Jodie Foster took Austin's Paramount stage for the Wednesday night premiere of The Beaver, a dark, moving family drama centered on Mel Gibson, who is well-cast as a tortured man in crisis. (See indieWIRE's review; here's Hollywood Wiretap's round-up).
Distributor Summit Entertainment put the film on the shelf for six months while they tried to ride out Gibson's crazy tabloid circus. Launching at SXSW was a smart move; the sincere drama about a mentally ill man played well with the friendly crowd and extra time in the editing room may have paid off, although Foster admits that Summit understands that the drama "is not for everyone, speaks for itself" and was never intended for a broad mainstream audience. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and rookie screenwriter Kyle Kellin joined Foster on-stage, but SXSW and Gibson's reps were never able to come to terms on the beleaguered star appearing in Austin with the film--way too risky.
Based on Kellin's Black Listed screenplay (which Foster took over after the first director passed), The Beaver is an uncompromising relationship drama about a depressed man (Gibson) who tries to save himself from suicide by speaking with a Cockney accent through a beaver hand puppet. His anxious wife (Foster) tries to cope with him and his younger son adores him, but the teenager (Yelchin) keeps his distance. Foster says she struggled to balance the parallel stories of the teen--who writes other students' papers and is smitten with the school valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence, in a strong turn), who seeks help with her speech--and the father, who turns his toy company around while channeling the beaver side of his personality.
The process of making The Beaver was "the biggest struggle of my professional career," said Foster, who admitted that it was tough getting the comedic/dramatic tones right. And not being able to show the film for so long was arduous. This is "the first real audience" to see the film, she told the fest crowd, who applauded heartily at the film's end.
Foster described Gibson as "a miraculous gift" and with a straight face described him as "the most beloved actor in the movie business"--along with her Anna co-star Chow Yun Fat. She told THR that even while editing Beaver, she was aware that recordings of Gibson’s rants would be made public. “I knew about that,” she says. “He was upset. Then, on the last day of reshoots of Mel, it all came out.”
Foster and Gibson have been close friends since they co-starred in Maverick back in 1994. She has remained loyal throughout his ordeal. She told THR:
"God, I love that man. The performance he gave in this movie, I will always be grateful for. He brought a lifetime of pain to the character that we’ve been talking about for years, that I knew was part of his psyche and who he is. It’s part of him that is beautiful and that I want people to know, too. I can’t ever regret that.”
Stay tuned for my one-on-one interview Thursday with Foster, who flew in from the set of Carnage in Paris and has to fly back to finish the last day of filming.
Here are some clips from the movie: