The two‑time Oscar winner goes behind the camera for a dark comedy about family ties
December 1995

In Home for the Holidays, Jodie Foster' s second directorial effort, three grown‑up kids -single mom Holly Hunter, bon vivant Robert Downey, Jr., and happily married yuppie Cynthia Stevenson‑ struggle to preserve their sanity during a family reunion. 'All of the children in some ways are different parts of me," says Foster, who recently chatted with ELLE'S James Patrick Herman about her latest project, her inner Martha Stewart, and psychobabble‑free movies.


Home for the Holidays has been called a black com­edy‑appropriate for a film about an American family.

There are comedic elements in the movie, but I don't see it as a comedy. Every situation is way too real and heartbreaking.

Does the dysfunctional family in your film exemplify the typical American family?

Dysfunctional is a very overused word. I think people are complicated. It is our foibles and our weaknesses and our pieces of shame that make us different‑and I embrace that.

Why didn't you play the single‑mother role yourself?

Never thought of it! Really, I never wanted to act and direct [in the same film] again. It's too hard. You don't enjoy anything. You're in curlers at 7 A.M. looking through an eyepiece. You never get the time to really love your movie.

Directing must be liberating‑it doesn't matter how you look.

It's much more in my personality. I'm a little bit shy and I live in my head a lot. Acting is actually kind of therapeutic, it forces me to be a more emotionally connected person, more vulnerable, and more available.

What have you learned from your sec­ond time behind the camera?

As much as I love Little Man Tate [Foster's directorial debut, in which she also starred], it's a lot less spontaneous. I wanted to make a movie about these ambivalent sparks that make up relationships. Each character has all these sides.... Like [Robert] Downey's character‑he's obnoxious and off‑putting. You realize, finally, he's got a lot to protect.

What's the source of his alienation?

Well, he's a witty, young, homosexual guy. There's a very telling moment where his mother starts going on and he just looks at her and says, "Enough! You're a pain in the ass and you've got really bad hair, but I like you a lot." All she says is, "Well, you know me, I can't change." He says, "Believe me, neither can I." In one second, you see why this obnoxious character has assumed this persona.

Only Holly Hunter's character seems to accept his sexuality.

It's not quite as unsophisticated as the "accepting your sexuality thing" -that's pretty boring and passé. It's much more about your parents not controlling your life. He's just very private. He has to not let himself be vulnerable to these people that he knows will destroy him. In this family, if you don't have the tools to survive, somebody will squash you like a bug.

How do you think audiences will react to Home for the Holiday?

I'm not sure. The film's really edgy‑the humor can be quite adolescent and dark. It's also peculiarly American, in the same way that Fellini movies were really Italian in sensibility and tone. There's a dreamy quality we all have, we believe it is our inalienable right to go on Wheel of Fortune and become zillionaires. What's American is people who live real lives and never get those things‑and yet are so happy and joyous and keep on dreaming.

Do you think Americans avoid reality?

I have no idea. What's nice about my picture is that it's really a psychobabble‑less film. It talks about character in a very pure and classic way instead of going into any New Age‑y therapy sessions.

So you're not a big fan of "New Age‑y" therapy?

Anytime you use a formula or a structure to define who people are, you're getting into trouble. People defy logic ‑the not one thing or the other.

Were the holidays a happy time for you growing up?

They still are. I'm a huge thanksgiving/Christmas person. I love cooking, having people over to my house.

What wakes you up at 3 A.M.?

I'm a total worrywart; everything wakes me up. I love my life, but that's because it's complicated and things are painful and difficult and because I'm way too sensitive to the world ‑not because I wake up and have scones and tea brought to me. A lot of celebrities say, "Well, it could get complicated if I go to an event, I'd have to talk to somebody, I wouldn't be in control‑sooooo, I think I'll just stay in my car." One thing I love about myself is that if my flight gets delayed in Calcutta and then I gotta find a travel agent because I lost my passport‑I know how to do that! [Laughs] I don't want to become incompetent. Or just ... just not real, you know?