Posted on January 18, 2013 at 8:27 AM
LOS ANGELES—Jodie Foster had everyone talking when she took the unusual step of revealing she’s a lesbian on the Golden Globes stage Sunday night. This hadn’t exactly been a secret, given that she has two sons with her former partner. But the two-time Oscar winner has been notoriously protective of her privacy, which made the rambling and emotional speech such a riveting aberration.
But this is also a good opportunity to talk about what made Foster famous in the first place: the strong screen persona and versatile talent she’s displayed over her 47 years as an actress. Here’s a look at five of her best performances:
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991): The word “iconic” gets tossed around a lot without much thought, but it’s truly applicable here in describing the work of Foster and co-star Anthony Hopkins. Foster won the second of her two best-actress Oscars (the first was for 1988’s “The Accused”) as young FBI agent Clarice Starling, who’s sent to pick the brain of the fiendish and fearsome Hannibal Lecter. She’s brilliant and resourceful, the scrappy, self-made underdog who dares to go toe to toe with a psychopath. A controlled and masterful performance in one of the most deeply disturbing movies ever.
“Taxi Driver” (1976): It’s frightening when you think about not only how good Foster was at such a young age but also how young her child-prostitute character of Iris was, as well. Her work in one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest films presents a fascinating dichotomy. She has to project a world-wariness and a cynicism beyond her years but also a youthful vitality, a freshness and the hint of promise. She’s only 12 years old but she absolutely holds her own opposite Robert De Niro and earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.
“Freaky Friday” (1976): In a great demonstration of Foster’s range, she played an extremely different kind of kid later the same year. She’s actually playing an adult, too, since this classic Disney comedy hinges on the idea that her character, Annabel, switches bodies with her mother (Barbara Harris), giving each a brief taste of how tough the other’s life is. This is probably my earliest memory of Foster—she’s hilarious and charming with her tomboyish toughness and quick wit, and she has the sort of cool and confidence we all wish we could have had at that age.
“Inside Man” (2006): Foster plays a supporting part in Spike Lee’s slick bank heist thriller, but it’s such an intriguing departure for her that I had to pick it. She plays Madeline White, who has the vague occupation of functioning as a fixer for the wealthy and powerful. Here she’s working for the bank’s founder (Christopher Plummer), who sends her to retrieve something damaging from a safe deposit box. It’s actually a quasi-villainous role: a well-connected, well-spoken social climber who’s all business beneath her cool, blond exterior, and it was juicy fun to watch her reveal yet another facet of her talent.
“A Very Long Engagement” (2004): Who knew Foster was fluent in French? Seeing her turn up here, speaking flawlessly in a foreign language, was a huge surprise and a thrill. Her role is so small as a soldier’s wife in director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s lavish and lively World War I romance that you long to see more of her. Actually, you don’t even realize it’s Foster at first; she’s in the distance when we see her at a crowded marketplace, and she has a scarf pulled over her head. But eventually she starts speaking in that instantly recognizable, husky voice. Talk about a real revelation.