Jodie Foster at the Cannes Film Festival (Associated Press)
A two-time Oscar winner for acting, Jodie Foster is devoting herself to directing now, and her cinematic ambition just ticked upward. While her first three efforts behind the camera were relatively intimate, small-budget dramas (Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays, and The Beaver), her new film, Money Monster, is a glossier, high-stakes thriller featuring A-listers George Clooney and Julia Roberts and being released in the thick of the summer movie season — in between superhero blockbusters Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse.
Still, the film was shot for a reportedly low $30 million (or roughly a tenth of Civil War) and has what Foster calls “a small story.” It follows a recently bankrupt Queens man (Jack O'Connell) who turns up at the studios of a financial news show and takes its host, Lee Gates (Clooney), hostage on live television. Roberts plays the producer attempting to manage the crisis.
You’d be forgiven to think Gates reminds you of another flashy financial news host, CNBC’s Mad Money pundit Jim Cramer. But Foster, 53, whom we caught up with at the film’s Los Angeles press day, swears any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental. Read on to find out what else the Silence of Lambs actor-turned-director had to say about the making of Money Monster, Clooney’s hip-hop dancing skills, and her current relationship with acting.
Is it safe to assume Lee Gates is based on Jim Cramer? Was he the inspiration?
You know, I know you’re not gonna be surprised, as [the film’s distributor] Sony will tell you, this movie is not based on Jim Cramer. He’s the most famous financial news host, so obviously there were some thoughts about him, but I think George’s Lee Gates is different. A lot smoother, [has] a bigger set, is more important in some ways—
He’s better looking.
Better looking. Smells a little better. [Laughs]
Clooney and Foster on the set of ‘Money Monster’ (Sony)
Were you ever worried that Cramer would think it’s based on him?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s not, so that’s really not a worry. There are a lot of financial news hosts out there now. And the financial world has really become enmeshed with entertainment, and that’s kind of what we were trying to say. It felt current, it felt like that’s what’s happening now.
Is Money Monster a passion project for you? In a literal sense — are you passionate about the world’s financial system and what might be broken about it?
Obviously I thought a lot about it. It’s been on my mind a lot. I just make movies. So that’s my favorite way of learning about something is by making a movie about it. And thinking about it in terms of character, and thinking about it in terms of larger meaning, and what the allegory is in all of it. We have a couple of backdrops. It’s the financial world, but it’s also the world of entertainment television. And also technology, and our relationship to technology and how this virtual intimacy has become closer than real life… So those are the backdrops to this small story, in some ways, about two men who feel like failures, and the woman who’s trying to guide their survival.
What really stuck with you from this learning experience?
Wow, a thousand things. You learn so much from every movie you make. But I learned a lot about technology. I’m a bit of a technophobe, like everybody in my generation, I’m scared of it. And it’s where I really lose my temper. If I can’t figure out how to unlock my phone, I want to throw it across the room.
I obviously, through research, had to learn a lot about Wall Street, and about what’s happening, and about what potentially will happen. There’s this cycle of bubble-crisis-bubble-crisis-bubble-crisis-bubble-crash that we’ve been in for hundreds of years and now unfortunately the margins are so much higher that the crashes will be much higher, too. Now we’re really looking at the potential of a global collapse, because we can’t make enough money with all the regulations in the United States so you have to do it elsewhere, or find ways around it.
This feels like a different George Clooney from what we’ve seen before. What made him so right for Lee?
George can be very brave about allowing himself to explore somebody who’s really failed and who’s really fragile. Who has a big ego, and yet feels so bad about himself. And he’s just not afraid to be an idiot, that’s nice. I think he really liked the idea that this guy lost his way, and he was unconscious, and didn’t really understand his own identity anymore; he sort of lost it in this celebrity persona. And he went for it.
Clooney dancing up a storm in ‘Money Monster’ (Sony)
Speaking of going for it, how much convincing did it take to get him to do those hip-hop dance moves?
Ah! He’s the one who came up with it, which he conveniently forgets. He came up with the idea. He said, 'How about if I do a little dance. I can do a little thing like this [imitates dance move].’ I was like, 'OK, you wanna dance? Watch.’ So we did get a choreographer [Tanisha Scott] who came in, who’s one of the two women who was dancing with him.
George likes to say, 'Oh, it was just a little thing. I didn’t practice or anything.’ But he did. And I’m sure in fact he went home and was really busy shaking his booty in the mirror. I’m sure [his wife] Amal will tell us.
George and Julia have worked together before on the Ocean’s movies. Their dynamic seems pretty effortless.
Amazing. They bring this strange chemistry to the table that I don’t think either of them even understands.
Julia recently described your task of directing the two of them together as “like keeping cookies in a box.”
[Laughs] No, they’re easy. Both of them. George is at least 15 or 20 minutes earlier than anyone else. He’s always on time, he’s very easy. And everybody just loves Julia. She’s just fantastic, she comes so prepared. Honestly, they couldn’t be easier.
Clooney and Roberts in ‘Money Monster’ (Sony)
What’s your relationship with acting these days? Are you done?
No, I don’t think I’ll ever be done with acting. I feel like I’ve done it my whole life, I can’t imagine I’ll stop now. But I know directing is my priority now, and I had to make that happen because for so long the acting had to be a priority and I was never able to direct. And the kids, too, I have kids. So there was a long period of time and stretch between Home for the Holidays and The Beaver where I didn’t direct at all. But now I’m ready, and prioritizing that.
Are you looking at potential projects now?
I am but I don’t want to work for a while. I’m exhausted. I literally just finished the movie three weeks ago, and, yeah, I’m tired.
Is there a type of role that you haven’t yet done that you’re looking for?
I’d really like to do something where I had to learn something hard. Like, learn to be a violinist. Or to be an Olympic athlete. Or speak Polish. I’d like to commit six months to really living in the world of something obsessively. I don’t know why I want to do that but I do. I’d like to just learn something.
Like you spoke French in A Very Long Engagement.
I speak French, yeah. But I learned that as a kid.
Well, I’d love to see you speak Polish.
Yeah! A Polish, javelin-throwing violinist.
Money Monster is now in theaters. Watch the trailer: