Behind The Scenes On HBO’s The Girl

Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Alfred Hitchcock built his reputation as cinema’s undisputed master of suspense by using every tool and trick at his disposal to tell tales of powerless peril, circumstance, and betrayal—usually with a lovely blonde starlet front and center.

But the story behind the story has been revealed as appropriately Hitchcockian in its own way, as proven by The Girl, nominated for three Golden Globes for best TV movie or miniseries, best actor in a TV movie for Toby Jones’ portrayal of Hitchcock, and best actress in a TV movie for Sienna Miller’s take on actress Tippi Hedren.

The HBO Films and BBC presentation delves into the rocky relationship the director had at the height of his career with model-turned-actress Hedren during the making of The Birds and Marnie. Hedren’s relationship with Hitchcock, who had long developed a fascination bordering on obsession with his leading ladies, veered from charming and erudite into much darker territory that tested her limits.

Director Julian Jarrold, left, on the set with Sienna Miller.
Director Julian Jarrold, left, on the set with Sienna Miller.

The story, which Gwyneth Hughes scripted based on Donald Spoto’s book Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, offered a way to explore both Hitchcock’s dark side and his creative impulses, says director Julian Jarrold.

“Hitchcock is such an extraordinary person to investigate based on his personality and his psychology,” says Jarrold, a veteran of British cinema and TV. “The kernel of the story seemed to be about his demons and obsessions, which also seemed to be reflected in his movies.”

To avoid playing just to the caricature of Hitchcock, the filmmakers turned to the chameleon-like qualities of Jones, who previously has played such diverse real-life roles as Truman Capote and Karl Rove. “He’s not ever going to do a straight impersonation,” says Jarrold.

A huge admirer of Hitchcock’s work, Jones says the role was impossible to turn down. “My concern was it would be a hatchet job on Hitchcock,” he says. “But I felt that what Gwyneth had presented in the script was this element of tragedy.”

In Miller, the filmmakers saw many of the same qualities of Hedren, who was a well-established model and independent single mother at the time Hitchcock cast her in The Birds. “There was something intriguing about her, with the kind of life history that she’s had, really, of being able to use that and be able to play against that,” Jarrold says. “She understood this character.”

Miller was drawn to Hedren’s reserved and almost icy, European quality. “I liked playing someone a little more contained than I had (played) in the past,” she says.

Toby Jones, right, plays the Master of Suspense in HBO's The Girl.
Toby Jones, right, plays the Master of Suspense in HBO’s The Girl.

The chance to meet and talk with the real Hedren, who had assisted Hughes in researching the script, was also exciting for the actress. “I’ve played real people before, but never anyone who could critique the performance at the end of it,” says Miller.

The 28-day shoot was set in Cape Town, South Africa, chosen for its resemblance to The Birds’ original shooting location of Bodega Bay, CA, in the mid-1960s. Jarrold says efficiency was the watchword on set, especially with Jones needing to undergo four hours each day of makeup, which included facial prosthetics, a fat suit, and wigs.

Jones studied recordings and footage of the director to get not just the way he moved but his iconic voice, which has elements of everything from cockney to California in it, the actor says. Once he had donned Hitchcock’s iconic suits and begun to speak like him, it was easier to stay in the role as much as 
possible on set.

“Toby would transform himself into Hitch, and we spent the day as those people,” says Miller. “He’s phenomenal, as everyone knows, as an actor, and imposing as Hitchcock. He was staying in character, but not in a way that was indulgent and creepy.”

The work on set was confusing in a fun way, Miller says, with the set itself being a set and having Jones play a director being directed by the real director. There also were moments where the pace of production and the darkening arc of the script made for some tension. “There were definitely moments where it was exhausting and nasty,” says Miller. “I think that isolation that she felt is really unpleasant, but at the same time, I had a real director who was really warm.”

Jones says the South Africa location brought the right amount of intensity to the tale. “To a visitor, there’s a certain uneasiness. You’re trying to work out the politics, and that feeds usefully into the work itself,” he says. “This is an uncomfortable story.”

Hitchcock’s famous directing style had some influence on Jarrold’s approach, but the director says he resisted the temptation to fill the movie with homages. “I wanted to give the atmosphere and feel of his style, the American style if you like,” he says.

He also moved more quickly, filming the famous attic scene from The Birds in a little more than three hours—a scene that took Hitchcock five days. “We just had it running in long shots,” Jarrold says. “It was almost like a live event.”

For Miller, the final nervous hurdle to overcome was when Hedren saw The Girl. “She was very complimentary and very supportive and very relieved,” says Miller. “She sent me this smashing email I will treasure forever.”

Behind The Scenes On Boardwalk Empire

This story appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Rusty-voiced, sweet-natured, a tin mask covering up his facial World War I wound, Richard Harrow, as played flawlessly by Jack Huston, is the type of vigilante one might find in a DC Comic book, warts and all. But in HBO’s 1920s epic Boardwalk Empire, he’s a supporting character that creator Terence Winter and his writers transformed from late gangster Jimmy Darmody’s trusted sharpshooter into a human being. For the bulk of this season, Harrow refrained from killing off any bad guys as he wooed a war veteran’s daughter and acted as the surrogate father to Darmody’s orphaned son, Tommy. “Richard knows how to kill. He doesn’t do it well; he does it great,” says Huston about Harrow, who even puts fear in lead Atlantic City kingpin Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) “I reminded Terry that I was getting an itchy finger, and he said, ‘Just wait.’ ”

Bobby Cannavale plays Gyp Rosetti, right, a vicious bloodthirsty gangster.
Bobby Cannavale plays Gyp Rosetti, right, a vicious bloodthirsty gangster.

