Jodie Foster has Hollywood clout. With a performing career dating back to when she was seven, and the title of "Director" added later to her lengthy list of credits, Foster continues to be one of the most interesting actresses working today. She knows great material when she sees it. Her recommendations have weight.
"District 9 is a perfect film," she tells Hollywood.com at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. This is obvious to anyone who has seen director Neill Blomkamp's 2009 sci-fi film, and yet, Foster's passionate word gives the Best Picture nominee even more cred. "If I look back in history as one of the most perfect movies for me, that movie has everything. Social commentary that's absolutely topical to now. It's moving — you see that character change. That arc is so elegantly drawn. It has it all. It's incredibly well-shot, how it uses CGI in a way that's so authentic and so real... I love that movie."
An actress known for being selective (she's starred in nine films in the last ten years, including her directorial effort The Beaver), Foster knew immediately after watching District 9 that the visionary Blomkamp was someone she had to work with. "I saw District 9 and said, 'I want to make a movie with that guy.' And then they said, 'We have, hot off the press, a script that he's done and there's a part for a woman in it.' So I said, 'Find me the guy!'" Foster got her wish when Blomkamp recruited her for Elysium, another sci-fi epic that debuted a batch of high-octane footage at Comic-Con. Although the film wrapped production months ago, little is known of Elysium, but the revealing footage teased another tale rooted in both futuristic action and heady socioeconomic politics. The film takes place on a world divided; with Earth nearly uninhabitable thanks to years of environmental destruction, the super rich live above the skies in a luxury space station called Elysium. Everyone else? Fighting to survive.
"[My character] represents the 0.01%," says Foster of her character, Secretary Rhodes. "An elegant, French person who has a certain aristocracy. I get to do the French." Foster, who showed off her Français fluency in 2004 A Very Long Engagement, is excited to resurface her language skills, but more importantly to her, to embody a character that's deeply connected to today's pressing issues. "She represents this somebody who's still hanging on in some ways with the beauty of memory. The things that were great about Earth that just don't exist anymore. She's in a new habitat and she controls who comes and goes from that habitat."
Elysium promises a class war that takes on a more literal, violent meaning, but Foster explains that the movie is very much about today. "We've polarized our classes more and more. That's happened more in the last 50 years than it's happened in the last 500 years. It's outrageous. It's bringing countries down and we're paying for it. Earth is paying for it." It's that close connection to present day that makes Foster love sci-fi, a genre she describes as "a reflection of where we're headed." After all, Hollywood sci-fi has successfully prognosticated the future before. "You look at The Matrix 15 years ago. That was a long time ago, and that's world that we're living in now. We're tapped in. We don't own CDs, we don't own movies. We don't need to own anything anymore. We don't interact with each other in the physical world, we interact in the virtual world. We all have these powerful avatars who scoot around and buy things. 'I like,' 'I don't like' — we interact mostly virtually in everything we do. It's not a terrible thing, but Matrix saw it happening."
Foster fondly remembers Carl Sagan, author and producer of her previous sci-fi movie, 1998's Contact. Sharing Foster's passions for science and entertainment, Sagan's work also prognosticated the future — elements of which sound very Elysium-like. "He understood the beauty and spiritual dimension of awe. I think if anything, he presaged this idea of community of ideas. That's what we're doing now. A 12-year-old in China and an 80-year-old in India are working together to change our world. It's fantastic. They're doing things that will change billions of lives. At the same time, we're destroying billions of lives with the same technology and connectivity." That slow burn extinction lies at the heart of Elysium, a world Blomkamp conveys as very real and very terrifying in even the short snippet of footage shown at Comic-Con. Could we really get to this point? Foster thinks so. "We are destroying the planet — there's no question about that. Whatever happens in 100 years, 200 years, 300 years, 500 years, you and I will be dead and our children will probably be dead too, but the idea of terraforming has to happen. And we have the technology to do that, but we've decided not to. It's very expensive."
Elysium may be a film packed with intelligence, but that doesn't mean it won't deliver on the thrills. The footage showed Matt Damon at the center of heart-racing fight scenes, bad guys exploding into dust thanks to high tech weaponry — all the signs of a blockbuster. Foster may not cross paths with the film's hero too many times ("We only have one scene together and he doesn't even get to talk! He's gagged."), but Blomkamp's promise to blend the heady material with high-octane action is what entranced her in the first place. "I like to make combination movies. Movies that are intelligent, that have a real narrative bent, are thoughtful and have ideas. Also, I like movies that touch large groups of people and that's always a delicate thing to try and make movies about something that will get people saying, 'Yeah yeah yeah.' That will put them in a primitive place. Not just an intellectual place, but primitive."
Primitive might be the perfect description for Comic-Con, a mecca for unfiltered enthusiasm and fandom. Foster hasn't starred in many films with a Comic-Con-level allegiance to them (although she's still wowed that Silence of the Lambs was a big hit with vocal fans), so the admiring crowd is new to her. But she knows all about falling in love with a creative property, revealing her own SDCC-worthy obsession: "I'm a big True Blood fan. I've seen all of them twice. I love the whole thing, all the characters. I like humor interacting with the science fiction element of it. I just think vampires are funny. I think all the stuff about it is funny."
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: WENN.com, Warner Bros. Pictures]