By MELODY WAINTAL and ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Oscar winner Jodie Foster arrives for an interview on crutches. Though the accident occurred before the Oscars this past March (where the two-time Academy Award winner was seen hobbling onto the stage to present the award for best actress), she reveals that she just had surgery a couple of weeks ago. She bravely assures that she’s on the mend and feeling “pretty good,” dismissing the injury as “no big deal.”
The actress plays the nurse/operator of a hotel in a dystopian downtown Los Angeles that caters exclusively to criminals with enough cash to pay for its range of services in “Hotel Artemis.” With a small staff of helpers, she bandages and heals the broken City of Angels’ villains, and protects them from cops as well as enemies of her patients wanting to disrupt her work. Unlike any role Foster’s played before, “The Nurse” is fast-talking, fairly frazzled and funny. The film is written and directed by Drew Pearce, making his feature directorial debut. Foster is joined in the cast by Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Jenny Slate and Zachary Quinto. “Hotel Artemis” checks in to theaters Friday June 8.
During a candid half-hour sit down, the typically reserved actress-turned-filmmaker spoke candidly not only about her performance in the dark comedic film but also about being one of the pioneering female directors in Hollywood, and the changes in the industry that are slowly occurring today.
Q: What did you like about the “Hotel Artemis” script that made you want to do this film?
Foster: It’s so original. I feel hungry for original content. I feel like feature films now are just rehashes of television shows or the same old thing over and over again, and there’s something really fresh about this. The combination of this almost nostalgia for Los Angeles and this retro vintage kind of Wong Kar-wai drama meets sci-fi futuristic dystopia film.
Q: I thought your nurse character was a beautiful person on the inside.
Foster: Not so much on the outside. (She laughs.)
Q: Did you have any trepidation about playing an unglamorous character?
Foster: No. In fact, that (lack of glamour) was why I wanted to do it. I really wanted to do a physical transformation. I wanted to feel that this was a different character than how you would normally see me. I thought that was important. I had to fight for it a lot during production. (Playing unglamorous) was not as popular as you might think.
Q: What were they saying to you?
Foster: It’s jarring to see it out on screen. The first time my character appeared on screen tests, audiences were just like, “Huh?” But (Nurse’s frumpy appearance) was important for the character. There is something really extraordinary about seeing a character who has lived through so much. She obviously was a terrible drinker; she lost her medical license because of it. She lived through the death of a child, and has been inside this awful unhygienic place for the last 20 years, eating who know as what kind of takeaway tacos. (She laughs). There’s something beautiful about seeing the rawness of how that emotionally plays on somebody’s body and the physicality in their face. I didn’t want to lose that.
Q: There is a line where the nurse says, “As a parent, you know it’s always your fault.” What is your take of that in your relationship to your mother and your kids?
Foster: That was speaking from the psychology of that woman who blames herself, who is living with these ghosts in her life, and who isn’t able to let go of her culpability in not being able to protect her child. In a weird way, everything that she’s doing, this hamster wheel that she’s on, she says, “I’ve got to fix these people,” over and over again. With one more drink, one more pill, she’s trying to somehow bring back her son.
Q: Can you relate to that?
Foster: Yeah, it’s a theme that’s been in quite a few films that I’ve been in, like “The Brave One.” It’s like, “If I can do this, maybe I can bring him back,” or “I can fix the past if I just stay on this, focus on this thing, then maybe I can redeem him.” My little secret in this movie is that even though the film really is an action film is that these people are holding onto their identities as much as they can. “This is who I am and this is who I am. I have to do this thing. Life or death.” What if they were all dead? You know? I mean, there’s a part of me that feels like, they’re stuck in this limbo prison of feeling like there’s some kind of meaning in life that they’re supposed to be doing, but the truth is they just actually need to let go.
Q: What did you think of the high-tech medical technology of the future in this film?
Foster: Everything that’s in the movie is really correct as to where we’re headed in terms of the new technology, even in terms of the social politics. I’m so appreciative of this film, whether its issues like clean water. What are we going to do when the water runs out? Is it just rich people that are going to have water? It’s also about the effect of police brutality and how that’s seeped into the culture and militarizing our police department, the inequalities between rich and poor—all of these things that are in the movie. A lot of is very contemporary—the idea of these concierge medical services where the haves say, “Oh, I’ve got money, so I’ll just have my own doctor.” That’s what’s happening now.
Q: How did you like working with you co-stars on this?
Foster: This film was fun. It was super-fast, because they didn’t have any money. We didn’t have any time to think, but the casting process was really amazing. To watch Drew (Pearce) work, he just really wanted this world to feel like the way the world feels. It feels like a diverse place. I was the first person on and we brought (Dave) Bautista onboard because he’s my counterpart. Then, little by little, we brought every other cast member on and there was a lot of discussion about who was right for it.
Q: Like Jeff Goldblum and Sterling K. Brown?
Foster: Yeah, we had great casting.
Q: Everybody loves Sterling, what’s the deal?
Foster: He’s lovely. They all are just a great group of people and there really isn’t one bad one bunch. They’re just lovely, lovely people and that’s a real testament to Drew that he managed to bring all of them together.
Q: You haven’t been in front of the camera a lot in recent years. What it was that persuaded you to come back for this role?
Foster: I was directing a lot. I made the decision that I wanted to focus on directing and that was really my fulltime job. I hoped that if (an acting role) came along that I really loved and felt great about then I would do it. That’s what this was. That’s how it’s going to work now for acting. There’s something wonderful about being able to say—after giving 52 years in the film business as an actor—I just want to do it if I love it. It’s nice to have that pressure off (and) to be able to say, “This is worth committing to.” It’s good because it means that any time I’m in a movie as an actor, there’s going to be something really unusual and there’s a reason to go.
