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Bringing "the Beaver" to life

Director and actress Jodie Foster once again defends her friend and co-star, Mel Gibson.

Jodie Foster likes a challenge, and she certainly found one directing and co-starring in “the Beaver,” about a family man (Mel Gibson) who, to deal with his crippling depression, begins communicating with the world through a beaver hand puppet. Getting the tone right between the absurdity of the premise and the seriousness of the subject matter was a tricky balancing act. “It can’t just be like, ‘Beaver puppet! Ha ha ha,’ and then drop off and become a drama,’” she says.

That juxtaposition of humor and pain is something of a touchstone for Foster, who’s previous directing gigs — “Little Man Tate” and “Home for the Holidays” — deftly mixed the two. “I approach dark topics with lightness,” she says. “Sometimes I tell people that I can take an incredibly funny script and beat the funny right out of it.”

Luckily she had Gibson on board to help keep things light. Foster learned firsthand about Gibson’s penchant for practical jokes when they co-starred in 1994’s “Maverick,” but Foster says this time around he behaved himself. “Sometimes I think his practical jokes are because he’s so bored and those movies take so long that you just have to do something to occupy yourself,” she says. “I know that feeling. I mean, he’s an antsy guy. ‘Maverick’ was a 110-day shoot. That’s a long shoot, that’s six months of your life. So you have to do something to entertain yourself or you won’t have a very good time.”

In the run up to the movie’s release — and in the wake of issues in Gibson’s personal life being made public — Foster has become something of a cheerleader for her star, even if the issue of his tabloid notoriety leaves her a bit flummoxed. “I don’t know what to say to people. It’s a question: Can you put aside the private things that you know about him because they’ve been exploited on the Internet? Can you put that aside when you’re watching an artist? I don’t know. It’s a good question,” she says.

It doesn’t help that the celebrity culture, as she sees it, has changed over the past few years. “All of this is different now than it used to be. It wasn’t always like this, and it’s a very odd and unnatural phenomenon,” she says. “It’s not something that Mel’s comfortable with, and I’m not comfortable with it either. Some people are, apparently. I don’t know who, but apparently some people are. Paris Hilton?”

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