FLIGHTPLAN - Q&A with Jodie Foster
The incredible bond between a mother and child is at the very heart of FLIGHTPLAN, says Jodie Foster. When that relationship is threatened there are hidden reserves of strength and resolve which can be drawn upon. "I think that's it in essence," says Foster. "And I do find that interesting. It's hard to explain to people the weird lack of differentiation that you have with your children where you sort of don't know where you start and they end."
Foster, a mother of two boys herself, plays Kyle Pratt a grieving wife who is returning home to the United States with her young daughter, after a terrible accident has robbed them of a husband and father. Then the unthinkable happens. After a brief sleep, Kyle wakes to discover that her daughter is no longer in the seat beside her. Assuming at first that the youngster has gone to explore the plane, or has met and is playing with other children, she casually wanders through the huge aircraft trying to find her.
Then panic begins to set in. There's no sign of Julia (played by Marlene Lawston) and what's worse, no one even remembers seeing her get on the plane. A nightmarish thriller, directed by Robert Schwentke, FLIGHTPLAN plays on the terrible fear of every parent - losing a child. "It's primal," says Foster simply.
FLIGHTPLAN marks a welcome return to the screen for Foster. These days, she devotes much of her time to raising her boys, Charles, six and his three year old brother, Kit, and admits it takes a powerful compelling script to tempt her back to work. "You know, I worked for years and years and there were even a lot of times when I did three movies in a year and I don't need to do that anymore," she explains. "And I get such a very specific pleasure from working on a film - it really is about the production and going and doing it - but if I do it too often I really resent that it takes me away from my real life."
FLIGHTPLAN was such a project. With a strong supporting cast - including Peter Sarsgaard as a US air marshal and Sean Bean as Capt Rich - Foster clearly enjoyed herself. "I really did," she says with a smile. "Great people. Peter and Sean are such lovely guys and Robert is a director I like and admire. It was hard work but it was fun, too."
Ms Foster has been acting since she was a toddler - she was just two years old when she made her first commercial for a sun tan lotion. She has starred in some of modern cinema's finest films - as a 12 year old playing a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese's ground breaking TAXI DRIVER and later, winning an Oscar for her searing performance as a rape victim in THE ACCUSED and a second Academy Award for her wonderful portrayal of FBI agent Clarice Starling in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. She has also proved to be a talented director with LITTLE MAN TATE and HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. Ms Foster lives in Los Angeles, where she was born and grew up.
Does being a mother yourself help with a role like this?
Well I did make a lot of movies where I played mums before I had kids, so clearly it is something that I think about. I must have been drawn to them before I had children, probably because I had such a close relationship with my mother and that was an important part of my life. But it's hard to explain to people the weird lack of differentiation that you have with your children when you sort of don't know where you start and they end. You may even be desensitised to feelings for yourself but the amount of empathy you have for your children is almost completely blinding. It's a funny thing and it's hard to explain.
Did it happen to you? Did you ever lose sight of your boys or did your mother ever lose you?
Oh sure, we were four kids, we got lost all the time from my mum and I remember that horrible panic of just turning around and then not knowing what to do and crying. And if you ever watch your children go through that it is just the most horrible thing, because you just project all those terrible feelings that you have when you are a kid. Yeah, I have lost my older one for less than a minute. He was probably two and a half or something at the time and I could see him through this crowd, I could see his hair, you know a kid with blond hair through this crowd, but I couldn't get to him. There were so many people in front of me and I was trying to get to him through this sea of people who were just spinning around and he was like crying 'mummy!' and crying and it was just horrible, horrible. Hopefully he'll never remember that.
It's a theme - a parent and child in distress - that you've worked with before in PANIC ROOM...
Right, it must be something that works on me, it must be something I think about. And of course once you have kids it is the most important significant thing that happens to you in your life so of course, and it is the thing you care about you play on screen. But it's a kind of primal thing - this fear of not being able to keep your children safe. It's not anything as indelicate as like someone would abduct them or, it's, it is something subtler than that. It's just this, knowing that in life they will encounter these small and large injustices and that there is really nothing you can do about it. When you are wired in every way to put them on the earth so that you can protect them and then you realise that your can't.
Is being a mother one of the reasons you don't work quite as mother as you used to?
Yeah, It's a big reason. Also, I have worked for 40 years and I have never been a workaholic. I have also been pretty judicious about what I did, when I was younger, even when I made two or three movies a year. It seemed like I worked a lot because I just made a lot of movies, but I honestly have never been a workaholic. So yeah, the kids are familiar with that. My life is really busy and it's significant and I like it and it takes me a lot to get me away from it. Maybe if the movie business wasn't so all encompassing, not just 12 to 16 hours a day when you are in production, but the junkets (to promote a film) that sort of thing. It is time consuming and it's a lot of energy. It asks for a 100 per cent commitment and my family is a 100 per cent commitment so there's a lot of tug between the two.
You are shooting in confined spaces on FLIGHTPLAN and one would imagine it was a hard movie to make. What was the hardest sequence?
Yeah, it is a tough movie for me. For my part it is a hard movie and you realise it is hard when you see it all put together. I think the hardest and the most satisfying really was the scene with the therapist, played by Greta Scacchi who I think is great and we were so lucky to have her in that scene. Because I don't have any dialogue, you know, I only have like two lines in the whole scene and yet you have to convey a lot of emotion.
