Q

'My characters are drawn to doing the right thing': Jodie Foster on The Mauritanian and 55 years in Hollywood

Acclaimed actress and director Jodie Foster joined Q's Tom Power to talk about her latest film, The Mauritanian, and how it fits into a career full of roles that involve fighting for justice.

Foster explains how her latest film fits into a career full of roles that involve fighting for justice

Jodie Foster stars as criminal defense lawyer Nancy Hollander in The Mauritanian. (Graham Bartholomew/STXfilms via AP)

From her iconic role as FBI trainee Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs to astronomer Dr. Ellie Arroway in the sci-fi blockbuster Contact, Jodie Foster's acting career has been defined by critical acclaim, box office success and characters who feel the pull of virtue. 

"I do think that my characters are drawn to doing the right thing," Foster told host Tom Power in a new interview on CBC Radio's Q. "That's something that's definitely a big part of my life."

Foster's latest performance in The Mauritanian — for which she won a Golden Globe on Sunday — continues the trend of characters who have a strong conscience. Based on a true story, the film follows criminal defence lawyer Nancy Hollander (Foster) who took on the pro bono case of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), a man detained in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years without charge.

WATCH | Official trailer for The Mauritanian:

While Foster now recognizes a through line in her past roles, she said any pattern that's emerged in her five-decade-long acting career wasn't consciously chosen.

"You know, you have to be a certain age to look back on your patterns and go like, 'Oh, there's a pattern,'" Foster said with a laugh. "I think you don't really realize it as you're jumping from movie to movie … but yeah, I'm definitely interested in people that are trying to evolve and get better."

Taking on a real-life role

Before The Mauritanian, Foster had mostly avoided roles based on real-life people, preferring to develop her characters from scratch.

"I've never played a real person except for once, but she had already been dead for like [85] years," the actress said in reference to her role in the 1999 adaptation Anna and the King. "I could create [Anna] without stepping on too many toes."

Usually the idea for a biopic is the person is born, they do some incredible thing, and then they meet famous people, and then they die.- Jodie Foster

Known for being selective and uncompromising about her roles, Foster explained that she looks for scripts that capture a big idea and show character growth, which isn't always the case with biopics.

"I don't love biopics," she said. "Sometimes I find the writing isn't very good. You know, usually the idea for a biopic is the person is born, they do some incredible thing, and then they meet famous people, and then they die. And for me, I just need a lot more than that."

What made The Mauritanian different had to do with the film's central character, Salahi.

"He grows and changes through his experience," said Foster. "That was the story that I wanted to tell. I was amazed by this man, who had been through everything that he'd been through, and through his faith … was able to come out the other end as somebody who is forgiving and affectionate and joyful and has an amazing sense of humour."

Meaningful work and a meaningful life

Looking back on her 55 years in Hollywood, Foster described a point when she realized her priorities had changed from making movies to focusing on her family.

"What I realized as I got older, I mean, I always thought that the only meaningful work was making movies," she told Power. "And then I did wake up at a certain point and realized, like, wow, movies are not everything, and there are other ways to find meaning."

With only intermittent acting appearances throughout the last decade — since 2011, Foster starred in just four films prior to The Mauritanian (The Beaver, Carnage, Elysium and Hotel Artemis) — the actress said she now only accepts roles she can "become obsessed with" and that she feels are worth the time it takes away from her family.

"That's been an interesting path as well," she said. "Just finding meaning by doing things, by giving back to people, by serving."


Hear Tom Power's full conversation with Jodie Foster on The Mauritanian and more near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Catherine Stockhausen.

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