Jodie Foster Is Getting Older and Glad About It

At 58, she shares the freedom that aging brings.

Jodie Foster stars as Nancy Hollander in the film The Mauritanian

Jodie Foster stars as Nancy Hollander in “The Mauritanian.”

Jodie Foster became an actor at age 3, earned an Oscar nomination at 13, won Oscars at 26 and 29, and almost quit acting at 50. But at 58, she’s loving it again, playing Nancy Hollander, the crusading attorney for Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahir Rahim), in The Mauritanian. She tells AARP about her midlife resurgence and her new film based on Slahi’s memoir.

Is it less scary than it used to be to be an actor your age?

Yes! And there’s research showing that there’s a kind of happiness and contentedness that people have in their 60s and 70s that is just not available to them in earlier life. There’s a neurobiological change, where you’re much more relaxed about the future because you’ve already arrived into the future. And, you know, it’s not that big a deal.

It’s the 30th anniversary of your Oscar win as an FBI agent in The Silence of the Lambs, and there’s a new TV spin-off, Clarice, on CBS. How is Nancy Hollander — who defended a guy imprisoned 14 years without a charge — like Clarice, hunter of serial killers?

Gosh, not much. There’s a good 40-year age difference. Maybe Clarice would change over time and become more like Nancy. Clarice is a rule follower: She doesn’t even use contractions. She says “do not” instead of “don’t.” Nancy’s had a really tough time following certain rules. She believes challenging government is how you get justice. She believes in the rule of law; she doesn’t necessarily believe in the rule of men.

You got famous playing victims in Taxi Driver and The Accused, then started playing defenders of victims.

I did play quite a few victims. I was attracted to that. I’m psychologically interested in how a character survives intact. And some of it is also … I’m a woman … the roles I play are determined by other people — how they look at women, what they’re interested in seeing women play. So it was a big leap for me, when I did Silence, to finally play somebody who was not just the victim of the crime, but somebody whose destiny it was to track down the criminal.

Nancy is the first real living person you’ve ever played. Even though you’ve got her mannerisms, did you feel free to wear louder red lipstick and drive faster than she does?

No, she’s pretty much louder with the lipstick and faster with the cars than my character is. But I did tell her, “My Nancy will be a lot meaner than your Nancy. More rude and brusque, formidable.” Nancy’s lovely. I took some liberties so that I could build a character that changed in time, that grew through her relationship with Mohamedou.

Mohamedou is not what people expect of someone who spent 14 years at Guantanamo and tortured into a false confession of terrorism that he recanted.

He left Mauritania at age 19 on a scholarship to Germany. He was dying to leave Mauritania … so excited about going to a democratic country where corruption isn’t tolerated. He was idealistic.

He joined with al-Qaida — then a U.S. ally — to fight Afghan communists in 1990.

Alongside the CIA. Yes.

He also had the bad luck to get a phone call from Osama bin Laden’s phone, because his cousin was a top bin Laden adviser. But Mohamedou didn’t know bin Laden and left when al-Qaida switched enemies.

All the circumstantial evidence [against Mohamedou], the charges — within 15 minutes, the ACLU was able to debunk every single one. It’s just that the American government wasn’t really interested in doing the due diligence to have any benefit of the doubt. It was just plain fear after 9/11. I mean, I think that’s understandable. The government was able to discard the laws and seek revenge, and try to protect themselves from it ever happening again. They thought it was more important to imprison lots of innocent men than miss some guilty men.

Jodie Foster on 'The Mauritanian' and Career Resurgence

The irony is that Mohamedou fought on our side against communists and he admires much about America.

When he got captured by the Americans [handed over by Jordanians], he was, like, “Oh, my God, I’m so lucky! Because now justice is going to be served by democracy!” And then he realized that the American government had decided to confine him offshore of America so that they didn’t have to follow the law.

At Guantanamo, he wrote five books and watched The Big Lebowski 85 times. He loved the Dude’s line, “You got the wrong guy!” He was a fan of The Last King of Scotland, the Idi Amin movie by Kevin Macdonald, who directed The Mauritanian.

He’s a big lover of American cinema, music and culture. His captors told him, “You’re really well educated, you speak a bunch of languages, you understand computers — you must be a terrorist.” He’s, like, “Wait a minute. So I did really well in school and I know a lot about history. And that makes me a terrorist?”

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