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Jodie Foster visited Sydney last week to promote her new film, Panic Room, and was diplomatic about David Fincher, Russell Crowe and the Oscars. Andrew L. Urban reports.

It was more ‘hot room’ than ‘panic room’ as a dozen media s(we)at waiting for Jodie Foster in one of the private dining rooms at the swank Park Hyatt Hotel on Sydney’s Circular Quay, which had been set up for the intimate ‘meet the press’. Was it the extra tv lights or was the heat generated by anticipation? Whichever, Jodie arrived looking elegant – and cool – in a pale lilac silk pant suit, cream shirt and a pair of beige shoes with pointy toes long enough to spear an intruder. 

"the easy manner that comes with intelligence"

Petite and pert, Jodie has the easy manner that comes with intelligence, the warmth that comes with self confidence and the humour that comes from experience. The first question from the small scrum went straight to the Australian connection: will she be seeing Russell Crowe and/or Nicole Kidman while in Sydney? “I hope to see them,” she said smiling. There was a short natter about where Russell was, and the subject turned to her replacing Nicole in Panic Room, after Nicole’s knee injury. “I’m proud to be Nicole’s understudy,” she said with such enthusiasm and honesty it took the bite out of the question. 

Was she here purely to promote Panic Room, I asked. “Yes absolutely for that,” she replied, but added she had loved Australia on her first visit and was very happy to come back. And yes, she would have a little bit of time “to look around”.

Jodie Foster, celebrated single mother of two, was pregnant during the shooting of Panic Room, and I asked if she would tell us how exactly she told director David Fincher that he was working with a pregnant woman – and how reacted. “He was very excited for me,” she said smiling, but added, “then about 10 minutes later he realised the impact it would have. But we managed to shoot the film almost chronologically…” So we didn’t get the detail of the exchange, which had earlier been reported as being a bit heated. She made no reference to the heat – or to the heat in the room, which was rising to sauna proportions.

A question about her taking a fee cut for the film was quickly terminated by a minder, saying, “we don’t need to go there”. But we did need to go somewhere with the film itself, and she talked about being “a story person. I have always loved books and literature and stories….and as an actor I’m always there to serve the story.” 

She also praised the script for being spare and disciplined. “The only way you know the characters is through the drama.” Jodie outlined the movie in her words as being about a woman who’s drawn to this house, despite not feeling good about it. “But she’s talked into it . . .her ex-husband can afford it, so if she’s going to drag her teenage daughter out of the suburbs into Manhattan, at least give her a nice home.”

The recently divorced young mother is not to know that the panic room feature of the house is not just a safe place in case of home invasion – it’s the place where the safe is hidden with millions of dollars. 

The questions turned to the Hannibal sequel, and her off the cuff response was the most diplomatic - and interesting: “I always want to be a gentleman about that movie. A lady. I wouldn’t comment on their movie and I hope they won’t comment on mine.”

Then it was back to Russell and what she thought of him; and it was a pretty good picture. “There are many sides to Russell, and my favourite side is his funny, charming, leprechaun side. His slightly dour public side simply hides his nervousness.” That’s a pretty good diagnosis.

"I don’t need to work with my friends"

This led naturally to a discussion about the Oscars, or at least one of them, and again, Jodie had just the right set of words. “We all know that an Oscar is no measure of performance. It’s a bingo game. And it becomes a primal, childish thing to want to win it. [In A Beautiful Mind] the movie works because of his performance.” And yes, of course she’d like to work with Russell – “but I don’t need to work with my friends.”

There was one more thing I was curious to find out: what part of filmmaking does she get most out of, seeing she acts, directs and produces. “Oh, producing is the hardest thing to do. It’s very hard work and no reward. The real reward is at the box office. Directing is more my passion. Acting is entirely emotional and physical, and trying not to bring in the intellect. Directing is the other side – it’s the choreography not the dance. But producing and directing, yes, that makes sense.”

Just before Jodie was whisked off to her suite, she answered one more question about motherhood. “It tends to remind you of who you are. I feel really balanced.” And she looks it.

Published April 11, 2002

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Panic Room
Director David Fincher
Script David Koepp

Stars Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam
Australian release: April 11, 2002

Newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her young diabetic daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) are forced to flee to the panic room of their newly rented New York home when three men force their way into the house on a mission to recover millions of dollars in a safe hidden – where else – in the same high security, purpose built safe haven called the panic room.

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