Her childhood stalker tried to assassinate Reagan and by 30 she had won two leading lady Oscars. A profile of the reluctant star, from Disney favourite through 'Taxi Driver' to 'The Accused' and the Hollywood A-list.
Seen as a serious actor and producer to be reckoned with, Foster was born Alicia Christian Foster in November 1962. She was nicknamed Jodie by her three older siblings - Buddy, Lucinda and Constance.
It has been reported that the name Jodie was a tribute to the Foster children’s “Aunt’’ Jo, who was their mother's live-in lover. Her father, Lucius, abandoned the family when mother Evelyn (better known as Brandy) was pregnant with Jodie.
It was ambitious stage mother Brandy who first pushed Jodie into acting. Brandy worked for an LA film producer and, given her occupation, never had trouble finding screen work for Foster’s older sibling Buddy. Jodie was brought along to one of Buddy’s auditions and was spotted by advertising executives for Coppertone suntan lotion at the age of three. She soon made her acting debut as the bare-bottomed Coppertone girl. Her first television part was in the series 'Mayberry R.F.D' in 1968, alongside Buddy, who was already a regular. By the age of eight, Foster had expanded her acting repertoire to include nearly 40 television ads, as well as appearances on other television shows such as 'The Courtship of Eddie's Father', 'Bonanza', and 'The Partridge Family'. By the time she was ten, her prolific acting jobs were supporting the entire Foster family.
Her feature film debut came in 1972 with the Disney film 'Napoleon and Samantha'. Impressing Disney, she went on to make 'One Little Indian' in 1973, 'Freaky Friday' in 1976 and 'Candleshoe' in 1977. However, despite the family-friendly roles, it was the dark and often violent Martin Scorsese film, 'Taxi Driver', that set her on a course to true stardom and a career to be reckoned with – she was just 14.
In 'Taxi Driver', Foster made the film that she says, “changed her life’’. It became a cult piece, starring Robert De Niro as an unbalanced, vigilante cab driver named Travis Bickle. Bickle befriends Foster’s character Iris, a 12-year-old prostitute. The role was different from that any other 14-year-old actress had played and sparked controversy with its sexualised content – though a stand-in actress was used for the more explicit scenes. “It was the first time anyone asked me to create a character that wasn't myself,’’ Foster told The New York Times Magazine in 1991. “It was the first time I realised that acting wasn't this hobby you just sort of did, but that there was actually some craft.’’
The performance won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. While tending to her burgeoning career, Foster continued to attend courses at the French school, Lycée Francais, eventually graduating as class valedictorian in 1980 despite a busy acting schedule. When the 'Taxi Driver' crew appeared at the Cannes International Film Festival the following year, a teenaged Foster was able to impress her co-stars and film press by speaking and translating in flawless French.
Years later, in 2001, Foster appeared as the head of the jury at Cannes. Foster’s head for academia did not deter her from playing darker roles. Still a youngster, she played a gangster's moll in 'Bugsy Malone' and a little murderess in 'The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane'. Unlike numerous other child stars, Foster continued her studies and did not fall into the trap of drugs or simply choosing roles that would eventually stifle their career. Simultaneously academic and actor, Foster turned down many parts so that she could eventually take her BA in literature at Yale University.
In an article she later wrote for Esquire magazine, Foster said her toughest challenge at Yale was simply blending into the student body as fame thrust her into the spotlight. Unfortunately, her profession had brought her to the attention of a man called John Hinckley. Obsessed with Foster's character in 'Taxi Driver', Hinckley had written her a number of letters before embarking on an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan as a means of catching her attention.
The attempt was a failure but it led police to the discovery of photographs of Foster and her college address in his motel room. Matters were further complicated with the capture of a second stalker, Edward Richardson, and the experience was more than enough to prompt Foster to retreat from the public spotlight. She remains one of Hollywood's most private celebrities.
However, Foster's decision to shield her personal life did not dampen her professional career and she continued to make film and television appearances until her 1985 graduation, with honours, from Yale. By this point, Foster was a seasoned veteran in the entertainment industry and had little trouble finding consistent work, although a follow-up to 'Taxi Driver' continued to elude her.
Her patience was rewarded in 1988, when she was cast as rape victim Sarah Tobias in 'The Accused'. The movie was well received and Foster's performance earned her a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress. Her reputation consolidated, Foster went on to her next Oscar-winning performance, as FBI rookie agent Clarice Starling in 1991's 'The Silence of the Lambs'. This particular Best Actress Academy Award marked her third nomination and her second trophy before the age of 30, a first among Hollywood women.
