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SXSW 2011: At premiere, Jodie Foster calls 'The Beaver' the 'biggest struggle of my professional career' [Updated]

March 16, 2011 | 11:28 pm


Calling the film “the biggest struggle of my professional career,” Jodie Foster introduced “The Beaver,” her drama starring the troubled Mel Gibson as a depressed father who reinvents himself with the help of a hand puppet, to its first public audience at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival on Wednesday night in Austin, Texas.

“All sorts of stuff happened after the film was finished that threw our release into a crazy pattern,” Foster told the sold-out audience of 1,200 people at the Paramount Theater, alluding to the very public and sordid domestic violence case between Gibson and his ex-girlfriend, a situation that delayed the release of “The Beaver,” filmed in 2009. “I have no regrets about him being in the film.”

Foster, who directed and co-starred in the film, prefaced the screening by saying: “This is not a comedy.” But “The Beaver” drew many laughs from the SXSW audience, most for intentionally funny scenes, as when Gibson showers and irons a shirt with the puppet on his hand, but at least once for a scene that was unintentionally evocative of the star’s personal problems -- when his character carries a box of liquor bottles.

“The Beaver” shifts to a much darker tone in one scene that drew gasps from the crowd.

“What was beautiful about the script was that it has equal levels of lightness and darkness,” said Foster, a longtime friend of Gibson's who plays his wife in the film. “It was hard to figure out when you go from one to the other.”

SXSW audiences are famously enthusiastic, but before the film, many expressed reservations about Gibson, whose public struggles began when he was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2006 and delivered an anti-Semitic tirade. His problems escalated when a series of racist and threatening voice mails he had left his ex-girlfriend were made public last summer, and continued last week when he pleaded no contest to charges of domestic battery related to a January 2010 altercation. Gibson, 55, was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva.

“I’m Jewish, so that was something I really was weighing before coming out,” said Lainey Melnick, a commissioner for emergency services in Austin and a volunteer at the festival. “I used to love his work, but now it’s difficult for me to separate the two. I do think he’s a fabulous actor. In a way I’m sort of glad he’s not here so I don’t have to deal with that.”

After the film ended, Melnick was crying. “It was really beautiful,” she said. “I could put all that aside and was watching the story.”

Sandy Schwartz, an Austinite who was serving as a volunteer usher for the night, said she would never pay for a ticket to a Gibson movie. “He’s just generally not a nice person," Schwartz said. "Why do people continue to support him?”

But after the credits rolled, Schwartz’s position had softened. She seemed to credit Gibson with making the same kind of transformation as his character in the film, although the actor has made no public statement of remorse about the threatening voice mails or domestic battery case, and his attorney has repeatedly maintained Gibson's innocence. “I thought maybe this was his story,” Schwartz said. “Maybe there’s redemption and hope for him.”

Prior to the screening, some exhibitors who had not yet seen the film also expressed concern about it.

“You’ve got this very high-concept movie with a star who has had some real issues in the last year,” said Tom Stephenson, CEO of Rave Motion Pictures, which owns about 1,000 movie screens in 20 states. “People are worried about that combination. But if the movie gets really good early reviews or word of mouth, people might go see it in spite of the controversy.”

Last month, Summit Entertainment postponed the release of the film from March until May 20. Gibson is featured prominently in the trailer and the poster.

“In the campaign, he is kind of poking fun at himself,” said Mark Young, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “He’s drawing attention to himself. 'I know I have messed up, I’m still here, I’m still an actor.' You could argue that ‘The Beaver’ is a way for Mel to express himself behind a mask.”

“If I was a studio exec, I would be very cautious about using Mel right now,” Young said. “Jodie Foster is a charming-enough and well-respected-enough person that she alone could do the launch of this film.”

That seemed to be Summit’s strategy in SXSW, where Foster attended a cocktail party before the screening. She had flown in Wednesday from the Paris set of the Roman Polanski film “Carnage” and was wearing sunglasses even at night due to what she said was an illness. Gibson did not attend SXSW, but actor Anton Yelchin, who plays his son in the film, and screenwriter Kyle Killen took the stage with Foster after the screening for a Q&A.

Another prong of the strategy involves a social action campaign promoting awareness of depression and mental health organized by Participant Media, a partner on the film. At SXSW, Participant is co-hosting a barbecue with the mental health awareness groups To Write Love on Her Arms and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center.

[For the record at 1:05 p.m., March 17: An earlier version of this post identified Participant Media as Participant Productions.]

Foster admitted to being nervous before the screening.

“For me it’s a very personal film,” Foster told the audience in Austin. “It has to do with all of my struggles and what I think about obsessively and where I am at this particular point in my life. We’ve all had these struggles and life is full of these -- half-comedy and half-tragedy -- and the only way to get through it is to know you’re not alone. Connection is the one thing that makes life bearable.”

 -- Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson appear in "The Beaver." Credit: SXSW


Comments () | Archives (27)

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So many people don't seem to get one really basic thing: when you're terribly drunk, you say things you'd never say sober - things you'd never even think of. Gibson is a performer - his private life has been horrendously made public - but that shouldn't affect how we enjoy his work as an actor. Why do we require our artists to be politically correct?

I was fortunate to be in Austin and had the good fortune to attend the premiere and see Jodie Fosters work. I can only say she did an amazing job and I hope people won't let their prejudices stand in the way of seeing this marvelous film. The whole cast did a great job. Whatever you think of the man Mel Gibson's his acting in the movie was one of his best.

