Jodie Foster Talks Her Anti-Wall Street Movie (That's Not About Bernie Sanders)

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.
Jodie Foster hopes she did not make a political movie.

“I certainly wasn’t trying to make a political statement. Because those films just don't do it for me,” the two-time Oscar-winning actress says when I mention that her latest directorial project, Money Monster, got me thinking about Elizabeth Warren tweets and feeling the Bern. In theaters May 12, the film is a thriller in which Lee Gates, an over-the-top TV personality and Wall Street guru (played by George Clooney), and his production team are taken hostage during a live broadcast by an average Joe named Kyle (Jack O'Connell). He lost everything in the stock market — and he blames Gates. It's up to his trusted longtime producer, Patty (Julia Roberts), to get them all out of the mess. “I don't like polemics," Foster continues. "I don't like being proselytized to. I don't like being told how I should vote in movies.”

Foster would rather we refer to Money Monster as the “no-bullshit” movie. “I want to make movies about characters and emotions, [because] that’s what makes you think and feel. Kyle is the everyman — he feels what everybody feels. I think we're enraged by the amount of bullshit that's in our lives and that we're just supposed to suck it up. If there's one mantra to the movie, it's ‘We don't want the bullshit anymore.’”

Jodie Foster for president!

Kidding...mostly. Although she is in the market for a new job, becoming the leader of the free world is not the kind of gig she has in mind. She’d be thrilled just to get to make movies with more regularity.

You, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts — three Oscar winners, one movie. Did you hatch this plan to finally work together in the monthly meeting?
"Ha! Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all know each other. We’ve never worked together. Never met him. Didn't meet him. Never spoke to him on the phone. We just sent him the script and that was that. The producers on the film had done another movie with George, so that was helpful. It's a good project and we worked on it a really long time before we brought it to George, because we wanted him to say yes. We wanted to make sure that it was right. We didn't want to give him the opportunity to say no or it needed too much work.”

Clooney was always the plan for the lead character?
"Yes. I think he's brave enough to explore that side of himself as a celebrity. He went there. And I love that he was never afraid of that."

How hard was it to direct Clooney, one of Hollywood’s most liked men, to play convincingly schmucky?
"I work really fast. It's my secret weapon. I prepare, prepare, prepare, ridiculously prepare everything visually, in terms of every technique on the movie. And then, when I say, 'Action!' it goes really fast. Nobody has any time to think. You don't have any time to rethink your performance and go, Oh, wait. Maybe I should be afraid of this or maybe I should be afraid of that. You just have to go for it and keep going and hold your pants up, because we're never going to stop. And I think that's what gives my films the spontaneity that they have. We just keep moving."
Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Sony Pictures.
Jodie Foster on set with George Clooney.
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It works, because I just kept thinking, What a schmuck! Honestly, I have never associated that word with Cloons.
"Well, the truth is, he changes over the course of the movie. He's the one person who really does change. He starts out as somebody who's sadly un-self-acknowledgeable, who's unconscious, who has lost his identity. He's just a lost person. He drinks martinis in the afternoon and dances with dancing girls. He doesn't even remember that he told this kid to put his life savings in this stock. We see he's a coward. He's bitter. He thinks of himself as a failure.

"But through the course of seeing this kid and being held hostage and fearing for his life, this kid enlightens him as to who he is and he reflects on what his responsibility is. He rises to the occasion and he changes. He doesn't really become this big, giant hero in the movie. I mean, he doesn't shoot a bunch of guys with his muscles. He listens to his Jiminy Cricket — and that is Patty. He lets her heroically show the way so that he can contribute the best way he can."
Clooney is notorious for his on-set pranks. Would he dare prank the Jodie Foster?
"There were no pranks for me yet, although I'm sure they're coming. I'm really happy not to be pranked by George, because you don't really know that his pranks are pranks. And some of them are really long and involved. He has this thing where he creates stationery with different people's names on it. And then, he sends notes to other people. I can't remember what it was. I think he sent Meryl Streep a note as if he was Brad Pitt."

One of my first thoughts walking out of the theater was: This is almost an advertisement for Bernie Sanders' campaign. Your movie dovetails perfectly with his main messages about Wall Street, buying power, greed, and protecting the little guy. Did you realize this? Can movies like this do more than entertain?
"That's my hope with any kind of art form — that you're helping to make people better and not worse. That's what I get out of it. When I make movies, and sometimes when I see movies, I get better. I get more enlightened. I get more understanding about my shameful secrets and what my problems are. And that brings light to things. I hope that's what my movies can do. The Piano did that for me. The Piano's not about Bernie Sanders. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the films that have really, really, really touched me and made me think differently about my life were not political films. I hope that that's true of this movie."
Who did you find yourself rooting for? Because I certainly gravitated to the guy holding everyone hostage and threatening to blow them up, even though that’s obviously an illegal, misguided attention grab.
"I did, too, because Kyle is the everyman and he’s trying to find out the answers. And he's right. He's filled with rage. He gets screwed and it isn't fair. He lost everything and feels backed into a corner. He's the wisest person in the room, because they're full of shit. It speaks a lot to Jack that he was able to be a character that's as dangerous and as unstable as Kyle and yet, you feel complete compassion and feel like he's one of you. It is important that we know who our enemy really is: the system."
Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Sony Pictures.
Jack O'Connell and Clooney in Money Monster.
Sometimes, it is hard to take, because it feels so real. The little guy is living in his car while the 1% has four houses.
"There are all these real stories that are just forgotten the second that we've ingested them. We've moved on to the next topic — myself included. It's not that there's anything wrong with Wall Street as an idea. The idea is really noble — leveraging and debt was intended so that some guy in the Third World that has a grocery store can send his kid to college. And then, that kid can be a professor. That's a wonderful thing. But that's not what's happening.

