- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - Jodie Foster premiered the quirky but dark movie “The Beaver” at the South by Southwest Film Festival on Wednesday night, saying she’s grateful for the performance by troubled actor and friend Mel Gibson.

The film follows a depressed toy company executive who picks up a hand puppet beaver and uses it to separate himself from the negative aspects of his personality that are destroying his family and career. Foster directed the movie and plays Gibson’s wife.

“I can’t imagine anybody else doing it. He has such a deep, struggling soul that really understood the part of the movie that’s about a man in a spiritual crisis,” Foster said on the red carpet before the screening.

Gibson, who recently was sentenced to 36 months of probation and ordered to attend 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of spousal battery on former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, did not attend the premiere.

The battery charge was another blow to Gibson’s reputation, which took a major hit after his 2006 arrest for drunken driving. A deputy’s report leaked to the celebrity website TMZ revealed the action star had used anti-Semitic and sexist slurs.

Foster, who has remained a steadfast friend of Gibson, acknowledged the battery charge made release of the film tricky.

“There were all sorts of things that were beyond our control,” she told the audience after the movie, “It’s been difficult. In the last six months there hasn’t been any real audience (for the film). I think we all made the wise decision we should keep the film in some ways private and under wraps until we were ready to release.”

Foster said she has no regrets about having Gibson in the movie.

“I feel incredibly grateful to have Mel’s performance in this movie and I wouldn’t change anything. For anybody who’s ever worked with Mel Gibson, he’s the most beloved actor probably in the film business, at least of the ones I’ve worked with,” Foster said.

“Obviously all sorts of stuff happened after the film finished that threw our release into a crazy pattern, but I certainly have no regrets about him being in the film or his performance.”

“The Beaver” is only the second major film that Gibson has starred in since 2002. It is scheduled to open in select theaters May 6.

Joining Foster at the premiere were actor Anton Yelchin, who plays Foster’s son, and writer Kyle Killen.

Killen said he thought up the movie about a man with a beaver puppet on his hand while driving between Los Angeles and Dallas, where his wife was attending medical school. The car didn’t have air conditioning for those 22-hour hauls, he said.

“I don’t know if I have a brilliant ‘bitten by a beaver story,’” Killen said. “You would drive through the desert in the middle of the night and you tend to come up with some crazy stuff.”

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