Having established herself as a high-calibre actor, Foster expanded her professional experience by forming Egg Productions in 1991. (She closed the company in late 2001 to spend more time with her children). The following year, she formed a three-year production deal with Polygram in which they were committed to financing three films in the $25 million range and three in the $10 million to $15 million, plus an extra $10 million in print and promotion. One proviso was that Foster could choose whether to act in, direct, or simply produce these films, gaining rare control and flexibility for an actor and a woman in Hollywood. Under Egg Productions, she made her directorial debut with 'Little Man Tate', in which she also starred alongside Harry Connick Jr.
'Little Man Tate' told the story of a struggling single mother trying to look after - and provide a mentally challenging atmosphere - for her academically gifted son. It is a position Foster understands. “Being a child prodigy is lonely. I was one of them,’’ she said. “You're different from other kids. No one else can understand. To me, acting didn't seem like much of a profession. My mom always said, 'By the time you're 16, your career will be over. So what do you want to do then?' She was correct. Most child actors' careers end early. They're lost.’’
However lonely she felt as a child, she now understands the importance of providing a happy one for her own children, Charles Bernard Foster, 9, and Kit Bernard Foster, 6. She gave birth to both children but has carefully guarded the identity of the pair’s father. Of course that never stops the press from guessing, but she once told reporters that after a long hunt, she had been impregnated with the genes of a tall, dark, handsome scientist with an IQ of 160.
In 2007, she finally broke her silence about her 14-year lesbian relationship with film producer Cydney Bernard. In a speech to a gathering of fellow Hollywood stars, the 45-year-old, who was collecting an award, pointedly thanked: "My beautiful Cydney, who sticks by me through all the rotten and the bliss." It was the first public recognition by Foster of 54-year-old Miss Bernard, who shares the actress's home and the care of her sons.
Because of the dearth of personal information on Foster, a tell-all book written by brother Buddy (now a failed child TV actor and recovering drug addict), became popular with fans when it was published in 1997. Titled 'Foster Child: A Biography of Jodie Foster', it tells the tale of a dysfunctional showbiz family, complete with sensational allegations, mostly about their mother Brandy.
Brandy Foster is described by Buddy as a hot-tempered, sometimes violent woman who frittered away her children's show-business earnings. According to what Buddy says Brandy told him, Jodie was conceived when Brandy went to their father to beg for child support money. Lucius told Brandy she must have sex with him first. She did, grudgingly, and he gave her the money. Nine months later, Jodie was born. Buddy says Foster and her father have virtually no relationship and do not speak.
Foster however, has decried the book calling it, “a cheap cry for attention and money filled with hazy recollections, fantasies and borrowed press releases. Buddy has done nothing but break our mother's heart his whole life’.’
For some unknown reason, Foster continues to attract stalkers. In 2008, Michael Smegal, 42, was arrested and charged in Boston. Three years prior, he admitted sending anonymous letters to Foster for more than a year. The obsessed fan has been accused of sending a bomb threat, mentioning Foster's name, to an airport.
In 2007, Foster had been due to work alongside actor Robert De Niro and direct the film 'Sugarland'. However, the project was shelved indefinitely.
In 2010, the actress directed and starred in black comedy 'The Beaver' opposite Mel Gibson. The movie was made on a budget of $21 million and tells the story of a depressed toy company executive who communicates with his family through a hand-puppet. The film opened in US cinemas in March 2011 and, although it received some favourable reviews, it did not achieve success commercially.
Foster described Gibson as "probably the most loved actor in Hollywood", during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival. However, she stopped short of defending the actor's past behaviour, which included making anti-Semitic remarks to a police officer in 2006. "I can't excuse Mel's behaviour. We are all responsible for our own behaviour. But I do know the man that I know, and he has been a friend for many, many years," she said.
Jump into a classic - Taxi Driver (2 Disc Special Edition)
Taxi Driver is the definitive cinematic portrait of loneliness and alienation manifested as violence. Robert De Niro, as the tortured, ex-Marine cab driver Travis Bickle, made movie history with his chilling performance as one of the most memorably intense and vividly realised characters ever committed to film. This masterpiece, which is not for all tastes, is sure to horrify some viewers, but few could deny the film's lasting power and importance.
Good evening, Clarice - Silence of the Lambs (Definitive Edition)
Relive Foster's iconic role as Clarice in this classic American thriller that blends elements of the crime and horror genres. Two-disc special edition DVD.
The secrets of a star - Jodie Foster: A Biography
First published in 1995 and now available in paperback, a biography of actress, director and producer Jodie Foster, which traces her career in film and television, and her success with films such as 'The Accused' and 'Silence of the Lambs', with discussion of her guarded private life.