"It's billionaires that are leveraging billions and billions of dollars every single day in order to make massive margins that they then squirrel away into banks or in ugly 20,000-square-foot homes in Palm Beach [FL] and L.A. It's not going back into the economy. It's going into a bank so that people's zeros can accumulate. We're heading in a terrible direction. I don't know what it's going to take to slap people awake to see what's happening. It's not just the shrinking middle class. There will be a major global financial meltdown in the next 10 years. And when that happens, it's going to be nothing compared to what we went through in 2008."

You have found a lot of work in TV, directing series like
Orange is the New Black. Will you do more?
"TV, yes. Probably not that show, though. I think I’m done with that. I like to constantly do new things. I get bored. But TV is such a great place to work these days. Lots of freedom and creativity, especially with Netflix and all the online programming."
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People barely go to the movie theaters anymore. When they do, their expectations of the experience are different. They need to have an alien go through their blood supply and come out their eyes.

Jodie Foster
You direct more than act these days, which makes me wonder if that is by choice. What do you get out of directing that you don’t get out of acting?
"I'm definitely prioritizing directing. I spent a lot of years raising my kids and making movies as an actor. I started directing when I was 27 years old and I've only managed to do four movies in that amount of time, which is not very many. Some of it is because my movies fell apart. [Laughs] I couldn't get them financed. Some of it was because I couldn't find material that I really loved. But I think most of it was just that I wasn't ready to fully commit to it. And I really am now. I didn't want to put that career on the back burner any more. Also, my kids are old enough now that they understand that they're not my first priority. They want me to have another priority."

Here we are in 2016, 25 years after you directed your first movie. Hollywood is still nowhere near parity when it comes to female filmmakers. Are you tired of this situation not changing — and being asked about it? Why is it the case?
"It's a really good conversation to have. I wish they started having it 25 years ago. There always has been a certain amount of female directors in Europe and in the independent world — and increasingly, television. But it's been really slow-going for mainstream movies. I would venture to say that it's worse now than it's ever been, because it's a climate that's entirely risk-adverse. And for some reason, the studios have decided that women are a risk. The lists are getting smaller as to what's not a risk. Now, it's superhero movies with male action directors.

"There are a lot of big questions that we have to ask. They're statistic questions. They're deeper questions, like, 'Why aren't women attracted to [directing] certain kinds of movies?' It's not because they can't make them. It's not because they're being shut out by the system. I can tell you that it's not because of that. It is not a plot to keep women out.

"Sometimes, it's because women go through a lot in order to achieve their dreams. They slugged away their whole lives and when they finally get to the cusp of being able to have their dream, they're not going to flush it down the toilet just so they can make a whole bunch of money and buy a big house. That's a generalization, but that's kind of true. There's so many different things that come into the picture. And I think that we tend to talk about the issue in a buzzword way. It would be nice to have a thicker conversation about it."
Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Sony Pictures.
Foster on set with Julia Roberts.
Do we need to have an #OscarsSoMale hashtag to wake up the Academy to gender politics? It wasn’t until 2010 Oscars that Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win Best Director — and not a single one has been nominated since. Sometimes, I wonder if they didn’t make separate acting categories for women, would actresses even stand a chance?
"Probably not. So, I'm really glad that we have a division. What are the Oscars anymore, anyway? I don't even know anymore. It's such a new world in terms of our relationship with entertainment. It used to be that movies were so meaningful in our lives. We were excited about seeing a movie — so much so that we'd see it three times again in the next week. They've become commodities, so we don't have the same relationship with them anymore.

"People barely go to the movie theaters anymore. When they do, their expectations of the experience are different. Now, they need to sit in a chair and be like...[Makes a buzz sound and acts like she's been shocked]. They need to have an alien go through their blood supply and come out their eyes. It's a phase. This phase will go away. These movies, eventually, will die. The second they start losing money, things are going to change. I've seen these different patterns repeat over and over and over again in the 50 years I've made movies. Someday, we're going to see double features again and go to theaters because it's this quaint, fabulous thing that people rediscovered.

"I'm not even sure that the new generation knows how to see a personal movie anymore. Although I'm lucky. I've got two kids. My older one is a real movie buff and his favorite movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He's one of those. He likes them clever and difficult and all that — like Inception. And my other son, he likes movies that he cries in. He was really into Good Will Hunting."
You have always been used as the example of what can go right with a former child star. But you grew up before social media, online trolls, and the disgusting age of TMZ and 24-hour celeb coverage. How do you think you would have fared if you had come up now? Would you still choose this career path?
"If I was 18 today and just starting out? No. Well, not if anybody had given me all the information. I think I wouldn't have. I don't think my psyche would have been able to stand it. But that's okay. I would have done something else and it would have been awesome."
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This summer, we're celebrating the biggest movie season of the year with a new series called Blockbust-HER. We'll be looking at everything film-related from the female perspective, interviewing major players in the industry and discussing where Hollywood is doing right by women and where (all too often) it is failing them. And now...let's go to the movies!

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