Q: There’s a lot of discussion in recent months about the lack of female directors. Why do you think many women didn’t follow the same footsteps as you?
Foster: There’s been talk about women directing for the last 15 years. When I first started in the film business, there were no women (directors). Period. I would see a female makeup artist every once in a while, or maybe a script supervisor, but there were no women directors anywhere. It was me and a bunch of guys, which was great. I have great “fathers” and “brothers” that really are a part of my education as a filmmaker. And then, little by little, that changed—very little by little. For some reason, directing is the last thing to change in Hollywood. There have always been more women directors in Europe, and now there’s an increasingly number of women directors on television. But in the feature film world, especially the mainstream feature world, it’s still really tough (for women).
Q: Why has it taken so long for female directors to emerge in Hollywood? What’s behind the phenomenon?
Foster: I don’t think it was some kind of plot that the world was trying to keep women down. I think it was just unconscious. We didn’t think about it; I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about it when I made movies as an actress or when I made my first movie as a director when I was 27. I didn’t think, “Oh, I want to see if there’s a female DP.” It didn’t occur to me. I worked with what was there. We were all a team, together. There’s a consciousness that’s been raised about the lack of diversity out there. Everyone is now seeing the fruits of it. You see films that just have this feeling of what real life really is.
Q: Did you experience having to fight more for to realize your creative vision as a woman?
Foster: I’ve been a woman my whole life. (She laughs.) So, I’ve had that experience my whole life—whether it’s getting my gas at a filling station or directing. We’ve had the experience of living in our bodies and knowing the difference of how the world approaches us and how we approach the world. So, being female is always going to be a part of my experience, whether in the workplace or in anyplace. Have I had that feeling of, “Is it more difficult?” Yes. Have I had that feeling of having to work twice as hard or having to earn it twice as hard, or deserving twice as hard? Yes, sure—all of that is true, but I was lucky enough to have had dads in this business who looked at me as a prodigal daughter and said, “Oh, I know you. We have made movies together. When you said you are going to be there at 6 a.m., you were there at 6 a.m., and I trust you because you’re one of us.”
Q: Anyone specific?
Foster: The guys that ran Orion Pictures—Eric Pleskow and Arthur Krim—who gave me my first opportunity as a director. They understood that and they sat down and said, “We’re investing in the future of you as a director at this company, so you need to stop talking about how much this particular movie you’re making for us is going to make, because we want to invest in you for the long term.” I can’t erase that. That was really important to me that there were these father figures that were willing to take a chance on me because, in a weird way, I kind of looked like them. I’ve grown up with them. I had opportunities that other women didn’t have, because I was already in the business (as an actress).
Q: How about working with other women?
Foster: In my whole career, I’ve only worked with one woman director. It’s crazy how many movies I’ve made and I’ve only worked with one woman director. Although I’ve made a lot more movies as the singular strong female character who’s taking care of business, I was never directed through the female experience, through the lens of the female experience. When I directed my last “Black Mirror” (episode) called “Archangel,” I did feel like that. That show, in a way, really references all of that. This idea of, “What is that? What’s that language?”
Q: Are you optimistic things will change?
Foster: I don’t know. We’re at a really interesting turning point. You know things, whether it’s the art world or politics, it’s an interesting experience. I feel like we’re peering into the well. We can see that the well is dark, and it’s just a question of what we do about it. Whether we fall headfirst into it, or whether we use this moment of consciousness to say, “Wait a minute. We know better.”
As important as this moment is, I don’t really want to participate in the soundbite part of it. It’s too important to just trivialize this by these nonstop soundbites. Like many social justice movements, whether it’s the civil rights movement or another issue, we have to learn from social justice movements to figure out what the next step is and what’s the best way to move to the next step. We have to understand what part of our culture has been and why it existed and why we need to move forward and how we get to heal and change all of us—men and women.
Q: You began your career as a toddler doing commercials. What do you recall about being a child actor?
Foster: When I was 15 or 16, my mom said, “Well, you know you’ll never be an actor when you grow up? Your career will be over by the time you’re 16 or 17. So what are you going to be after that,” so I went to college. Then I thought I would go to grad school and do all that, and then that changed. Then my mom said, “You know, by the time you’re 40, your career will be over, so you have to figure out what career this is and then what’s going to happen after, because by 40, it’s all going to be over.” So, I’ve had a lot of time in my life where I just assumed I would do something else.
Q: Would you say being and actress has taught you to get to know yourself better and improve as a person?
Foster: Definitely. That’s what we all hope that we do. You want to make people better instead of worse and the first way to do that is make yourself better instead of worse and then extrapolate. The best thing movies can do is to inspire people to be more ethical to be more conscious and to delve deeply into something instead of just skimming the surface.
Q: If you could heal anything in Hollywood what would you heal?
Foster: I don’t know. I’m not a good Hollywood person. I always get asked, “As, the spokesperson for Hollywood…” (She laughs.) I have no idea, except I was born and raised here. To tell you the truth, I grew up loving going to the movies. That experience has informed everything that I’ve done. I feel like that so much a part of the great filmmaking is about the idea of a community sitting in a movie theater and going to see films and that has been changed forever. The habits of filmmakers have changed and people don’t go see films. Films are ghettoized. The movies that we do see in theaters are increasingly really just franchise films and big, intravenous theatrical experiences. The real narratives now are on television. It’s the golden age of television, streaming, but I feel sad that we’ve lost the habit of going to see films for the right reasons.
Q: How much longer do you think it will take for your leg to heal?
Foster: Very soon. These things have little bionic parts, so it’ll all be fine. I’ll be skiing again by next year.