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Jodie Foster on True Detective, The Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema

Exclusive Interview with the Oscar-winning actress...

Jodie Foster on True Detective, The Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema
Marc Chacksfield
20 February 2024

For six decades now Jodie Foster has brought to life some of the most memorable characters ever seen on the big screen. Teenage runaway Iris in Taxi Driver, chanteuse Tallulah in Bugsy Malone, FBI trainee Clarice Starling in The Silence Of The Lambs to name but a few.

But in 2024 it’s the small screen where we see Foster in her latest role, as detective Liz Danvers in True Detective: Night Country, the fourth instalment of the incredibly successful crime franchise.

“She is just awful,” says Foster, about Danvers, to ShortList when we met up with her recently. “She's mean to people, she's totally selfish, insensitive, and kind of slightly racist.

“But you come to understand that there's something that she’s hiding. It's a protection for her and you sort of accept her honesty, because she's a good cop. And she's obsessed with the justice of it. So by the time you get to the end, I think you do understand where all of that comes from.”

And get to the end you can now do, with all episodes of Night Country streaming on NOW in the UK and Max in the US - a chilling whodunnit that’s set in Ennis, Alaska and revolves around the disappearance of eight men from a research station.

Joining Danvers in the investigation of the missing men is trooper Evangeline Navarro, played by Kali Reis, a four-time boxing world champion in real life.

“Navarro is really the central character, the central voice,” says Foster.

“Both of these detectives are living in a man's world. That influences them and they have a lot of sharp edges. But there's a complexity to them, they are not friends but are working out how to work together.

“There's a kind of sisterhood. I think that's about relating to the victim. And obviously men relate to the victim in different ways.”

To find out more, ShortList spoke to Foster about the show, her experience of Hollywood and her many wonderful memories of working on some of the greatest films of all time.

Here is Jodie Foster in her own words…

Jodie Foster on True Detective, Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema
Image Credit: HBO

On shooting True Detective: Night Country in Iceland

“The Alaskan climate was too forbidding and where we needed to shoot didn’t have any roads, so we would have had to bring everything in by plane.

“So we decided to shoot in Iceland, where they have a good film community. We brought everybody to Iceland, and worked with a lot of indigenous people from Iceland and Greenland.

“The highlight was really just being in Reykjavik with its great food and terrific live music. They have these public pools, so you can go in and you have a little hot tub with your neighbours and there's kids and grandmas there. It's like going to the pub at night - everybody shows up there.

"Then you jump into the cold plunge. So it's back and forth between the cold plunge and the hot tub and that got me through the shoot.”

On working with showrunner Issa López

“I watched Tigers Are Not Afraid right before I met with her for the first time. I loved it. I loved how she worked with young people. And that's really telling if a director can work with young people. It means that you have a personality that’s nurturing, but one that also knows what they want.

“The first time I met her I just was like, ‘She's exactly the right vision.’ For me, she's probably my favourite director.

“She has everything you're hoping for. She's intelligent, emotionally intelligent. She's flexible, but she also knows where she's headed. Everything’s very intentional, but also kind of free.

“And she is the first person on the dance floor which is a good, solid thing to be in life.”

On how she likes to be directed

“I don't like a lot of voodoo [with directing], all of that, ‘Look in my eyes!’ I just want you to tell me what you want and then I'll translate it to whatever it is that I do. So I like, ‘faster, slower, bigger, broader’.

"I like the direct approach.”

Jodie Foster on True Detective, Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema
Image Credit: HBO

On learning scripts

“It gets harder when you get older. All of the older actors wink at each other and we're like, 'it gets hard'! But you just have to go early, you gotta learn it early.

“The one thing that all the older actors say when we come in is, just don't change the lines at the last minute. Don't give me a two-page monologue the night before as I will not remember. There's no way for me to learn it. You just have to start early.”

On the differences of directing for film and TV

“Directing films and directing TV isn't very different at all, except you have less time with TV and that's okay. I like being constrained for time and work in a way that's very economical.