And then the Timothy Van Patten-directed season 3 finale, “Margate Sands,” arrived. In a riveting swinging-camera four-minute gun ballet, Harrow rescues Tommy from his duplicitous grandmother Gillian Darmody’s (Gretchen Mol) whorehouse, which notorious gangster Gyp Rosetti has seized. The payoff: Just as Harrow fakes his surrender, he annihilates the hitman who has a gun to Tommy’s head. “Tim told me, ‘You’re going to be happy with the finale. It’s very Tarantino-esque,’ ” says Huston, who carried around 40 pounds of fake guns, earning cuts and bruises during the scene. “I was meant to shoot nine people, but they kept adding.”

The character of Harrow, from Huston’s nuanced acting to his fireworks finale, is just one example underscoring the cinematic huzzah that punctuated Boardwalk’s third season. So what made this season better than all the others? While the media has long drawn stylish similarities between The Sopranos creator David Chase and his protégé Winter, especially after Boardwalk’s abrupt season 2 finale in which Nucky kills Darmody, it’s clearly evident that Winter came into his own.

Boardwalk Empire“David (Chase) didn’t often engage in wish fulfillment for the audience. If it didn’t work for him for the storyline, he didn’t feel obligated to pay things off. I don’t necessarily feel obligated, but I enjoy setup and payoff,” explains Winter, who would sometimes encourage to payoff storylines on The Sopranos. “I knew Harrow going into the Artemis Club would be a great crowd-pleasing moment. That’s what I’m waiting to see all year is Harrow be the bad ass that we know him as and rescue Tommy. (In season 3), it’s all about that ride and the entertainment and the catharsis.”

Adds executive producer-director Van Patten: “We promised war at the end of episode 11 between Nucky and Rosetti. The last image is of Al Capone and his troops arriving (to help Nucky), and we felt that we had to deliver. I wanted (episode 12) to be part Sam Peckinpah, part Sam Fuller, part Sergio Leone, part Arthur Penn, while referencing Raoul Walsh’s films. When Nucky and (his brother) Eli are trapped in that lumberyard, it felt like a western.”

Nonetheless, one can see Chase’s influence throughout Boardwalk, and it’s that mixture that enables season 3 to rival the gangster and western genres to which it pays homage. Winter told Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. 
in a spring AwardsLine interview that one of the takeaways from working with Chase was “dismissing the first five things that occur to you” in the writers’ room in order to keep the story fresh. Case in point: It would have also been a crowd-pleaser to see Nucky enlist Harrow’s help to mow down Rosetti’s gang. However, Harrow operated on his own accord. “That was certainly on the table, and we dismissed that for the very reason that you’d expect that to happen,” Winter says.

Likewise, starting season 3 a year later in the characters’ lives and glossing over season 2 cliffhangers were also nontraditional means of handling unraveled plot. “Starting in 1923 put the characters in a different place physically and psychologically, and this was way more challenging,” says Winter.

But the lifeblood of season 3 belongs to the über-villain Rosetti—a twisted, short-fused, perverted gangster with a fetish for S&M who has his eye on taking over Nucky’s Atlantic City bootlegging empire. Having played lovable lugs like Vince D’Angelo, the boyfriend of Will Truman on Will & Grace, Bobby Cannavale owned Rosetti’s ferociousness, outstripping such hothead turns as James Caan’s Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, and yes, even James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano. “People told me that they covered their eyes when Gyp came on screen,” says Winter, adding, “Bobby never read for the role.”

Cannavale was one of the few Italian-American actors who Winter never had the chance to work with on The Sopranos, as their schedules never synced. After seeing Cannavale play a heavy, blue-collar type in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play The Mother**cker With the Hat, “It reminded me why I wanted to work with him,” says Winter. “In the play, he had veins popping out of his head. When you meet Bobby in person, he’s physically intimidating. He understands that predatory way that gangsters have to keep people off balance.”

Unlike the standard HBO villain, Rosetti lacks any redeemable qualities. Heck, in the opening sequence of the third season’s first episode, Rosetti bludgeons an old man to death with a tire iron after he helps him fix a flat, and then steals the guy’s dog. “We never start off with a cold opening like that, introducing a strange character, but we wanted to interject someone in the show that would distinguish it from last season,” says Van Patten.

The birthing of Rosetti by Winter and his team stemmed from the fact that as Prohibition progressed, the decade became darker. The average person began relying on bootleggers for their liquor, especially as their stockpiles ran dry. Competition and profit margins were greater, and the game got dirtier.

“As things got competitive, we needed to put Nucky under the most possible pressure. He needed a nemesis like Gyp. Nucky creates a monster in a subtle moment when he decides he’s not going to do business with him. One misstep with a guy like Gyp, and a mountain grows out of molehill,” Winter explains.

