Interview: Jodie Foster on Her Non-Mainstream Approach for ‘The Beaver’

By  · Published on April 18th, 2011

As the first question points out from the Jodie Foster roundtable at SXSW, the trailer for The Beaver is truly a disservice to the film. While a decent piece of marketing material, it really does showcase the film as a fluffy drama, and The Beaver isn’t that. Foster’s film is a dark, sad, witty, and poignant ‐ factors that Neil’s review perfectly captured ‐ story about depression and isolation, and how there’s no such thing as quick fix for that.

Summit can’t be having an easy time selling trying to sell this film. Not only for the obvious reason that I’ll refrain from mentioning, but for the simply reason that it’s difficult to accurately pitch a film like this in a two-minute time frame. Tonally, Foster goes for odd and not-so-commercial plays.

Here’s what Director and star Jodie Foster had to say about marketing, commercialism, symbolism, and more:

Press: I have to say, the trailer does the film a serious disservice, because it really does not get into the important aspects of the film. I’m glad you came out before the screening last night to say it’s not a comedy.

Yeah, I’m not in the business of making trailers [Laughs]. Well, in all fairness, it’s a difficult movie to describe. You know, I don’t think there’s a lot of movies you could compare it to. It has a very unique, odd and quirky tone to it. I think it’s been quite a challenge for them to tell people what it is. It does have a lightness to it and it does have a quirkiness to it, but it also has a family drama aspect to it and it has a larger, philosophical emotional stuff to it. Maybe it’s just the weight of it that’s different in the trailer.

Press: Would you be comfortable if it was described as a whimsical drama?

Sure. I would by happy if you described it as a drama with whimsy, too. That’d be fine, too. I think it mirrors the state of mind. At the beginning, as the beaver narrates and has taken over his life, you don’t really see the story of his life before his troubles. You don’t see him at Disneyland with his kids. And you don’t see him in happier times. He’s asleep. This other character, a survival tool, has taken over. The beaver has taken over at arm’s length. He’s someone that speaks at arm’s length, speaks in the third person, and only describes Walter’s life, and not in an emotional way. He only describes it in an objective way.

The beginning of the film is informed by who the beaver is in that way with that witty language and that, “these are the facts, man,” way. Little by little, we see the more objective sides of his life. We see him more objectively. Little by little, the drama starts taking over as Walter starts having issues with the beaver taking over his life as well. Of course, it descends. [Spoiler Alert] The last tonal style is this very, very realistic style of what his life is really like and what it really is to wake up in a mental institution. In some ways, in this crazy act of love, he has severed his own arm to say alive [Spoiler Over]. The film has the tone of the main character.

Press: Was framing the shots of the beaver obstructing Mel’s face? Was that something you wanted to subvert?

Yeah. That is something we did on purpose. Sometimes it would just happen in rehearsals and I’d say make sure you get it right in-front of your face, especially the scenes that, in some ways, could be played incredibly sentimental. The scene where the little boy says, “Why aren’t you coming with us? I don’t want you to leave me,” and he puts his arm around him and says I love you, and the beaver says, “I love you, too,” and it’s completely obscure on Mel’s face. In a way, I feel especially comfortable with the scene now that the beaver has obscured his face.

Press: You mentioned that you really wanted to maintain a distinct and consistent tone all throughout, was there one scene that you felt was the toughest to film from that standpoint?

It was more the scenes that we took out ‐ and that will be on the DVD ‐ that I found toughest. One in particular is when Cherry Jones’s character recognizes that Walter’s mind is falling apart, and he sort of taunts her to take off the puppet. It was a great scene, but it was too comic for that point in the movie, and we tried to find a place for it earlier in the film, later in the film, but it just didn’t work and didn’t fit with the sequence of scenes tonally without disrupting it.

Jack Giroux: [Screenwriter] Kyle Killen said it was your decision to have Meredith’s job be a roller coaster designer, and roller coasters could definitely be seen as a fitting analogy for the tone of the film and Walter’s state of mind —

As films do, you start shaping things, making them more precise, making them more specific. As soon as you bring on an actor, there are certain things that they are and there are certain things that they aren’t. I wasn’t as warm to the idea of her being a stay-at-home mom, and the few other ideas that we came up with didn’t inform the character plot and didn’t inform that growth.

We were really looking for something that told us a lot about her and told us, in some ways, where the film was headed. I think there’s something about people staying up all night talking to Japan that pretty much tells you they are alienated and have issues with loneliness.

Press: Was it about the theme of loneliness that interested you in the project? They seem to pervade the films you direct.

I’m interested in solitary figures who live as misfits and try to figure how to live and recognize others as misfits, because I think that’s art ‐ it’s a lonely process because you take something that’s all yours and all personal and no one else can ever totally understand it.

And that’s what I’m interested in right now as a director, that’s my art. I may take a break from acting from time to time and then return in my 60s or 70s, but right now directing is what I’m interested in.

Press: You said this [SXSW] was the first time you showed the film before a “real” audience; were you pleased with their reaction?

Well, this is a film festival crowd, and they’re going to be a bit more forgiving and not monsters who try to eat you. But, yeah, I thought the reception was really good. I think people were up to the task, and that may be specific to this place. You just don’t have film, but you have music, Internet, and other things. Maybe you get more courageous people who are willing to try something out that is a little bit different than what you’re used to.

Jack Giroux: You mentioned the idea of art in your films, and when it comes to a film like The Beaver, do you think about commerce?

I don’t know how. I really don’t. A film like this is not a mainstream movie. It’s not intended for all audiences. There will be a lot of audiences that wont like the film and will be disquieted by having there be some lightness and drama in the same film. I think there’s audiences that just don’t like that. I think it has a bit more of a European feeling to it. The music is European, the way it’s shot is European with the formality of it, and even though it’s an impassioned film about mental illness and suffering, it has a very intellectual approach to it. There’s a lot of people who don’t like that [Laughs]. That’s what’s nice about getting to make an independent movie that is allowed to talk in a different way. It doesn’t have to appeal to everyone.

The Beaver opens in limited release on May 6th.

Related Topics: ,

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.