- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Some cinematic karma involving mishaps to a couple of actors from Down Under brought Jodie Foster and director David Fincher together in the panic room.
Nicole Kidman's recurring knee injury early last year left Mr. Fincher without his lead actress on the thriller "Panic Room" three weeks into shooting.
A few months earlier, Miss Foster's latest directing effort, the Depression-era circus tale "Flora Plum," was shelved after star Russell Crowe injured his shoulder while training for the film.
With the deadline approaching for a potential actors strike, Mr. Fincher needed a name actress fast to keep his production from being shut down. Two-time Academy Award winner Foster unexpectedly happened to be out of work.
Within weeks, "Panic Room" resumed shooting with Miss Foster in the lead.
"I kind of like jumping into films. I like being on the spur of the moment," Miss Foster says. "I also knew that unless they found somebody kind of my stature in the next two weeks, the film was going to be canned because there might be an actors strike. I really liked the script, and it was important for me to do that for David Fincher."
Co-starring Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto, "Panic Room" follows a mother and daughter who take refuge from burglars in a fortresslike sanctum inside their Manhattan brownstone.
The character mutated somewhat after Miss Foster signed on. Initially, the newly divorced mother had been envisioned as a bit more helpless, Mr. Fincher says.
"I think Jodie Foster can do anything except maybe play helpless," Mr. Fincher says. "I think she's worked without exception in the 35 years of her career to bring characters to life who are smart and thoughtful and capable and curious. Kind of all these good qualities, yet ravaged by certain realities. She's not willing to play the unrealistic hero who has no faults."
"Panic Room" is the first film in more than two years for Miss Foster, 39, who has scaled back on acting because of directing projects and commitments to her two sons, the younger born last September.
Since "Nell" and "Maverick" from 1994, Miss Foster has starred in just two films, "Contact" and "Anna and the King."
Miss Foster decided against doing "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," which brought her second best-actress Oscar. (The first was for "The Accused.") At the time, she was busy preparing to direct "Flora Plum," but she also was uncomfortable with how author Thomas Harris had developed her character, Clarice Starling, in "Hannibal."
"It's not the same character," Miss Foster says. "Thomas Harris just went to a different place with this one."
Besides "Panic Room," Miss Foster has a supporting role as a stern nun in "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," a teen drama opening in limited release in June. She also is a producer on the film, one of the last coming from her production company, Egg Pictures.
After a 10-year run that included such films as "Nell," "Waking the Dead," the TV movie "The Baby Dance" and her second directing effort, "Home for the Holidays," Miss Foster decided to close down Egg Pictures.
"Producing is just the worst job. The only reward you can really claim as your own, the only one which is truly yours and no one else's, is whether the movie does well at the box office, and I don't make those kinds of movies," Miss Foster says.
"I'm never going to make 'Titanic.' It's not who I am."
Miss Foster got her start at age 3 as the Coppertone girl in tanning-lotion commercials. Her early television work included "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and "Paper Moon."
A role in Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was followed by Miss Foster's Oscar-nominated turn as a teen-age hooker in Mr. Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" in 1976.
In the early to mid-1980s, Miss Foster slowed down to earn a literature degree at Yale. After she graduated, she had impressive performances in the small-scale films "Five Corners" and "Stealing Home."
Her career was flagging, though, and she resumed an internal debate she had had since childhood about whether writing, directing or studying political science might be more to her liking.
"I never thought I wanted to be an actor. I always thought I wanted to be something else, so I was always looking for other things," Miss Foster says. "I figured I would do it while I'm a kid, and it was the way I knew to make money. I don't mean that in a crass way. It was just the only skill I had."
Miss Foster viewed 1988's "The Accused," in which she played a gang-rape victim, as her last try. She had applied to graduate school and was ready to say goodbye to Hollywood.
Then "The Accused" took off, earned her an Oscar and was followed in 1991 by "Silence of the Lambs" and Miss Foster's directing debut, "Little Man Tate," in which she also co-starred.
"I kind of got this one last crack at it," she says. "Part of me just hated this idea of letting it go and not being necessarily successful at it as an adult, and it was like my ego in a weird way that made me want to make that last try.
"Then once 'The Accused' did well it kind of changed me. I realized that no matter what I did, as an actor or something else, that I had to be in the movie business."
Unlike most actresses approaching 40, an age when choice parts for women become scarcer, Miss Foster is content to take an acting job every few years when the right part comes along.
"I've been in the business for 36 years, 37 years. I think everybody naturally after about 35 years reaches a stage where they just have a different perspective on it," Miss Foster says.
"Most people aren't my age when they reach that stage, so I think that's what confuses people, but it's just that I've been in it for 15 years longer than most people my age.
"I think I just reached a point where I wanted to make movies because I cared about them and because it was something I hadn't done. It's hard to find movies that you haven't done when you've made so many."


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