“The big difference between directing television and films is, obviously, as a filmmaker you are making every single decision.

“There's a more collaborative approach in television where it's about working with showrunners and working with the writers and producers. As a director in television you're not always privy to all the conversations. You have to ask questions and you have to collaborate so it's more of being part of a team.”

On her own directing tips

“The only tip I have to give to anyone, whether it's my kids, people that I meet, or other actors is just relax! Because there's only so much you can change.

“I think you do learn that as you get older. I almost feel like there's some kind of hormone that the second you turn 60 it starts charging through your veins and suddenly you realise it's not worth worrying about anymore.”

On working in horror

“Horror is an opportunity to connect people in a primitive way, in their most primal spots. And that allows you to add on an emotional layer onto that portal. It’s sort of a scientific experiment.”

On what scares her

“I don't like snakes. I am not a snake person. Yeah. And technology's a problem for me. I have embraced it. I do my thing but the second it doesn't perform the way it's supposed to, I start wanting to throw my computer against a wall.”

On how TV and film has changed over the years

“I think that having seen this revolution between theatrical releases and streaming, we're at a very interesting transition right now. Most of the films that you'll see in the theatre, where you'll shell out lots of money to see, are going to be superhero films or big giant films.

"Real narrative, real storytelling with a beginning, middle and end, it's all happening on the smaller screen, and I embrace that.”

Jodie Foster on True Detective, Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema
Columbia Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images

On the best decade of movies

“The ‘70s is really our great American Classic moment in film history. That will always shine as the greatest moment in film history for me. It's our golden era.

“All of those anti hero films, you know? I had Taxi Driver but there’s Panic In Needle Park, Network, The Godfather... any number of extraordinary films from that time. I think that changed filmmaking forever.

“And, for me, it's why I make movies. I just am so lucky that I was born in the right period and somehow managed to find myself amongst Scorsese and other great filmmakers, at the best time in American film history.”

On who she would Freaky Friday with?

"Who would I like to be for a day? I would probably be a rockstar for a day but I think everybody says that, right? But I would want to be Sting, because he’s my guy. And I do say that to Sting and Trudie.

“He was just the one that I loved more than anybody and then I finally realised it was because I just wanted to be him.”

On Bugsy Malone

“I remember every song. That's a really special movie from a first-time director. Alan Parker had written Melody, which at that time was a TV movie, but Bugsy Malone was his first movie as director.

“What’s extraordinary is that nobody knows it in the United States. It’s a British film. There's only four American actors in the film and everybody else was English or they were from American army bases here.

“We shot it all in the UK, it’s a fully British movie and the whole phenomenon of Bugsy Malone is entirely British. Americans don't know anything about it.

"I have great memories from that movie."

Jodie Foster on True Detective, Silence Of The Lambs and ‘70s cinema
Image Credit: MGM Pictures

On watching her own movies and shows

“I think it's probably a testament to how much I like True Detective is how many times I've seen it. Occasionally I'll be like, ‘Well, I see that once, that's enough’.

“As an actor, there's only so much control you have. You control your performance and even then you don't, because someone else is picking your tapes and deciding which takes they use and are influencing the trajectory of what your intentions were. You get used to the idea of doing the work and now it's no longer under your control.

“Silence Of The Lambs, I still think, is such a strong, good movie. If I'm walking by the television set and it comes on I'll find myself still watching it.”

On making Silence of The Lambs

"It’s very similar to my feeling of Night Country. When I first read the book of Silence Of The Lambs, I called somebody quickly and asked, ‘how do I buy this book for me to produce’ and I was told it was taken. But I got involved with them and then eventually came on board the film and Ted Talley made the most perfect script.

“Almost no changes to the script were needed. Every single person that came aboard understood it in a way that was so deep that we all did the best work of our life. It was this family experience that's hard to describe.

“And True Detective: Night Country is the first time that I felt that again. I think maybe it's because there's a DNA that they share.”

All episodes of True Detective: Night Country are streaming now, and available to buy courtesy of Warner Bros/HBO.