Boardwalk EmpireWith gangsters running around at a fever pitch, one would assume that executive producer Martin Scorsese had a heavy hand this season, however, “He isn’t involved in story,” says Van Patten. “He reads and notes the scripts, sees and notes the cuts. His notes are precision bombing: He identifies the problems right away, as he has an eye for these things.”

While Boardwalk has been a below-the-line juggernaut in terms of wins at the Emmys over the last two years—with directing wins for Scorsese’s pilot and Van Patten’s second-season finale “To the Lost”—the series has also rallied at SAG over the same frame, with back-to-back drama prizes for best ensemble and best actor for Buscemi. This awards season, both are eyeing their third charms in the two categories. The show won at the Golden Globes in its first year out, along with Buscemi, and both are nominated again this year. For the third year in a row, the Writers Guild recognized Boardwalk with a TV drama nom, but the show has only won once in the new series slot last year.

And if the last season of Boardwalk could be considered mind-blowing, season 4 promises to be even more unhinged as Boardwalk heads into 1924, the year that earned the decade’s moniker, “The Roaring ’20s.” It’s a time when fellow gangsters Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charlie Luciano galvanize their reputations as kingpins, and Nucky goes underground to form his own gang. It would seem that Winter and his team’s M.O. is to outstrip the thrills of such gangster forefathers like The Untouchables, but that’s mere flattery, as Boardwalk’s rule of thumb for mastering the genre is quite simple.

“We pull out the stops, and sometimes it does take us three or four episodes to peel the onion,” says Van Patten, “But at the end of the day, we look at each other in the writers’ room and ask each other, ‘Is this entertaining?’ ”

Q&A: Hayden Panettiere On Nashville

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Hayden Panettiere, 23, began her career as a child actor on the soaps One Life to Live and Guiding Light, and met an untimely death as Kirby Reed in Scream 4. But she is perhaps best known as Claire Bennet, the high-school cheerleader with supernatural powers on NBC’s Heroes. She’s trying to change that girl-next-door image in ABC’s Nashville, portraying ambitious, conniving country-pop diva Juliette Barnes, youthful nemesis of old-school country star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). Apparently the catfight chemistry is working: ABC recently handed the freshman series created by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) a full-season order. And both Panettiere and Britton scored big at the Golden Globe nominations: Panettiere netted a nom for best supporting actress in a TV series, miniseries, or motion picture, and Britton is up for best actress in a TV drama.

AwardsLine: This role was a lot to take on with singing. What led you to accept the part of Juliette?
Hayden Panettiere: I love the fact that this character that Callie Khouri created is so multidimensional; there’s so many layers to her. But this was a big deal for me because I really wanted to break away from my character in Heroes. I’m so deeply blessed that I got to play that character, don’t get me wrong, but I knew after that character it would be an uphill battle for people to see me as anything besides the all-American cheerleader.

AwardsLine: As the episodes unfold, we find out Juliette has a dark past that influences her character, but it’s got to be sort of fun to play the bad girl.
Panettiere: Absolutely. But it’s more interesting when you get to play the bad girl with a heart, that back story, that thing that people can find sympathy for.

AwardsLine: What kind of relationship do you and Connie Britton share off camera? Do you try to maintain the tension by staying away from each other?

Panettiere: We definitely are close friends. I feel like the closer you are to somebody, the easier it is to really go after them (on camera) because nobody’s going to take it personally. It may sound silly, because you are acting, but some people are so Method that they won’t develop a relationship with the person they are acting across from. If this show goes on for years, that would be a very difficult person to try not to get along with. We get along brilliantly, and the closer we become, the more fun we have.

AwardsLine: Do you have any favorite “meow” moments?
Panettiere: What we have to say comes off so snarky sometimes! I mean, when they yell, “Cut,” we don’t exactly call each other names, but it cracks me up when Rayna calls me Miss Sparkly Pants.

AwardsLine: If this show lasts for multiple seasons, wouldn’t these two women eventually make peace with each other?
Panettiere: I think you’d be surprised as to the reasoning behind why people don’t get along. I’m not saying I know anything specific, but I have a feeling that there’s something personal, some nerve that Rayna has in her, and at some point people might see that and understand it. But the show does not revolve around this catfight. You cannot survive on a show where the entire thing is revolving around one catfight. You have to bring in something else to sink your teeth into. We have a lot more going on.

AwardsLine: You mention taking on the role because of the multifaceted character Callie Khouri created. What is your impression of her?

Panettiere: She is unbelievable. She is by far one of the coolest but most talented people that I’ve ever come across. I just remember seeing her for the first time, and she was just this long, lean, statuesque woman with the beautiful hair and cream-colored pants and top, these brown riding boots. I just remember being in awe of her, and just how beautiful she was. She has made this show everything that it is. It’s so grounded, and this reality and this world, because Callie has lived in it. She’s experienced it; she’s not somebody who has only heard about it in books and movies.

AwardsLine: With its look at showbiz behind the scenes, does Nashville take its cue from NBC’s Smash?
Panettiere: All of our songs are incorporated into these characters’ daily lives. We don’t break out in song midscene.

