Jodie in Need
Jodie Foster needs quarters. She pats down her pockets and roots around in her backpack, looking slightly distracted as she walks into a cafe on Melrose Avenue. A valet, who would no doubt be thrilled to park her car, is standing by. But no, there’s an empty meter down the block, and the woman who once reportedly earned nearly $10 million a picture is determined to snag it for her Toyota Prius. It’s not as if she couldn’t afford a parking ticket (or, for that matter, a car that costs more than $20,000), but there are principles at stake here. Soon, I, too, am dredging my purse for change. Moments later, a neat stack of coins at her elbow, a satisfied Foster settles into our booth.
With her tangerine-tinted John Lennon sunglasses and powder-blue bell-bottom cords, Foster looks a bit like a runaway from The Mod Squad. Before opening her menu, she notes the time so she’ll know when to feed the meter. "It’s cheaper," she says with a self-deprecating shrug. "I can’t resist."
Were this not Jodie Foster, it could be tempting to regard her entrance as a gimmick designed to give her a bit of Everywoman appeal. This is, after all, an actress so gifted that she earned her first paycheck at the age of 3, her first Oscar nomination at the age of 13, and two Academy Awards before she turned 30. Whether fame and wealth have altered Foster’s essence is something only she can know. But the fact that she defies the classic diva template has fueled the public’s fascination for decades. She exudes a grounding and intelligence that are impossible to fake. "I still feel like I’m almost over the hurdle," she says halfway through lunch, when I ask whether she finally feels entitled to her success. "But I’ll never feel completely secure. I think it’s just my personality."
Continuing to Transition
At 44, Foster clearly relishes a game of beat the clock. Whether it’s a $2 parking meter or a $25 million movie she brings in under budget, she has always displayed a shrewd ability to pull off her own life and career choices before Hollywood — or some fickle audience — makes them for her. Like the characters in her movies, things may happen to her, but Foster somehow always ends up controlling the action. In her 20s, she deftly navigated the transition from child to adult stardom, sitting out the most awkward years at Yale. In her 30s, she transitioned yet again, to producing and directing. At the peak of her power behind the camera, the unmarried Foster became a mother. Now, with two young sons to raise, she has crafted a working life that allows her to periodically disappear from the public eye and then reenter when and how she wants. "My mom told me, ‘By the time you’re 40, your career will be over and that will be it,’" she says with an impish grin. "I think I’m having the last laugh."
A Wonderful Performance
For those who have studied Foster’s infrequent screen appearances in recent years, it is impossible not to be reminded of her 2002 thriller Panic Room, in which she played a mother holed up with her daughter in a blast-proof bunker, while robbers rampage outside. In her 2005 project, the psychological thriller Flightplan, she starred in as a lone, fierce mother trying to protect her child from danger. "I admit I’m drawn to it," the actress says when I ask about her apparent obsession with maternal angst. "I choose what moves me. And that’s one nice thing about being over 40: It becomes very clear what interests you and what doesn’t."
Foster filed the flight plan for the current leg of her life’s journey seven years ago. Pregnant with her first child at 35, she resolved to close Egg Pictures, the company she formed after her Oscar-winning performances in The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, as soon as her contractual obligations would permit. "There were a lot of lifetime goals that I had already reached by the time I was 30," she says, "so the search for significance came earlier for me."