The Beaver - Director Jodie Foster
Director Jodie Foster on the set © 2009 Summit Entertainment

We continue with our conversation with actress/director Jodie Foster about her new movie The Beaver which tells the story of Walter Black (Mel Gibson), a successful businessman who has a complete mental breakdown. Unable to face life, he discovers a puppet of a beaver which has been thrown in a dumpster, and uses it to speak for him.

Foster portrays Black’s struggling wife Meredith, who is trying to cope with her husband’s condition, raise their two children, Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) and hold down a job to keep their heads above water.

The underlying theme in this film is the whole issue of depression and how people cope with it. Was it all there in the script, or did you feel a necessity to go out and look into it some more, because there are some bizarre ways that people cope with it.

The Beaver - Mel Gibson
Poster showing Walter Black (Mel Gibson) © 2009 Summit Entertainment

It definitely was there in the script, but that’s what got enhanced the most as time went on. The thing that changed the most was the focus on not just chronic clinical depression the way Walter has, but also the other end of the spectrum, which is the sadness and heaviness of our lives and what that means, for example, to his son’s character, Porter.

In terms of your own dealing, did you talk to some psychologists?

So many people that I know have had different forms of depression that I’ve read a lot of books.

Have you ever suffered from depression?

Yes, definitely. But it’s very important to distinguish between a kind of chemical depression that requires medication.

It’s why it’s important in the beginning of the movie to see that he’s a man who has everything. This isn’t a man who’s life is nonstop tragedy, this is a guy who has a beautiful house, he has a wonderful family, he has a pool, he has a profession, this isn’t depression caused by circumstance, so it’s important to make that distinction, because on the spectrum of depression there’s all sorts of other parts to it. But clinical, medical depression is serious business.

Can you talk about casting Anton Yelchin for your son, Porter, and Jennifer Lawrence for Norah, whom Porter falls in love with?

The Beaver - Jodie Foster, Riley Thomas Stewart and Anton Yelchin
Meredith Black (Jodie Foster), Henry Black (Riley Thomas Stewart) and Porter Black (Anton Yelchin) © 2009 Summit Entertainment

Anton is just such an amazing young actor and I think he brings two things working at the same time – one is incredible depth and the other is a real warmth and lightness and he has both things at the same time which is kind of hard to find with young actors.

I wish I could credit myself with inventing Jennifer Lawrence, but I did see many scenes of Winter’s Bones before I cast her and I said this woman is such an amazing actress and she has such depth on screen. We actually changed a lot of who the character was, from the way she was in the script, once Jennifer was cast based on what she brought to the role.

Your character is a working mom, as are you. Is there a challenge to that?

The Beaver - Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin
Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) and Porter Black (Anton Yelchin) © 2009 Summit Entertainment

It’s hard doing anything well, but it’s especially hard doing ten things well. Being a parent is a full-time job, and being an artist is a full-time job, and you just have to be okay with the fact that sometimes you’re not going to be very good at either one. But my kids seem to be okay. They’re pretty well-adjusted.

I didn’t work very much when they were young, and I had the luxury to be able to do that. Most people can’t. Now that they’re older, I think they really look forward to what new adventure I’m going to get myself into. Where is it going to take us as a family, and what am I going to be talking about and obsessing about. I bring it all home so they get to live that adventure too.

Are you strict?

Well, they’re older now; they’re almost 13 and 9 and a half, so no. My 12 year-old, he’s almost 5’ 7’’. What am I going to do?

Do you have any restrictions on their TV/movie/Internet time?

All that’s kind of boring; every parent has the rules that are in their house. I asked my older son the other day about that. I was like, ‘How do you feel about how you’ve been parented?’ He said, ‘Look, some parents are stricter, and some parents are easier, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I think you’re exactly the right amount.’ I don’t know if he’ll feel that way in ten years.

There was a Los Angeles Times article that came out yesterday that said you would be playing Head of State of an alien planet in “Elysium”. Is that an accurate description of that character?

Yes. I hope I’m allowed to say that. That’s pretty vague. Because those sci-fi movies, they’re all really hush-hush. I don’t even own a screenplay. They won’t even give me a screenplay. I’ve read it, but they won’t give me one to physically keep in my home because they’re so worried about everybody.

What was it about that project that appealed to you?

Definitely the director, Neill Blomkamp, who did District 9, which I think is as close to a perfect movie as you can get; it’s just an extraordinary film. This film has a lot of that in it, social commentary, using sci-fi to get there. It’s great.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.