ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it feel watching your costar Mel Gibson take a bath in the press after his drunk-driving arrest?
JODIE FOSTER: I love him. I knew the minute I met him that he was going to be my friend for the rest of my life. I don't often feel that way, and I certainly never feel that way about actors. I know Mel extremely well, and anybody who has even remotely met him knows what a severe alcohol problem he's had his entire life. This is a man who almost died. He's not some guy who went to rehab because he got a traffic ticket. The whole weird media frenzy was hard, but the most important thing is that he's sober.
Your performance in Taxi Driver kept coming up during the mini media frenzy over news that Dakota Fanning had a rape scene in the [yet-to-be released] movie Hounddog.
What did they say about me? ''She might end up like Jodie Foster!'' Taxi Driver was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I didn't become a weirdo and squawk like a chicken. And she is spectacular in [Hounddog]. The movie, ehh, but that's a brave, brave performance that she should be very, very proud of, and I passed that message along to her. That's why Dakota Fanning is going to end up being a real actress. I think it was a wonderful move for her and it's setting her up to not be a Disney bimbo. I think the [uproar] was just a bunch of Christians who didn't see the movie.
Are you religious?
No, I'm an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and the rituals. Even though I don't believe in God. We celebrate pretty much every religion in our family with the kids. They love it, and when they say, ''Are we Jewish?'' or ''Are we Catholic?'' I say, ''Well, I'm not, but you can choose when you're 18. But isn't this fun that we do seders and the Advent calendar?''
I know you don't talk about your children...
I don't not talk about them. Do people say I don't talk about them?
I thought you didn't talk about your personal life.
Well, no, it's kind of weird to go into long detail about them when you're trying not to invite scrutiny in your private life. But it's hard not to because I love them and they're so fun and they're on my mind all the time. It's funny we went to a parade the other day. And the whole idea of a parade is to get joyful and loose. When you have a kid, you hope that they feel that way, because you're spending the whole time going, ''Do you have your eye on him?! He's wearing an orange hat! I hope he's not going to get lost in the crowd!'' You can't turn off all the worry. So I purposely don't drag them into places where it's going to be a nest of public attention.
What do you think when someone like a Lindsay Lohan, who seems willingly caught in a nest of attention, blithely aspires to a career like yours?
I think the reason is just because I've lasted so long. I did movies in the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, and the year 2000s. I did Alan Parker's first movie, I did Adrian Lyne's first movie, and Martin Scorsese had only made a few movies when I did Alice. Everybody tells you as a child actor that by the time you're 18 it'll be over, so you need to be prepared. I knew that. My mom got me real nice and prepared for that. It's a weird business. It's a weird thing for a child to be doing. And it's a really, really weird thing for an adolescent to be doing. When you have pimples and you feel bad about yourself and you're kind of overweight, you should not be a public figure. That's just mean, it's mean to do that to an adolescent.
So why'd you do it?
It was the job I was born into. I didn't have an actor's personality, it's just what I did, I guess. When I was 25, somebody at my agency said, ''Well, what is your goal?'' and I was like, ''Look, my goal is to be in this for a really, really, really long time. I don't want to make a bunch of money and be really famous and then figure out what the hell I'm going to do for the next 20 years.''
What the hell are you going to do for the next 20 years?
I don't know about my late 40s and 50s. I'm looking forward to those characters that I'm going to play in my 70s, not having to do some of the bulls--- that I still have to deal with, like getting into the outfits and the makeup. Not so much my late 40s and 50s.
NEXT PAGE: ''My mom would always say, 'When you're 40, your career's going to be over, so you need to figure out what you're going to do next.' She's been telling me that since I was 18.''