It's all about your look, your face...
And responding to what she is saying. She has been worn down at that point and she has gone through so much and her grief and frustration and despair is so confusing that it doesn't make sense. It's so profound and so intense and so blinding that she has to wonder if it's possible that she has lost her mind. All of the things that you go through in that scene are so beautiful and profound but I didn't have a lot of dialogue so it's challenging.
I believe your role in FLIGHTPLAN was originally written for a man, is that correct?
Yeah it was.
Was it easy to adapt it for a woman?
For me yeah. In fact I think it made a lot less sense as a guy. There were a couple of things that just really didn't work, that they were kind of trying to shoe in there. They had set it up as a man who had worked all his life as an engineer and his wife was the primary care giver so he didn't know what kind of sandwiches his kid ate and he didn't know what he was supposed to pack. And through the course of losing her he comes to assume a parental place he didn't have before. But then he wonders if he has gone crazy - that doesn't make any sense.
But do you look at scripts and say 'well that may have been written for a man but a woman could play that?'
That is what I did with this, yeah. And when I had Egg Pictures (Foster's former production company) we did it all the time - flip genders.
Was it a battle to convince the filmmakers it should be played by a woman?
I was surprised but they were okay about it, I mean I don't know why, but they were okay about it.
Probably because they wanted you in the picture.
Maybe and honestly you know they put it to the writer and he sat down for a day looking through the script and was like 'wow, this doesn't change a lot and the few things that it changes makes much more sense..' so I think he was happy to go with it.
You've directed yourself. How much was the director in you present during the shoot?
The director in me is always present. But I don't direct the movie and I'm happy not to direct someone else's film but yeah, that's what I contribute. And it's a great thing as a director to have people on board who have directed before. David Fincher who is the foremost control freak in the film industry and somebody who really knows what he wants, he had three actors on PANIC ROOM who had all directed. And I think he almost picks them for that reason because no one else understands the camera and the technical aspects of movie making. So he needs actors who are extremely experienced with the technical stuff and knows why things are cut together and what you need to do to get something cut together. So I think it's good for the filmmaker.
Are you a good flyer?
I ask because sometimes you see parents struggling with their kids. Has that made a difference when you travel?
It's always hard flying with kids although they reach a certain age and they get into the DVDs (laughs). It's the fact you have to worry about three people; if you don't tell them where to go they don't know where to go, if I don't tie their shoes, they don't get tied...(shrugs shoulders and smiles).
Does September 11th have any bearing on FLIGHTPLAN?
Well I think the film takes that into consideration - that this is a post 9/11 world and in fact it talks about it. It's a world where no matter how smudged our boundaries have gotten, the world has become international, you know global economics, we don't need passports to travel in Europe anymore - all of these kind of, this international smoothing over - if you push someone against the wall though they still revert to this primal, bigoted self-protected place and it is a primal thing. And 9/11 really just brought that out more you know what happens with the racial profiling of the Arab character on the plane is not dissimilar to how my character is profiled as an hysterical female.
How was it working Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean?
Oh, Peter is a lot of fun and Sean is great too. Both of them are just really easy going guys. Peter and I especially worked very similarly, we never talked about the film and we make a lot of jokes in between setups and right before they yell action - he's great. And Sean brings this real intensity to it. He is kind of a shy guy and he brings this like vibration to his character.
Is it true that you find acting more exhausting than directing?
Yeah, I think acting is way more exhausting than directing because you are always pleasing a third party. You have to be in the moment but you also to accommodate everyone else's vision, whether it is the DP or the sound mixeror the director, You are always supposed to be spontaneous in the moment. I think when people first get into acting they think 'I'm going to twirl around with a lamp shade on my head and yell..' like it's some big bold expressive thing. It is those things. However, with tremendous amount of discipline and doing all of those things at once is like patting your head and rubbing your belly, it's two very opposite things.
Do you still plan to direct yourself in FLORA PLUM and the LENI RIEFENSTAHL films?
I was never going to appear in FLORA PLUM just direct. And right now that's on the back burner. LENI RIEFENSTAHL I was never going to direct, it's something I'm developing and will produce to act in. I have a film that I'm developing to direct, called SUGARLAND that I will act in with Robert De Niro. Either 2006 or early 2007. We haven't made a movie together since TAXI DRIVER.
Have you kept in touch over the years?
No, not really, I mean I run into him every once and a while at some things but not really.
That would be something, to see you two back on screen together?
Yeah, very different roles you know.
Would you tell us just a little about what SUGARLAND might be about?
Yeah it's about a court case. It's kind of a three handed piece. On one hand the civil rights attorney that I play, on the other a rich charismatic Cuban sugarcane plantation owner, first generation Cuban, and on the third hand these Jamaican cane workers living in slave like conditions in South Florida.
And you are going to play Leni Riefenstahl?
I hope so yeah, when we get the script done. I've been trying to get it done for many years now.
I remember you have been talking about how you have been agonising with her over it.
Yeah, and then she died a couple of years ago.
Has that changed things because you were hoping for her input?
I think she was always keen on me playing the part and she realised that she was not going to have a lot of control over how she was going to be portrayed. I think every public figure down the line has to understand that eventually something will be made about them and there's not much control that they are going to have.
What did you think of her?
I think her story is an amazing morality tale for the and there is so many valuable things to learn from her, from her life as an artist. and her ah life as a socio-political human being.
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