AwardsLine: Has anything been said or written about the show that you disagree with?
Panettiere: The only thing that ever kind of drove me crazy was in the beginning there was a lot of speculation that Juliette was completely untalented—it was almost like what was going on behind the scenes of our press was also going on behind the scenes of Juliette’s press. People don’t see her as a true artist, somebody who is talented, they see her as this big moneymaking machine, and she wants so desperately to be respected, for people to know that she is an amazing songwriter and that she can sing. I don’t feel like she would be as interesting a character if she had no talent. She would just be annoying.

Q&A: Connie Britton On Nashville

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Connie Britton, 45, is a multiple Emmy Award nominee for her roles on Friday Night Lights and American Horror Story. But during one of her typical 16-hour workdays for ABC’s freshman drama Nashville, she says of her first Golden Globe nomination—for best actress in a TV drama series—that it never gets old: “I’m far from jaded about awards nominations.” Britton shares the honor with costar and fellow Golden Globe nominee Hayden Panettiere, 23, and talks about why their onscreen duet seems to work.

AWARDSLINE: What is the appeal of the uneasy relationship between your character, Rayna Jaymes, and her young competitor, Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes?
CONNIE BRITTON: I was talking to (Nashville creator) Callie Khouri last night, and we were both talking about just how much fun it is, particularly now that Hayden’s character and my character are really engaging. What’s funny to me is, in the first five or six episodes, we didn’t really engage that much. There is something really interesting about these two women in very different places in their lives who are fighting for their lives in different ways.

AWARDSLINE: We hear stories about actors who go to unusual lengths to stay in character on set—fellow Golden Globe nominee Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln is a good example. What about you two?
BRITTON: No. (Laughs.) I think Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors that we have amongst us right now, but I don’t think if Daniel Day-Lewis was doing television, he could sustain that. We have 22 episodes.

AWARDSLINE: Before the show aired, everyone hailed it as a new Dallas. Is Nashville a soap opera or close to reality?
BRITTON: At first, I resisted the over-the-top elements of the show, and I was really pushing for complex storytelling because I think Nashville deserves that. That being said, there are some big stories in Nashville. Having a spent a little time in Nashville, hearing some of the lore of this town, I’m saying: “We’re playing it safe.”

AWARDSLINE: And yet it’s not the big platinum hair, Dolly Parton, “Rhinestone Cowboy” world.
BRITTON: I really wanted Rayna to be coming from that more simplified core storytelling place of a Bonnie Raitt or a Lucinda Williams. Such amazing women.

AWARDSLINE: How does Nashville compare with another heightened reality you are familiar with, Hollywood?
BRITTON: A friend of mine here, we were talking about the Country Music Awards, and she was saying, “It’s just like an awards ceremony in Hollywood, but everybody’s nice.” I sort of love that. Nashville is where the business is; there are more parallels with Hollywood than I originally thought. But it feels less cutthroat than Hollywood. And frankly, it’s a much smaller town where people have to live together. In Hollywood you can kind of screw somebody over and not really have to see them for a while.

AWARDSLINE: Callie Khouri has been involved in many projects, but I think many women associate her with writing Thelma & Louise, about two women literally on the road to self-empowerment. Are there any parallels here?
BRITTON: I am, and was, and always will be an enormous fan of Thelma & Louise. I really grew up with that being a seminal movie for me. So I’ve always known who Callie Khouri was; that’s why I was so excited when I got this script. Hers is an interesting kind of feminism. It’s not in your face. (In Nashville), it’s dealing with the complexities of being a woman in a society that really isn’t built for feminism. That’s what I’ve always liked about playing Southern women; some of the most fierce women I’ve known were women from the South, yet they are coming from a world that is not very welcoming to their fierceness. I think Callie really confronts those aspects of feminism in a really unique way. It’s a little subversive, actually.

AWARDSLINE: As Hayden Panettiere has said, the show wouldn’t be believable if her character were a truly bad singer. She has to be good or your character would not feel so threatened.
BRITTON: Yeah, completely. It’s not about good voice, bad voice; it’s about style and values and really the culture. Rayna comes from a tradition of country music, and Juliette is feeding into a sort of a pop-culture frenzy, she is representing this new way that people listen to things and look at things based on new media—there’s a lot less storytelling and a lot more bling. Rayna doesn’t really understand it or respect it, but she’s kind of getting knocked on her ass by it, because basically everybody’s saying, “You’ve got to pick up these new ways or you are going to be left behind.”

AWARDSLINE: Did you have any trepidation about not only taking on a singing role, but the role of someone who is supposed to be one of the great country voices of our time?
BRITTON: Terror. It was horrifying. Because I am the least-trained singer in the show, it was really important to me to be really specific about the type of music Rayna sings. It had to be more about the heart and the soul that she brings to the songs than about having the best voice in the world. Honestly, I would never have taken the role if I thought that it would be any other way.

