Almost five years to the date after releasing her last movie as director, two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster returns behind the camera on Money Monster, a Wall Street thriller starring George Clooney as an egocentric cable finance news host who’s taken hostage on-air by a disgruntled young investor.
Of course, even someone of Foster’s caliber had a bit of a rough go the last time around.
One of the most recognizable names in Hollywood thanks to a nearly five-decade career that began at age 3 and includes films like Taxi Driver, The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs, Panic Room, and Little Man Tate, her first foray as a director, Foster had to hold it down on the press tour for 2011’s The Beaver when the controversial personal troubles of her star Mel Gibson turned America off of the film en masse.
Looking back now, Foster reflects on the public stand she took for her longtime friend. “I’ve known him for 20-something years, and he’s someone that I really love and I really care about,” she told The Daily Beast on a recent afternoon in Beverly Hills. “I obviously can’t condone his behavior—his private behavior. What do I know about his private behavior? But I do know the man I know, who is an extraordinary artist. I know the experiences I’ve had with him and that’s really the only thing I can attest to.”
“I think if someone you love is struggling, you don’t disown them and run in the opposite direction,” she added. “I think you try to be compassionate, and try to understand their struggle. Try to help them.”
For her next directorial effort after The Beaver, Foster sought just the right project. She boarded Money Monster in 2012, choosing the story of a flawed and unlikeable male celebrity whose public ugliness is exposed as America watches—and whom the audience is then asked to give the chance to regain his humanity as the film progresses.
Later that year she penned a Daily Beast guest column on the subject of privacy. In it, she urged the media to back off of her onetime Panic Room co-star, Kristen Stewart, as she endured her own public imbroglio after being photographed with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders. A few months later, Foster delivered her own stunning coming-out revelation at the Golden Globes, resplendent and powerful as all of Hollywood and America gazed upon her on stage.
Foster confirms the unintentional parallels between Gibson and her Money Monster antihero: “And I have real feelings about what’s public and private—and a real sense of loyalty to the people who are struggling, trying to survive a public life. I think you feel terribly alone, and I guess I’m out there saying, ‘You’re not alone.’ Whether it’s him or other people that have gone through similar situations.”
“But Mel is an extraordinary director, and I have to say, I think he’s the most loved actor I’ve ever worked with—not just by me, by all the technicians and everybody who’s worked with him,” she added. “That’s just the truth, and obviously we all have complicated truths that come with us.”
Money Monster arrives after the Academy Awards triumph of another financial wake-up call to America, Paramount’s The Big Short, put the twisty legalities and deliberately confusing jargon of Wall Street on display to shocking effect. But rather than finger the real-life figures culpable for the nation’s financial instability, the script by Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf, and Jamie Linden charts a more traditional fictional route through taut crime-thriller territory. It’s more like, say, Inside Man, the 2006 hit Foster co-starred in for Spike Lee—only set against the chaotic backdrop of the country rebuilding itself after the housing crisis.
“The mortgage crisis was fresh in our minds, and a lot of regulation has happened since then to try to sort of stump up the tide,” Foster said. “Wall Street is really back to business as usual with these regulations, which have created shorter margins for people. So they have to find new creative ways to make more amounts of money because it’s harder to make money now.”
“That’s where things get dangerous,” she noted, “and that was the inspiration for the plot of the movie. What are people going to have to do now that banks are closing, that the federal government has closed some of these loopholes? Where are they going to start pulling their money from?”
“The system is engineered specifically and the rules are written by the very few people who could ever understand the rules, so that they could benefit from them. It is a rigged system. We all know that, and we’ve accepted that. It’s a system that was engineered to create middlemen so that the middlemen could take money from both sides. Like scalpers! And at some point there will be an implosion, because they have to keep finding more margins of benefit.”
The incident that sparks working-class New Yorker Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) to sneak into the TV station where Lee Gates (Clooney) is broadcasting live to his audience of investment-hungry fans about a massive overnight loss of $800 million that trading fund Ibis Clear Capital blames on a “glitch” in their algorithm.
“There have been a lot of glitches,” said Foster. “Knight Capital lost $440 million in 30 minutes, and then went bankrupt that day. And it was a glitch. They didn’t find out for a very long time what happened. It took them years—and they still don’t know. They believe it was what’s called a ‘fat finger,’ that somebody pushed a button on a zero and left it on there too long.”
“There was a crash not too long ago, a glitch crash that originated out of Chicago, and they still don’t really understand it,” she continued. “That’s the problem. Technology has created these systems; we’ve created these computer systems and mathematical equations that are responding to each other. We don’t control them, and now they are corresponding.”
It’s no coincidence that the men of Money Monster—Clooney’s unwittingly complicit Gates, O’Connell’s desperate Budwell, and Dominic West as the CEO of Ibis Capital—are the ones whose collective hubris and need to find self-value in money initiate ruin for everyone around them. Gates’s saving grace is his producer Patty Fens (Julia Roberts), who stays behind as the station is hijacked by a gunman and helps guide Clooney’s self-centered talking head toward something resembling heroism.
“It’s a sad fact that all of these guys feel so bad about themselves,” said Foster. “I think that’s an interesting part of the male psyche, that they are always looking for their value in other people’s eyes—especially the strong women that are disappointed by them. And in this film, we have three incredibly strong women that are dealing with babies, really.” Foster also happens to be issuing her warning shot to America’s financial institutions in a climate of looming doom and gloom, thanks to an all-too real circus that’s mutated into something stranger than fiction: November’s presidential election.
“I couldn’t make up what’s happening right now!” she laughed. “I mean, it’s absurd. It’s absolutely absurd. If I had put it in a movie they would have thought I was crazy. They would have said it was satire.”
“It’s a really interesting time in history. And it’s symptomatic, I think, of people being just mad. People are mad, and they don’t even know why. They just know that they don’t want it to be the way it was, meaning that they don’t want the status quo, and they want things to change. They also have this thirst for entertainment. They expect to be entertained 24-7.”
Blame the never-ending news cycle that spits out figures like the fictional Gates to info-tain the nation every morning. Foster admits she was once much more of a newshound before the unrelenting stream of “news” became overwhelming.
“For the first five years of that 24-hour news cycle you go, ‘This is fantastic. I can turn on the news any time!’ And after a while, you don’t want any more news,” she smiled. Foster considered the paradox of modern existence: interacting with just about anyone these days when you, like her, have chosen to live a life unglued from your screens, your devices, and your television sets.
“I don’t really know what’s going on, very much. Everybody else seems to. Like, ‘I’m sure you saw that thing on YouTube…’ But no! I don’t know what’s going on. I barely watch TV. I’m never plugged in. I’m not doing anything, though—it’s not like I’m getting a Nobel Prize for all the work I’m doing in physics. Or reading, you know, Ulysses.”
“How do these people have all the time to know the things that they know?” She searched for the answer to her own question, and smiled. “I think I’m just not… I’m not a fact person. I don’t really care about facts. I don’t even really retain them and I find them anxious-making. I like ideas.”