Jodie Foster hasn’t acted since 2013’s Elysium, but she’s hardly taken a break from Hollywood: Instead, Foster has spent the last few years directing episodes of Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, and she’s behind the camera again for this week’s Money Monster, her fourth feature film as a director. George Clooney stars in the movie as a smart-mouthed financial guru who must think fast when his cable show is hijacked by a gun-wielding young man (Unbroken star Jack O’Connell) who’s been wiped out by Clooney's bad stock advice. It’s much headier material than you might find in your usual summer blockbuster, and as Foster told Vulture last week, she had to fight to get it just right.
If you met a stranger at a party who asked what you did for a living, would you currently say “I’m a director,” not “I’m an actress”?
Yeah, I think I would. I would say that I’d had a long acting career, because that’s true, but I feel like now is my time to really focus on directing. I can’t imagine I’ll stop acting forever — I mean, I’ve done it my whole entire life — I just know that I have to focus on this right now. I’ve only made four movies in over twenty-odd years. I had a couple of kids and I really spent time raising them. I was there for every part of it and I wouldn’t ever exchange that, but I missed directing.
It must feel nice right now to move from directorial gig to gig.
It really is, to feel like I’ve completely committed to it. That’s kind of how I am, you know? I compartmentalize. I do things in chunks. There were a lot of goals that I used to have in my acting career, but also goals in my life like, “I’m gonna take care of this person,” or “I’m gonna raise my kids.” I’m kind of mono-focused, so I do one thing at a time, and, now that my kids are old enough, they understand when I have to disappear and do this.
You’ve been attached before to direct labor-of-love films that never came together, or some that took several years to get off the ground. Money Monster had a much faster gestation.
This one is a labor of love, too, but it was kind of a weird dream come true that it happened so fast! We did spend two years putting it together, and sometimes there were disagreements — not between the producers and myself, but from some of the people who wanted to finance the screenplay. There were a lot of questions like, “Why isn’t this script okay to shoot just the way it is?” And we would patiently explain that it needed to be better, that it had to be deeper and more complicated and that we had larger ambitions for it. There was a lot of impatience. People thought it was good enough, and we could get a cast, so why not do it?
You know, I’ve never had a lot of trouble getting money for a movie. What I’ve had trouble with is getting the scripts right, getting them to the point where I believe that they’re ready to go.
Sadly, that seems all too rare with big studio movies. So many of them go into production with a script that’s not even finished.
I know, it’s crazy. And it shouldn’t be that way!
So why is it that way so much of the time?
Sometimes it’s just financial reasons, and sometimes it’s like, “We have this actor, we have this window, let’s start shooting.” The key is getting a script that’s so undeniable that a heavyweight actor responds to it. It would have been really difficult to put this together in the studio system if we didn’t get a great script that we gave to George. He jumped on right away, and it happened really fast because the amazing George Clooney is a 500-pound gorilla.
In a lot of ways Jack O’Connell is the antagonist of the film, and yet you have to make him sympathetic, especially as the movie goes on. How did you walk that tightrope of figuring out how dangerous he could be before you had to pull him back for a mainstream audience?
He has to be both, yeah. He has to be believably threatening and dangerous and unstable, but he also ultimately is someone that you want to throw your arms around. Honestly, it happened in the writing and it happened when we cast Jack O’Connell, because he’s absolutely 100 percent real and committed. I just trusted that rage and fear he found in the character is something we ultimately all have. It’s a part of our culture.
Recently, you got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and your Panic Room co-star Kristen Stewart came out to give a speech honoring you.
That was the unexpectedly great part of it, really — reconnecting with Kristen. There was something really emotional about it, because on Panic Room she was that little 10-year-old girl who I just loved so much. I thought she was the coolest kid ever, and I couldn’t wait to meet her when she grew up. It’s so moving, really, to have her come out and do this kind thing, and I know it’s not easy for her. She’s a little bit of a shaking leaf, and it makes me want to put my arm around her and tell her that I’ll make her dinner, you know?
Both Kristen and Jack O’Connell started acting when they were very young, as you did. Is there a kinship there because of that?
I think there is. It’s a weird way to grow up, and you hone a strange survival skill. Everybody does it differently, but you are forever changed by that experience. So there is a kinship to it. I will say, both Jack and Kristen are just wonderful, genuine people. So much for saying that being a child actor screws you up! They both have prioritized and trusted their authenticity, and that’s really what has made them so real.
You said earlier that you used to have goals as an actor. Do you feel the same way as a director? Do you have box office goals, genre goals … ?
I have absolutely no box office goals and no genre goals. [Laughs.] I’m still finding my way as a director, but I know that having an independent vision and really being able to put my full signature on a film is more important than anything. I don’t really have any desire to direct the next hundred-million-dollar franchise. If anything, no matter what the scope of my films is, they’ll become more and more personal over time.