Taylor Swift Plucks Heart Strings With Globe-Nommed Hunger Games Song

Who better to provide a voice to the well-received feature adaptation The Hunger Games than the generation’s most popular soulful vocalist, 23-year-old Taylor Swift? However, when Lionsgate executives and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter T-Bone Burnett approached Swift to pen an end-credits song, it wasn’t about the marriage of pop brands, rather it was her penchant for confessional folk ballads that caught their ear. Still, synergy doesn’t hurt. Last year, Swift’s album-sales headlines read like the boxoffice numbers of a record-breaking tentpole film: Her fourth album Red marked the second time in a debut week she sold over a million records, a feat no other female recording artist—not even Lady Gaga—can tout.

“They wanted the song to reflect what Appalachian music would sound like in 300 years, and they wanted me to write from Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence’s character) perspective,” says Swift of the Golden Globe-nominated tune. After watching exclusive clips from the apocalyptic thriller in Nashville, she promptly ripped through Suzanne Collins’ trilogy before teaming up with Burnett and the Civil Wars (Joy Williams and John Paul White). When the four gathered in a studio home that Burnett was working from, “It was just like lighting a match,” she says. “Joy suggested that we write about how Katniss wants to protect and comfort (the youngest Hunger Games contestant) Rue to the very end.” Coincidentally, Swift had been working on a song concept she was calling “Safe & Sound,” hence the tune’s title. Swift wrote the song on the back of her baby Taylor guitar (a brand unrelated to Swift), while the Civil Wars mapped out harmonies, an experience that she says was akin to “watching twins.”

“Throughout the course of writing ‘Safe & Sound,’ we discovered we were also writing about Katniss and her (best friend) Peeta, as well as her relationship with her (sister) Prim,” explains Swift. “The theme of protecting and comforting someone is so broad-reaching throughout the film.”

This is further evident in the song’s refrain, recalling the scene in which Rue dies in the forest before a crying Katniss: Just close your eyes/The sun is going down/You’ll be alright/No one can hurt you now/Come morning light/You and I’ll be safe and sound.

Swift dropped the song on Twitter just before Christmas 2011, three months prior to the Stateside release of Hunger Games. Within two days, the song sold 136,000 copies on iTunes before culminating a tally of 1.4 million last month, in addition to two Grammy nominations (best country duo/group performance, best song written for visual media) and, of course, its Golden Globes best original song nom. Unfortunately, the song was deemed ineligible by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences as it plays as a second end-credits track—a pity because the song, coupled with Swift’s ethereal, touching vocals, truly captures the film’s spirit.

Outside the film, “Safe & Sound” stands on its own with its guitar-stringed heart-wrenching lyrics about undying love against a wilderness setting. Should “Safe & Sound” softly bring to mind Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” that’s no coincidence.

“Stevie Nicks has inspired me in so many ways,” exclaims Swift, who spent time with the iconic artist a few years ago, “I’ll never forget the way she tells a story. There’s so much feeling in everything she does. No wonder that comes through in her songs.”

Q&A: Jodie Foster On Her Cecil B. DeMille Honor

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Few stars can rival Jodie Foster’s durability. One has to go back to Hollywood’s golden age—to the likes of Judy Garland—to find those who even approach her successful transition from childhood roles to adult parts. And what other child actor started directing after accomplishing that transition? None. Which is why it’s fitting that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is bestowing on Foster its highest honor, the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Foster has been with us so long, it’s almost impossible to believe she’s just 50. Amazingly, it’s been 20 years since she won her second best-actress Oscar (for Silence of the Lambs). Her first came three years earlier (for The Accused). But her first Academy Award nomination dates back to 1977, for Taxi Driver, in which she played a young teen prostitute, opposite Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Foster says with typical understatement during a recent phone interview. “And it feels like a long time, but it also feels great. I don’t remember ever starting. My earliest memories are doing commercials and TV. And here comes this celebration of my whole life. So now what? Hopefully there’s more to come.”

There no doubt will be for Foster, who continues to eye both acting and directing projects with an eagerness tempered by discernment. Yet she acknowledges a certain ambivalence regarding her career. “I don’t know if I have the personality for it,” she says. “I’m not sure if I’d not fallen into it, it’s what I’d have done. I mean this mostly as an actor rather than as a director, but I’m one for entirely different reasons from most people. It’s become a psychological evolution. I chose movies based on what I had to learn about myself, not because I had to act. There’s lots of things I’m not interested in, and I don’t want to play parts in those movies.”

Despite the wide range of roles Foster has undertaken and the very different plots of the three films she’s directed, she sees a throughline in her work. “I always feel like I’m making the same movie over and over again,” she says. “Nobody else seems to notice, but I do.” The perspective, though, is markedly different depending on whether Foster is acting or directing. “As an actor, I’m always playing solitary characters,” she says. “But as a director, I’m always making ensemble movies, which focus on lots of people’s lives and how they intertwine. Similar things interest me both as an actor and as a director but in totally different ways. As an actor, I’m attracted to drama; as a director, it’s humor—because it’s the story of my life, and I can’t be that serious about it. Being alone is a big theme in all my movies, both as a director and as an actress.”

