There's something both beautifully fragile and undeniably fierce about Jodie Foster's birdlike features. She looks at once like she needs protection but, if provoked, could kick your ass to Tuesday. It's a winning combination, one milked well in her box office hits Panic Room and Flightplan. In her new movie, The Brave One, Foster plays a broken woman out on a vigilante killing spree after watching her fiancé get beaten to death by a gang of New York City hoods. If the formula holds, Hollywood will want Foster peering out of movie posters with that same feral look of distress and determination for years to come.
In person, Foster, 44, has a slight California Spicoli drawl, and often snorts when she laughs hard. She provokes a dizzying feeling that you're talking to both the smartest person in the business and the most endearing one. On a recent summer afternoon, out on a luxe patio at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Foster looks tired but game. She's just returned from a family vacation in Iceland with her two boys, Charlie, 9, and Kit, 5. Later this week the gang will head to Australia, where Foster joins Abigail Breslin to shoot the children's fantasy epic Nim's Island. From there she'll see her kids off to their first day of school in L.A. and hit the international circuit to promote The Brave One. ''Doing two movies in one year was a dumb idea and I'll never do that again,'' says Foster. ''I did it when I was a kid and it was fine, but you can't do it with a family.''
Over the next two hours, there's only one subject that she firmly swats away. A recent Out magazine cover featured two models holding up pictures of her and Anderson Cooper's faces in front of their own, under the headline ''The Glass Closet: Why the Stars Won't Come Out and Play.'' When asked if she has any response, Foster says, ''Was that the one with the Popsicle sticks?'' Her thin lips tighten into a calm half smile of reproach: ''No, I have no response.''
So be it. Too many actors today flaunt their personal lives to make up for the lack of a real professional one. And then there's Jodie Foster Oscar winner for both The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, director of the fine films Little Man Tate and Home for the Holidays, and a smart, sensitive actress audiences love to root for. If only she could teach a seminar on class and carriage (and the saving influence of a college education) to the thin bubbles of celebrity floating around Tinseltown today.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There's a rallying moment in The Brave One when you stick a gun in a bad guy's face and say, ''I want my dog back.'' How are you going to feel about the audience cheering on your character as she starts hunting people down?
JODIE FOSTER: It's shameful, but that's human and that's who we are as human beings. There will be unsophisticated people who see a sophisticated movie. Just like there were in The Accused. And thank God I only went to one screening of that movie with an audience.
What were you met with?
They cheered the rape. It was awful. And that wasn't an isolated event. It happened all over the country. But I don't think you can legislate your audience. If you're going to make a movie that explores dramatic violence, do you change it because you're worried that people aren't going to take it properly?
What do you think is the larger social commentary of The Brave One, which in some ways plays as a straight-up Dirty Harry revenge movie?
Here's my commentary: I don't believe that any gun should be in the hand of a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. Americans are by nature filled with rage-slash-fear. And guns are a huge part of our culture. I know I'm crazy because I'm only supposed to say that in Europe. But violence corrupts absolutely. By the end of this, her transformation is complete. ''F--- all of you, now I'm just going to kill people with my bare hands.''
Then why is it called The Brave One?
That's a really good question! [Laughs] That's many, many memos ago. The whole time we were like, ''You guys, this title is bad, this is misleading.'' I don't really know how to explain it except that it's the first title the script ever had and [producer] Joel Silver really believes that it has a strong feeling to it. Which it does. It's not wimpy. It would be a beautiful title for another movie. My only defense is that there are a lot of really good movies that have bad titles. Gone With the Wind. That was a bad title. The Way We Were. Terrible title!
NEXT PAGE: ''I made this conscious choice when I was 18 and 19 not to...be a part of any kind of Brat Pack. They were the hot items here in L.A. and I was living in Connecticut and going to college. I knew some of those guys, so I did feel a bit like a loser.''