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New York Times SXSW story on 'The Beaver' Includes PM’s Social Action Campaign


When Art Imitates an Actor’s Troubled Life The New York Times   By MICHAEL CIEPLY AUSTIN, Tex. — At least Jodie Foster seems to get how tough it will be for some to watch her new movie, “The Beaver,” which features amputation, mental illness and Mel Gibson, all in one swoop.   “You’re all still here; I think it’s a good sign,” said Ms. Foster, as she peered through sunglasses at the crowd of 1,200 that had just watched the film’s debut on Wednesday night at the South by Southwest festival here.   On the stage earlier Ms. Foster had called the film “probably the biggest struggle of my professional career.”   She referred both to its subject — hopeless depression and a man who struggles through it with the help of a beaver hand puppet — and to the turmoil surrounding its lead actor, Mel Gibson.   “All sorts of things that were beyond our control” served as Ms. Foster’s summary phrase for Mr. Gibson’s legal woes and public relations debacles, which helped bump the movie to an awkward release date, May 6, just as the blockbuster season gets going.   “The Beaver” probably will show first in fewer than a dozen cities, Robert G. Friedman, the chief executive of Summit Entertainment, the film’s distributor, said at a cocktail party before Wednesday’s premiere. To get a wider viewing the film must then fight its way past more typical summer fare like “Thor” from Paramount Pictures and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” from Walt Disney.   But as Ms. Foster said, the crowd was still there as the movie ended at the grand old Paramount Theater. The mostly young festivalgoers applauded warmly but grilled her a little about how she expected to promote a movie that she had set up with an apt warning: “This is not a comedy.”   The film, which had been closely held until Wednesday, delivers considerably more shock value than its widely parodied trailer implies. (One parody substitutes street talk from Samuel L. Jackson every time Mr. Gibson’s beaver opens its mouth.)   And the biggest shock comes from an uncomfortably close congruence between the film’s troubled lead character, a toy executive and failed family man named Walter Black, and Mr. Gibson, who pleaded no contest last Friday to a misdemeanor battering charge. Even that turns out to have an echo in the film.   In court last week it was clear that Mr. Gibson — whose movie career may or may not be intact after a cast rebellion shut him out of even a bit part in “The Hangover Part II” — had crossed into a new kind of stardom. An O. J. Simpson-size gaggle of reporters and broadcast vans turned out in Los Angeles to watch him side-step a jail term.   He’ll do a year if he violates probation, the judge warned Mr. Gibson, who looked chastened and bewildered — very much like Walter Black in the film.   By Hollywood’s standards, the direct financial stakes around “The Beaver” are not large. Backed by both Summit and Participant Media, the film was shot on a budget that has been reported at about $20 million.   For Mr. Gibson, however, the movie may decide the future of an acting career that has accounted for more than $2 billion in domestic ticket sales, according to figures compiled by Boxofficemojo.com   Ms. Foster worked with Mr. Gibson on “Maverick,” which was shot in 1993, and she has repeatedly described him as a friend. When she asked him to star in “The Beaver,” which was mostly shot in 2009, he had already been shunned by others in Hollywood after an anti-Semitic rant during a drunk driving arrest in 2006. As she was finishing the film this year, his career took another nose dive with the public release of recordings in which he appeared to make obscene and racist threats toward his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, whom he was convicted of battering last week.   But Ms. Foster is loyal, and a trouper.   She had on sunglasses, she told audience members on Wednesday, to spare them a look into eyes that were haunted by near exhaustion and the after-effects of a streplike infection. “Every one of you would become a vampire or throw up” from looking too closely, said Ms. Foster, who had flown in from Paris, where she is working in Roman Polanski’s next film, “Carnage.” (Mr. Polanski, of course, has had his own troubles with the law.)   At the age of 48 Ms. Foster has performed in more than 40 films, and has now directed three, including “Home for the Holidays,” which took in just $17 million when it was released in 1995, and “Little Man Tate,” which did a bit better, with $25 million in ticket sales in 1991.   When she rocked the film world with her performance as an under-age prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” Ms. Foster was just 13. It was already her fifth film. She has since won two acting Oscars for “The Accused” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” struggled with self-described depression and made a determined run at getting her directing career on track.   Still, it may take more than show business grit to turn “The Beaver” into anything more than an oddity — one of those pictures that is noted, like Mr. Polanski’s “Ghost Writer,” mostly for its whiff of notoriety. (“The Ghost Writer” was finished as Mr. Polanski was under arrest in Switzerland and fighting extradition over a decades-old sex-crime case in California.)   At the prescreening cocktail session Summit executives said they were counting on critics and cineastes to honor the film as an ambitious and ultimately uplifting treatment of an extremely difficult subject. Participant Media, meanwhile, is using a social outreach apparatus, takepart.com/thebeaver, honed on issue-oriented movies like “Waiting for Superman” and “The Informant!” to reach for viewers among groups that are involved with mental health.   In an interview on Thursday morning Ms. Foster spoke of her decision to stand by Mr. Gibson, saying that while his personal life was more public than most people’s, “I don’t actually think his troubles are as unusual as you might think.”   She said that his presence changed the movie somewhat; for example, the character of the Beaver became darker and gruffer.   “He’s the first person I thought of” in casting Walter Black, she said. “He has a very, very rare quality to have lightness, to maintain charm but still go to a darker place.”   Mr. Gibson, she said, probably could not have done justice to his role in what is being described as a redemption story if he had not taken his own dive off the deep end.   A report in The Austin Chronicle, which noted that the film’s writer, Kyle Killen, the executive producer of the “Lone Star” series, is from Austin, compared the film to “Harvey.” That would be the 1950 film in which James Stewart, nominated for an Oscar in the role, had an invisible friend who happened to be a six-foot rabbit.   Ms. Foster said she would settle for comparisons to “Being There,” “The World According to Garp” or “American Beauty” — all singular films that are hard to categorize. “It’s a little bit uncharted waters,” she said.   http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/movies/jodie-foster-talks-about-the-beaver-and-mel-gibson.html?_r=1

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