Jodie Foster's first major film role was at age 12 opposite Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
Jodie Foster’s first major film role was at age 12 opposite Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The actress credits her mother, Brandy, with laying the groundwork for her transition from family-friendly roles to more serious work, and Taxi Driver (1976) was the turning point. The film’s producer, Michael Phillips, remembers director Martin Scorsese’s determination to cast Foster, an instinct that really paid off. “She was only 12 and kind of shy,” Phillips recalls. “But she was very intelligent and quite mature. She just had the acting chops. She was very natural in the character and seemed unthreatened and undaunted by the sexuality. That was one of the big issues—how comfortable she would be with that material. She was doubled for the sexual material; some of it her sister did. But she was exposed to blood and violence. It was just her politeness that gave away her age. She was impossible not to like and respect, and it was amazing how much self-possession she had at that age.”

By the time Foster appeared in The Accused (1988), there was no denying that a major actress had arrived. Yet she insists that even after she made that film, she had doubts about spending the rest of her life in pictures. “Right after The Accused, I was heading to grad school and thought that was the last of those. Part of me was disappointed in my performance. Then I saw the movie and realized that a lot of it was about fear and a lot was unconscious. And also I thought, Literature doesn’t wake me up at 5 in the morning. So grad school wasn’t going to do that.”

Foster won her second best actress Oscar for Silence of the Lambs.
Foster won her second best actress Oscar for Silence of the Lambs.

Her perseverance in Hollywood was rewarded with The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which won five Academy Awards, including best picture. Jonathan Demme directed Foster to her second best actress Oscar, yet he credits her with helping him shape his conception of the film. “The first time I met Jodie,” Demme says, “we hadn’t started casting yet. But she reached out to express her deep regard for the book. She described it as the story of one young woman desperately trying to save the life of another young woman, with these roadblocks put up by all these men. And something really clicked for me when she said that, and that became the theme that guided me in making the movie, and it impacted endless decisions. I was so moved by what she said that I named my production company Strong Heart in honor of Jodie’s thematic inspiration. I treasure how she oriented me as how best to tell this story.”

Though modest about her two Oscars, Foster willingly acknowledges their impact on her career. “It’s like winning the lottery,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you’re a better person. At the same time, after my first Oscar, I was able to say, ‘OK, I’m doing this incredibly risky thing. I’m going to try and direct.’ It gave me some kind of passport that I might not have had. But I also think the reason you were given the honor is because you played from the heart, not because you followed a rulebook. And you learn you have this great saber, which allows you to make decisions against the tide. Silence of the Lambs was not something people expected me to do. But I loved this book and this character, and the film operates at such a high level. And by the way, I just won an Oscar, so too bad. It was really the best decision I could have made.”

The impact of those wins resonates even now, for the avenues they opened offered Foster a way to remain fulfilled in Hollywood. “I think it’s something I’ll probably do my whole life and also something I need a break from a lot,” she says. “But there’s lots of different ways to tell stories and lots of different ways to make films. I’ve only directed three movies, and I’ve got a lot to learn, and there’s a lot ahead for me there. It’s hard getting movies off the ground—harder and harder every year. My goals are humble as a director. They’re really about having the films as an expression of who I am. As an actor, you can’t really do that. You do it and move on. But directing, well, that’s me. It requires a real 100 percent investment in all levels of the storytelling.”

Foster isn’t shy about owning up to missed opportunities, even if she isn’t eager to mention specific projects. Yet she remains optimistic. “I’ve had a weird career, and I get a lot of grief for it,” she says. “What I choose is just really personal, especially as a director. I can’t just go, ‘I like scuba diving, so let’s do a scuba diving movie.’ It has to be something I would die for. And because it’s the story of your life, there are the popular parts and the parts nobody likes and the parts people don’t understand. But I have to make those movies, too.”

SAG Sticks to Favorites While Globes Anoint Newbies

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

The Golden Globes are the awards that love you immediately and without reservation. The SAG Awards are the ones that—while somewhat more tentative—like to honor their favorites repeatedly. Those tendencies held form yet again in the TV nominations announced last month, bringing a certain consistency to exercises that typically lack it.

Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.
Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a red carpet to be rolled out to welcome the new kids, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is your go-to gang. Rarely does a first-year show with even moderate buzz escape Globe voters’ attention. This year, it heaped attention on freshmen including HBO’s Aaron Sorkin cable-news drama The Newsroom and star Jeff Daniels; the HBO comedy Girls and its multihyphenate young star Lena Dunham; Julia Louis-Dreyfus from the rookie HBO comedy Veep; star Don Cheadle from Showtime’s House of Lies; lead Connie Britton and supporting player Hayden Panettiere from the ABC soap Nashville; and, most surprisingly, a comedy/musical series nod for NBC’s Smash.

The inclusion of Smash was perhaps easy to predict, because it’s the rare comedy/musical series that is both comedy and musical. It took the spot previously held down by Fox’s Glee, the category winner in 2010 and ’11 that failed to make the Golden Globe cut this year. Evidently, only one musical comedy per year is permitted.

But shaking things up is simply the HFPA being the HFPA. And often, the omissions are often as noteworthy as the inclusions. For instance, three-time Globes victor Mad Men from AMC was unable to crack the top drama list for the first time. HBO’s Game of Thrones was in last year—its first year of eligibility—and out this time, along with star Peter Dinklage.

