WATCH A MOVIE?
I don't know. That's a really good question for people who see it. Can you see a movie and compartmentalize out what you know about the public mistakes in the private life of a star?
It's hard for me to be objective, because I know Mel Gibson really well and nobody else does. The man that I know is kind and funny and always on time and professional and thoughtful and incredibly deep and provocative and complex. This is somebody who, from the minute I first met him, I said, "This is somebody I'm going to love for the rest of my life." I really feel that way.
When you care about somebody and they're struggling, you don't run away from them. If anything, you stick by them. That's the message of the movie, as well. I can't expect audiences to know him the way I know him, but I think that, through this character, they can emphasize with a man who's struggling. That's what Mel brings to the table that others don't.
DID YOU FEEL YOU WERE DIRECTING MEL AT ALL TIMES, OR THE PUPPET?
I always felt it was Mel, and I wanted the audience to feel that way from the beginning. I wanted them to remember that it's Mel's story behind it. It's his pain. That's why we have that incredible depth of field, so I can keep this guy in focus and keep this other guy out of focus, and vice versa.