It's the first day of school and Jodie Foster has a big smile on her face. With Charlie starting first grade and Kit off to preschool, Foster says from her home in Los Angeles, "I've been really giddy all day."
It's not so much that she's glad for a moment to herself at 11am to shower, but that her two boys seemed so excited about the rite of passage. Most of all, she's ecstatic that despite the fact that she's got Flightplan opening in a few days and several more major movies in production, she was there for it. "They just waved and said see you later," she says happily. "I wouldn't miss it. I'm just not capable of missing out on it. I can't do it. Can't miss Halloween. Can't miss the first day of school. I'm just not going to do it."
That about sums up Foster's career plan at the moment. She's a mommy first, a director second, an actress third, a producer fourth and the head of a production company dead last.
"I've wanted to direct since I was six or seven," says the almost 43-year-old star, who started in show business as a toddler. "What I always say about acting is that it's a combination of factors '- one part is excruciating boredom and the other part is so challenging that you can barely close your eyes at night." Producing, for her, is the bottom rung on the Hollywood ladder. "It's the worst job in the movie business," she says.
In fact, she's thinking about giving up on producing for the moment, not taking on any projects that aren't her own directing efforts. While she admires what people like Mel Gibson and Ron Howard have been able to achieve with their companies, she doesn't want to make Egg Pictures, which has produced projects like Nell and Waking the Dead, into the next big movie company.
She says she started the company in 1992 not because she was "salivating for control," but because she had seen so many movies tank because they weren't handled the best way. For instance, her directorial debut Little Man Tate got caught up in the financial downfall of its movie studio in 1991. "It made me not want to be affiliated with any big studio and to make my projects independently," she says.
The catch to producing independent films, however, is that they are much harder to get made and can get caught up in snags. While Foster did fine with Home for the Holidays, which starred Holly Hunter, Claire Danes and Robert Downey Jr., and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, she has spent the last five years trying to make a movie called Flora Plum that has been through several movie studios, financial backers and stars. While it looked like it would get going again in 2003 with Ewan McGregor starring instead of Russell Crowe, it's now back "in a holding pattern," she says.
Instead, Foster's next directing project will be Sugarland, a contemporary drama set in Florida, based on a true story about Jamaican sugarcane workers who sue over civil rights violations. She will star in it along with Robert De Niro.
While waiting for that movie to happen, she might take a few more acting gigs, but since the kids, she's been very picky. "If it's a short period of time, I can do it. But otherwise I have to think twice," she says. Without the grind of going to a set every day for weeks in a row on a major studio movie, her life is pretty full: "It's not just the kids all day, and going to Costco and Target and making dinner. It's working on films at various stages before production."
She did two weeks recently on Spike Lee's upcoming Inside Man, and two weeks a while back on the French comedy A Very Long Engagement. "A two-week hiatus is easy," she says. "I just sit the kids down and say, 'Remember how mom works part-time?' I go over the schedule and cross out Thanksgiving and the school breakfast, and that's how I do things. I feel lucky I can pick and choose."
While Foster now sounds like the ideal working mom, what brought her to her last two major studio films reveals a darker side. Both are scary movies that put children in jeopardy. In 2002's Panic Room, a David Fincher thriller, Foster has to protect her young daughter during a home invasion. In Disney's new Flightplan, she's a mother who loses track of her daughter on a plane, then gets so confused by those around her that she isn't sure she ever had a daughter.
"When I direct movies, it's all about everything I've lived. When I act, it's everything I never lived," she says. She was, however, able to draw on some primal emotions. "Anyone who has kids has experienced this weird thing of being so sensitive to their peril. It's the most elementary fear."
Her deepest moment of panic came when her older son had his tonsils out. "It was the most horrible moment when they wheeled him into the operating room and they told him to play spaceman and count backwards from 10 for a liftoff. He started to panic a little, his eyes darting, like we were betraying him. When he came out of surgery, he was crying, like having a psychotic episode. Other kids were screaming too. We had to hold him down and they shot him full of something. When he woke up later, he was great and said he'd do that anytime," she relates, almost breathless at the memory. The fearless mommy, on the other hand, says, "I needed to go to a sanatorium."