American Actress Jodie Foster Talks About Playing a Vigilante

Over the course of her new film, "The Brave One," Jodie Foster kills eight people. The two-time Oscar winner plays a public-radio host named Erica Bain who survives a brutal attack in New York's Central Park during which her fiancé is killed. After she heals, she slowly transforms into a vigilante and puts herself on a collision course with the thugs who attacked her. Foster says the film, directed by Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game"), appealed to her not only for its resonance with "Taxi Driver," the nightmarish 1976 film that made the teen actress a star, but also for its exploration of living with fear in post-9/11 New York. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon on the set last summer. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: TO me, the lead character in this movie is New York. Was it always set there?
Foster: Originally, it was set in Anytown USA, meaning, wherever it would be cheaper to make—Toronto or something. But I just felt like you couldn't do this movie without talking about New York and how that has changed. We all love New York, but sometimes you hate it, too. [Erica's] somebody whose show is specifically about what she loves about New York and how that's disappearing.

But the New York portrayed in this movie is very different from the one experienced by those who live there. There ' s certainly plenty of crime, but we always hear how New York is the safest big city in the world.
It's true that she's a statistical anomaly, but go tell that to somebody who got their brains beat out. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I actually think there's something even more interesting about a story like this happening in a New York that everyone says has turned into a harmless Disneyland. That's her fear in the beginning: are we ruining the character of New York by making it overly sanitized? But her attitude toward New York changes when this specter of violence enters her life. And once that fear has touched you, you realize that it's been there all along, hiding beneath the surface of your everyday life. And she hates herself for it, because she knows it's not rational. She knows there isn't a bogeyman waiting behind every bush.

The character was a newspaper reporter first, right? But you changed it to a radio host.
Having a journalist who says, 'So, sir, what did you think about the crime?'—that's very different from someone who has this radio show that's like a tone poem, a moody soundscape. Putting her on the radio makes her more of an intellectual, but it makes her an internal intellectual. After this thing happens to her, though, she becomes this sort of stealth, dark figure who is only a voice in the night.

How do you feel about vigilante movies as a genre? Obviously you wanted " The Brave One " to go beyond that.
Well, not entirely. This is a genre film. It is a thriller. But she is wrong. She is someone who's descending into a kind of madness, and that's definitely the point of view of the film: she's getting sicker.

Did " Taxi Driver " cross your mind when you first read this?
Oh, sure. When I first read the script, honestly, it didn't remind me enough of "Taxi Driver"—that was one of my issues with it. It reminded me of "Death Wish." It was this Hollywoodized idea of New York: crass, not very complicated. I don't see "Taxi Driver" as a vigilante movie at all. It's a great, antihero character profile. Hopefully that's what this movie is too. It's about a woman who was once a certain way, and now she's this other person.

How does the fact that it ' s a woman in the central role change things?
My character is a statistical anomaly as a woman, as well. Because women don't kill people. They kill themselves. They kill their children. They drink themselves to death. But they don't do this. It was fascinating to play a woman you can't even begin to understand. She's small. She's anonymous. She's the last person you'd ever expect. There's a moment she has at the end of the movie where you finally get to see rage from her. And it comes as a surprise, because you never see it in the rest of the movie. Women really aren't taught how to be angry. So it's interesting to me to watch a woman's anger translate into something so extreme.

Listening to you describe the part, it seems like you got a charge out of playing her. Was it fun on some level?
Fun? Oh, I don't know if there was anything fun about this. It was hard to live through that trauma every time. There's no glee in anything she does. What caught my eye about this film is how it acknowledges that, yes, there is something we don't want to talk about when it comes to violence, a shameful, primal secret we all have: the guy who did this to me—what would happen if I shot him in the head? All of my problems would be over, right?

It seems like you ' re attracted to parts like this. When I saw " Flightplan " I thought, Ten years ago, they would ' ve put Harrison Ford in that movie.
It was a male character at first. And you know what? The movie was really bad with a guy. I guess, to me, there's something exciting about watching a woman survive by fighting back, and I'm sure there's a part of my personality that's attracted to those parts. But I'm also good at it. [Laughs] I'm 5 foot 3, but for some reason, this is what people seem to want me to do.

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