There also seem to be certain shows that simply don’t resonate with the Hollywood Foreign Press as they do elsewhere. It never nominated Everybody Loves Raymond for comedy series, and star Ray Romano was nominated just twice (both losses). Moreover, for the first time this year, the Globes finally honored AMC’s Breaking Bad for drama series. Star Bryan Cranston wasn’t nominated for his three-time Emmy-winning role until 2011.

Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.

As for the SAG Awards, it, too, likes to honor the ensembles of series fresh out of the starting gate along with their individual stars, though not so much this year. Daniels from HBO’s Newsroom is alone in cracking the list on a first-year series. It ignored Veep and Louis-Dreyfus as well as the white-hot Girls and Dunham, not to mention Fox’s New Girl and star Zooey Deschanel. Youth doesn’t seem to carry much weight with this crowd.

On the other hand, no one will ever be able to charge SAG with ageism, unless it’s the reverse kind. Betty White, who turns 91 on Jan. 17, has won two consecutive comedy lead SAG honors in a row for her role on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland and is nominated with a chance for a third. Steve Buscemi, age 55, might make it three wins in as many nominations for his work in the HBO mob drama Boardwalk Empire. And Alec Baldwin, age 54, has won the comedy actor trophy an astounding six consecutive times and could make it seven in a row this year for NBC’s 30 Rock. He’s been a relative flop at the Globes, taking home a mere three.

Yet while the SAG Awards look to be a mere popularity contest on the one hand, on the other it has yet to honor with a win any cast member from ABC’s Modern Family (though the show has won the best comedy ensemble award two years in a row). It’s nominated Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, and Eric Stonestreet again. Yet this is the first year that two-time Emmy victor Jim Parsons has received an individual SAG nom for the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory.

It’s clear that there have been some curious irregularities in SAG voters’ choices in the awards’ 18-year existence dating to its first year in 1995, when it failed to recognize a freshman NBC comedy called Friends. It also completely snubbed the cast of NBC’s The West Wing in 2000, its initial eligibility year. But voters corrected that oversight the following two years, when the ensemble won for drama series along with individual leads Allison Janney and Martin Sheen.

Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.
Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.

A similar phenomenon could be gaining speed at the SAG Awards this time for Showtime’s Homeland, which was the darling of both the Emmys and the Globes in 2012. It was shut out at the SAG Awards in its maiden season a year ago, like West Wing before it. This time, it’s nominated for drama ensemble along with actor/actress Emmy winners Damian Lewis and Claire Danes. It would surprise no one were voters to make amends by honoring the much-praised series with three statuettes.

The Globes set the Homeland awards bandwagon in motion with wins a year ago for both the series and Danes. It’s back this time looking for two in a row, taking on The Newsroom, 2011 winner Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and PBS’ Downton Abbey, making a smooth transition from the movie/miniseries to drama series category with a trio of noms. Conversely, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum had a tougher time of it in switching the other way, from drama series to movie/mini. After landing a drama honor in ’12, it earned one nom for star Jessica Lange this time. (Lange also won for supporting last year.)

If recent Globe history holds, it might be wise to bet on the newbies, as the Hollywood Foreign Press often appears to look upon even second-year shows as aging veterans. That would mean Smash or Girls for comedy/musical and Newsroom for drama—all seeming longshots on paper, but not with the HFPA.

In 2012, all six series lead and supporting acting winners at the Golden Globes represented first-year shows: Laura Dern (the HBO comedy Enlightened), Matt LeBlanc (Showtime’s comedy Episodes), Kelsey Grammer (the Starz drama Boss), Danes (Homeland), Lange (Horror Story), and Dinklage (Thrones). If we extrapolate this trend to 2013, it would mean Cheadle (Showtime’s House of Lies) has the inside track for comedy actor, with Louis-Dreyfus and Dunham battling it out for comedy actress.

But just when you think you have the Globes figured out, the voters defy conventional wisdom and their own history to cross up the experts. Never was that more clear than when NBC’s Friends earned its first win in 2003 for best comedy actress Jennifer Aniston. The show, first nominated in its second year, saw five best comedy TV shows noms, but zero wins in that category.

The SAG Awards, by contrast, seem at least somewhat easier to gauge. And again, the trend is that the guild likes to honor those whom it honors over and over again. Besides Baldwin and White, Maggie Smith has four nods this year alone—two for her work in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, two for Downton Abbey. Cranston has three (two for Breaking Bad, one for feature ensemble in Argo). Then there is Edie Falco, who just reeled in another pair of nominations for her work in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. That brings her career total to a whopping 19, tying David Hyde Pierce for the SAG career noms record.

Another thing that distinguishes SAG is a dogged determination to go its own way and follow no one else’s lead. This was obvious back in 2006, when the awards permitted David E. Kelley to submit for comedy (rather than drama) consideration for his ABC hour Boston Legal. It landed four—for comedy ensemble as well as stars James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen—while winning none. It submitted as a drama the following year. This year, the guild refused to allow American Horror Story to submit as a miniseries, categorizing it as a drama ensemble. Lange earned a nomination; the series ensemble did not.

One trend that continued for both the SAG Awards and the Globes is the cable domination in drama and broadcast in comedy, a direction that doesn’t figure to be changing anytime soon. SAG comedy is still about 30 Rock (Baldwin, three-time winner Tina Fey), Modern Family, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler), and The Big Bang Theory, while drama has only Julianna Margulies from CBS’ The Good Wife breaking the cable-PBS logjam. In the Globes, no freshman broadcast series has generated a single top drama nod since NBC’s 
Heroes in 2006.

