The folks making the “kick-ass” sci-fi actioner Hotel Artemis were certainly happy when Jodie Foster called out of the blue to say she’d like to star, but there was joy in the Foster household, as well.
The job meant Foster would have several scenes with Charlie Day, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is popular in her home.
“My son was running around the house like a crazy person. He’s a huge fan,” Foster said.
You let him watch that show?
“He’s 20,” she said, “so there’s not much I can do about it.”
In Artemis, the two-time Oscar-winner plays a nurse who runs a hotel/hospital for wildly colorful on-the-lam criminals (Day, Jeff Goldblum, This is Us‘ Sterling K. Brown, The Mummy‘s Sofia Boutella), with help from a hulking orderly played by wrestler/actor Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy).
It’s a rare genre turn for Foster, who gets a chance to work alongside actors more known for comedy or sci-fi.
“I love the casting of this movie. And in all seriousness, I feel like Dave and my relationship is the emotional center of the movie. A surrogate mother-son love story. I just love that scene where he gives me a bear hug, and you see my face cradled in his big bicep.”
Muscling her way into the next big Hollywood thing is a thing of the past for Foster. Now, she’s looking for projects that are more personal, maybe even more whimsical, like Hotel Artemis. She’s has two Academy Awards, nothing to prove, and freedom to be selective.
“I just want to make movies that are really unusual and original. At this point, I’m getting something different out of acting,” she said. “I’m always reading scripts, but I’m super-picky, and it’s hard to find things. It’s really once in a blue moon that I find something that really interests me.”
Hotel Artemis is certainly unusual – Foster calls it a “fun, half retro, half sci-fi kick-ass millennial action movie.” Made by Scots musician turned filmmaker Drew Pearce, the film is set in a near-future Los Angeles where water is privatized and criminals run wild, barely held in check by private cops (Jenny Slate!). Injured crooks show up at the Artemis, where Foster’s character (known only as Nurse) tends to their wounds. Problems arise when criminals bring their beefs and business onto the premises, leading to treachery and mischief and much violence.
It was a fun role for Foster, 55, but not a glamorous one. She’s playing a woman at least a decade older, and was made to look the part.
“I would like to tell you that I spend hours and hours in makeup,” she laughs, “but we just didn’t have that kind of budget. They just drew a few lines and that was it.”
Another reason Foster is picky about acting: She’s busy as a director. She started directing several years ago (Little Man Tate; more recently, Money Monster with George Clooney and Julia Roberts) and has helmed episodes of Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and a recent high-profile episode of Black Mirror.
“[Television and streaming] is really where I have my focus right now. I think that’s where the most creative work is being done, the best storytelling, and I want to be a part of it,” she said.
For the tech-focused Netflix program Black Mirror, Foster was approached to direct “Arkangel,” an episode about an overprotective mother (Rosemary DeWitt) who implants in her daughter a device that tracks, monitors, and protects. The mother can follow and watch, see what the daughter sees, and also choose to blur offensive or dangerous images, be they real or online.
Foster responded to the story as a mother (she has two sons), but in other ways, too. The device is a surveillance tool, so the daughter is constantly being watched. Foster, a former child star who’s been on camera (and who was once infamously stalked) for decades, has said her identity has always been tied up with her status as a person who’s been constantly observed.
Foster is fiercely protective of her privacy. Some subliminal issues being worked out there?
“I didn’t write the script, but as I was reading it I was thinking, my God, they couldn’t have picked a better person for this. It’s very relevant to my life. For me it felt personal, for all kinds of reasons,” she said.
Foster has recently been candid about growing up eager to please her own mother, Evelyn, who initially managed her career. Jodie’s success became her mother’s, creating a complex intertwining of love, dependence, and need. Foster has stressed the relationship was ultimately about love, but it was complicated.
“Not only was I a child who was observed. I was used vicariously in order to make my mother’s life meaningful. That was a mission for me. I would think that by taking a character, I could redeem my mother and make her life meaningful,” said the actress. Foster now cares for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
The mother-daughter dynamic in a story like “Arkangel” takes on special meaning, she said, when you’ve been both.
“The mother is looking through the eyes of the child, so when the child looks back at her, she’s seeing herself in an entirely new way, and for the first time,” said Foster. It’s a profound moment, she said — mothers and daughters can feel like a unit, they can feel like individuals in conflict, and when that happens they can foresee the day they will separate.
The candor and complexity of those female characters is something that Foster sees as an outgrowth of the recent inroads women have made as filmmakers. Foster has been among the vanguard of women who’ve directed in Hollywood – something she pushed for, using years of trust built up with the men who ran the studios.
“I knew them, they knew me. The trusted me, and so they were willing to give me that chance. There’s always been such a huge fear in Hollywood of risk. It’s tough for women to break through that. With me, there was a comfort level, and they could take that risk,” she said.
She thinks streaming and cable will provide great opportunities for women to tell interesting and authentic stories – without the constraints that come with making studio blockbusters that pay the bills in Hollywood.
“I don’t think [women making] carbon copies of some weird male iconography would be that interesting. What we want, what feminism has always wanted, is for women to be allowed to be fully human,” she says. “So I think you’ll see stories about women that are more honest. Interesting heroes, but interesting anti-heroes, as well.”
And Foster hopes to make them.
Is she working on anything now?
“Right now,” she said, “I’m free.”