FOSTER, JODIE (Alicia Christian Foster) (1962– ) Actress, Director
Known for her subtle acting and fierce intelligence, Jodie Foster is perhaps the most widely respected actress in Hollywood. On November 19, 1962, she was born Alicia Christian Foster in Los Angeles, California. Only months before, her father had left her mother, Brandy. Raising Jodie and her three siblings alone, Brandy supported the family by working as a publicist, until Jodie’s brother Buddy began finding jobs as a child actor. With Brandy as his manager, he appeared in many commercials and as a regular on the Mayberry R.F .D. television series (1968–71).
Jodie began her own career at age three. Taken along on one of Buddy’s auditions, she was spotted and hired to appear in an ad for Coppertone suntan lotion. Over the next five years, she made 45 commercials. When she was eight, her mother considered her ready for acting. After her debut on Mayberry R.F .D., she guested on more than 50 shows and starred in two short-lived situation comedies—Bob, Carol, Ted, and Alice (1973) and Paper Moon (1974–75). As Buddy’s career stalled, Jodie’s began to fiourish. She was soon her family’s primary breadwinner. At 10, Jodie started acting in feature films. She became a staple of live action Disney films, appearing in Napoleon and Samantha (1972), Freaky Friday (1977), and Candleshoe (1977). She found more challenging work playing a spirited troublemaker in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). Two years later, Scorsese invited her to play a far grittier role—that of a teenage prostitute in his nihilistic Taxi Driver (1976). Jodie initially wanted to turn down the part. “I was the Disney kid,” she later explained. “I thought, ‘What would my friends sayfi’” Brandy Foster, however, refused to let her give up the chance to work with Scorsese and the film’s star, Robert De Niro. After undergoing a series of psychological tests to prove that she could cope with the movie’s violence, Jodie at 14 delivered one of the most lauded performances of her career. In addition to an Oscar nomination, she won the New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics awards for best supporting actress.
Under Brandy’s supervision, Foster continued to choose offbeat roles. She played a vamp in the all-child musical Bugsy Malone (1976) and a murderer in the thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976). In 1980, Foster portrayed unusually complex teenagers in two well-received films, Foxes and Carny.
After 17 years in front of the camera, Foster stunned the film industry in 1980 by deciding to attend Yale University full time. Always an avid reader and brilliant student, she saw her college years as way of, at least temporarily, escaping the limelight. In a horrific twist of fate, Foster instead was thrust into the headlines when John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Obsessed with Foster’ s character in Taxi Driver, Hinckley stated that he was in love with Foster and had shot the president as a way of winning her affection. Subsequently receiving death threats from several other deranged admirers, Foster had to be escorted around campus by armed bodyguards. While still at Yale, Foster acted occasionally, including taking a starring role in the film The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). Yet, after graduating with honors, she had difficulty finding acting jobs. Only after vigorous lobbying was she able to win the part of Sarah Tobias, a foul-mouthed gangrape victim, in The Accused (1988). Endowing her character with a powerful sense of dignity, Foster was rewarded with an Oscar for best actress.
After having minor critical successes acting in Five Corners (1988) and Stealing Home (1988), Foster took a turn at directing with Little Man Tate (1991). The story of a child prodigy raised be a single mother echoed many aspects of her own youth. In 1992, she formed her own productioncompany, Egg Pictures. Her deal with Polygram Filmed Entertainment allowed her to act, direct, or produce the films made by Egg, giving her fiexibility and power enjoyed by few movie actresses.
In 1991, Foster received her second Oscar for best actress, playing an FBI agent battling a serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs. She had less success with Sommersby (1993), a Civil War romance, and Maverick (1994), a comedy set in the Old West. In her first Egg production, Nell (1994), Foster was nominated for another best actress Oscar, but the film failed to find an audience. Her second directorial effort, Home for the Holidays (1995), met a similar fate. Even though many films in the 1990s were box-office disappointments, Foster remained one of Hollywood’s leading actresses. For her performance in Anna and the King (1999), Foster received $15 million, a pay rate higher than that of any other film actress at the time, with the exception of JULIA ROBERTS. Self-assured in both her private and professional life, the unmarried Foster gave birth to a boy, Charlie, in 1998. She had a second child in 2001, refusing to answer any questions regarding either’s paternity. With equal confidence, Foster in 2000 bowed out of Hannibal, the big-budget sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, to direct Flora Plum (2002), signaling her increasing interest in working behind the camera.
Kennedy, Phillipa. Jodie Foster: A Life on Screen. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1996.
Smolen, Diane. The Films of Jodie Foster. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing, 1996.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Accused (1988). Paramount, VHS, 1996.
Little Man Tate (1991). MGM/UA, VHS, 2000.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Image Entertainment, DVD, 1998.
Taxi Driver (1976). Columbia/Tristar, DVD/VHS, 1999.