But it’s worth pointing out that half of the 10 lead comedy acting nominees at the Globes are featured on cable shows as stars: Louis C.K. and Dunham generate substantial buzz and critical acclaim with their personally crafted half-hours.

What about longform? As usual, it’s dominated on both the Globes and SAG lists by HBO and its made-for-TV movies Game Change, Hemingway & Gellhorn, and The Girl along with stars including Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Sienna Miller. That’s not to mention the mega-rated History Channel mini Hatfields & McCoys and its lead Kevin Costner.

Having a feature-star pedigree is no guarantee of success at either the Globes or the SAG Awards, however, what seems to help is youth (if you’re a series) and age (if you’re an actor). And it never, ever hurts to be named Alec Baldwin.

Do Precursor Awards Really Predict Oscar Fortunes?

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

With freshly minted nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards, SAG, AFI, and a slew of critics groups chiming in every day, there are many voices trying to influence the race for Oscar’s best picture of 2012. But does it matter, or is all of this just a lot of white noise as far as Academy voters are concerned?

The effect all this has is an even bigger question this year than in the past because of the earlier timetable the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences introduced for voting coupled with the new online electronic voting options. With ballots going out Dec. 17 and due back Jan. 3 (essentially right in the heart of the holidays) and a big rush for members to see the major contenders, which are mostly November and December openings, the influence factor of other awards could be more significant than ever, if only to get voters to focus on key films these

In the darkest hour of the night, elite Navy SEALs raid Osama bin Laden's compound in Zero Dark Thirty.
In the darkest hour of the night, elite Navy SEALs raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Zero Dark Thirty.

groups are singling out. My own survey of Academy members indicates that as late as the second week in December, many had not yet seen most of the films pundits are saying will be the major players in the best picture race. By forcing an earlier vote on their members, the Academy is putting enormous pressure on them to see these films and make a judgment of Oscarworthiness. My guess is this means this will be another year, like 2011, when nine or 10 pictures will be nominated (it can be anywhere from five to 10), as there seems to be a dedicated but smaller constituency so far for a number of movies, rather than an obvious frontrunner. Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, and Silver Linings Playbook are consensus titles that have popped up in significant ways on most of the important lists so far, including SAG. SAG is the first glimpse of the race from a guild and often mirrors Academy tastes—as do the PGA, DGA, and WGA along with below-the-line guilds—making it the most important barometer. But we have to put an asterisk next to it this year because Pi is not actorcentric and most members of the SAG nominating committee likely did not see Quentin Tarantino’s bloody homage to spaghetti westerns, Django Unchained,simply because the Christmas Day release was not ready in time and DVD screeners could not be sent. It was AWOL at SAG, but its strong showing with AFI, the Golden Globes, and Critics Choice, despite limited screening opportunities, means it also belongs with those aforementioned six other films in an unprecedented 7-pack of genuine contenders, all of whom have shots at the prize depending on the way the wind blows in the next few weeks.

Daniel Day-Lewis is considered a frontrunner for his role as the 16th president in Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis is considered a frontrunner for his role as the 16th president in Lincoln.

With best picture nominations likely for those seven, and a longer period of six weeks instead of four between Oscar nominations on Jan. 10 and the show on Feb. 24 ,the postnom period is going to be more crucial than ever. It is where the race can really be won by the savviest of campaigns and, more importantly, momentum. In the Oscar race, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, and each film has a chance to build—or in the case of October release Argo, rebuild—that frontrunning status. This is where smart campaign moves can make all the difference. With restrictive rules governing postnom parties, Q&As, etc., getting your film noticed is key. Lincoln’s Dec. 19 command screening for the entire U.S. Senate is the kind of thing that smells “important” and can have an effect in swaying Oscar votes, if not those in the Senate. “Who knew we would be the last thing they see before jumping off the fiscal cliff?” Steven Spielberg told me at a Lincoln party last week.

In addition to the key seven, don’t discount Michael Haneke’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Amour,which is also Austria’s official entry for foreign-language film. Although it’s not common, there are several examples of foreign films making the best picture cut including The Emigrants, Cries and Whispers, Life Is Beautiful,and Il Postino. Sony Pictures Classics is making a big play not only for foreign film but acting, directing, writing, and best picture recognition for this extraordinary movie. The problem is many voters don’t seem to be aware it is eligible in those other categories,even if it becomes a foreign-language nominee. This one could be a wild card in the picture race, and even for Haneke as director, even though that field is incredibly crowded. In fact, it’s the directors’ race that will be the one to watch for clues on which of these films has the mojo to go all the way. With only five possible nominations and so many truly viable contenders, someone is getting cut. But who among Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and David O. Russell, not to mention Haneke, will be in or out, even as their picture gets nominated?

On top of these films, there is still hope for the likes of The Master, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, a recent surge for May’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and even hope of a first-ever best picture nomination for James Bond with Skyfall.

It’s anybody’s game right now but who will triumph in the end? This thing is just getting started.