Mel was drunk get over it already. Obammy is sober and look what a wonderful job he's doing?

It's Participant Media not Participant Productions

I support Mel Gibson's artisitic abilities as an actor, I don't care about his personal life. I wonder if he would still get this much heat regarding his personal life if he wasn't Catholic...hmmm.

actors are "professional" . . . pleeeese. joke. they may be rich, exclusive but in NO way are they a "professional" anything. but then again, in her defense everybody thinks they are some kind of professional these days - even car salesmen and sales women for that matter. CPAs, Doctors and (gasp) lawyers are professional not actors, salesmen or personal trainers

chuck, I don't think him being Catholic is why he's getting heat... nor some potentially suggested feud (by you) between Jews & Catholics. He's drawing heat because of his actions, nothing more... he's a manic personality, highs and lows... like Sheen. And when they don't have a filter, they get themselves in trouble... Although, Sheen when "sober."

@J. C. Raja -- That's just a lie, and anyone who has ever been drunk knows it. Being drunk doesn't place someone else's brain in your head that forces said person to say things they don't believe, that's a load of crap.

Gibson is a misogynist and a bigot, period. If you wanna go to his movies, fine, but don't excuse his behavior with lies.

I don't condone what he did or said. But, I support Mel Gibson and forgive him for his intoxicated indecency. It's funny how certain groups preach about tolerance, but no nothing of it or forgiveness. You're only a hero in Hollywood as long as you're bringing in money in. As soon as you take a fall from grace, all hands are off. I will go see this movie, because it sounds better than 95% of the movies that being spit out anyways.

I guess it would be comparable to Michael Vick or Ben Rothelsburger (sp?). Vick did bad things and paid a price no you say "Do I forgive him?"

But Gibson hasn't exactly issued a mea culpa so not sure that you can forgive him though?



Wow, you sound like a real racist dirt-bag.
Your comment is repulsive!

Please grow up.

So true about being a drunk. We've all seen people who, when sober, are completely "normal." But get them boozed up and look out. I know a guy from SD who got way tanked and tried to choke his girlfriend with a belt. Luckily, a passerby saw the altercation and prevented a horrible tragedy. Even though the victim didn't think he would ever do this again, the judge gave him 40 years. "Alcohol, the reason for, and the answer to, all life's problems."

Mark on Obama, get a life.

Were we to reject the art of reprehensible characters, there would be very little art.
There are a lot more Wagners than Haydns.

The most telling sentence in this article is the one mentioning Foster flying back from working with Polanski. Of course Foster can get over Gibson's racist, misogynistic, wife-beating past, because she herself has no problem working with the child rapist Polanski.

I still won't go to a Gibson movie.

"SXSW audiences are famously enthusiastic ..." -->

"SXSW audiences are famously [sic] smug Yankees."

Jodie Foster is a wonderful person and actress. People on here should stop dishing negative comments at her because she chose Mel Gibson for her film, and because is she currently filming with Polanski. Not everyone may agree with Gibson's and Polanski's personal life and choices, but business is business, and Gibson's/Polanski's person life does not reflect on their work in the film industry.

From reviews of "The Beaver" Foster clearly made the right choice in casting Gibson, and even people who dislike Gibson were quoted in this article as appreciating his performance in the film. So how about focusing on the positive that Foster directed and stared in her own movie and did a beautiful job? After all, this is suppose to be about the movie, not what everyone thinks about Gibson being cast because of his private issues that have been made public.

How many people who are quick to condemn Gibson and say they wouldn't support any movie he'd appear in would also approve of those who boycott Sean Penn, Tim Robbins or Alec Baldwin because of their political views? I don't support Gibson the person - I think he's got problems and demons galore - but I love his movies. Just as I love many of the movies and shows featuring Penn, Robbins and Baldwin. Judge the artist's art, not their personal life.

Look: it's not like Mel Gibson doesn't know that consuming large amounts of alcohol changes his personality. I mean, he's not twenty-something. He's fifty-something, and a fifty-something-year-old man SHOULD KNOW whether or not he should be drinking, because when he drinks, he becomes a raving lunatic! And for me, THAT is what's most troubling - the fact that Mel Gibson is wandering around with that little-boy-lost pose, "Gosh, I'm at a loss for words here, one day everything was fine and the next I'm in jail and gosh folks, I just don't know what happened. Well? How did I get here?" Really? REALLY, Mel?!? Stop acting like you don't know. You know. YOU know. You KNOW. Jeez, you act like we're all stupid or something.

A professional is anyone who gets paid to do their job.

Mark you are repulsive. How's your own mammy by the way? Ashamed of you?

Gibson bad, Sheen good. Gibson is boycotted by actors in The Hangover II, but the same actors are fine working with that cooky and and multi-convicted felon Mike Tyson. Mel Gisbon is dangerous, but Lindsey Lohan is a misguided young person trying to find her way. Christine Aguilera is a colorful drunk, but Mel Gibson is a menace spouting hate. We needed to rally around Robert Downey Jr because even though he was breaking into the homes of strangers and waking up in their beds, but Gibson needs to be banished from the kingdom.

The politically correct crowd determines who are the cool kids and who is not. Humorous and sad.

Can't wait to see it! Mel is such a great actor and I'm hearing he is fabulous in this!

I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I think Mel Gibson is a wonderful actor.

These people who are still talking about him getting drunk..SIX YEARS AGO.. are pathetic. (they must be perfect!)

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