After attending college at Yale, Foster struggled to transition to adult roles until winning widespread critical acclaim for her portrayal of a rape survivor in The Accused (1988), for which she won several awards, including an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. She won her second Academy Award three years later for her role in the sleeper hit The Silence of the Lambs, where she played Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee investigating a serial murder case. Foster made her debut as a film director the same year with the moderately successful Little Man Tate (1991), and founded her own production company, Egg Pictures, in 1992. The company's first production was Nell (1994), in which she also played the title role, gaining another nomination for an Academy Award. Her other films in the 1990s included period drama Sommersby, Western comedy Maverick (1994), science fiction film Contact (1997), and period drama Anna and the King (1999). Her second film direction, Home for the Holidays (1995), was not well-received commercially, while critical reviews were mixed.
After career setbacks in the early 2000s, which included the cancellation of a film project and the closing down of her production company, Foster starred in four thrillers, Panic Room (2002), Flightplan (2005), Inside Man (2006) and The Brave One (2007). She has focused on directing in the 2010s, directing the films The Beaver (2011) and Money Monster (2016), as well as episodes for Netflix television series Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. She also starred in the film Elysium (2013). In addition to her two Academy Awards, Foster has won three BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award and the Cecil B DeMille Award.
Foster was born on November 19, 1962 in Los Angeles, as the youngest child of Evelyn Ella "Brandy" (née Almond) and Lucius Fisher Foster III. Her father came from a wealthy Chicago family, whose forebears included John Alden, who had arrived in North America on the Mayflower in 1620. He was a Yale University graduate and a decorated U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, and made his career as a real estate broker. He had already been married once and had three sons from the union before marrying Brandy in Las Vegas in 1953. Brandy Foster was of German heritage and grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Foster also has Irish roots, with ancestry that can be traced back to County Cork. Before Foster's birth, she and Lucius had three other children: daughters Lucinda "Cindy" Foster (b. 1954) and Constance "Connie" Foster (b. 1955), and son Lucius Fisher "Buddy" Foster (b. 1957). Their marriage ended before Foster was born, and she never established a relationship with her father. Following the divorce, Brandy raised the children with her partner in Los Angeles. She worked as a publicist for film producer Arthur P. Jacobs, until focusing on managing the acting careers of Buddy and Jodie. Although Foster was officially named Alicia, her siblings began calling her "Jodie", and the name stuck.
Foster was a gifted child, and learned to read at the age of three. She attended a French-language prep school, the Lycée Français de Los Angeles. Her fluency in French has enabled her to act in French films, and she also dubs herself in French-language versions of most of her English-language films. She also understands Italian although does not speak it, as well as a little Spanish and German. At her graduation in 1980, she delivered the valedictory address for the school's French division. Already a successful actor, Foster attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. She majored in literature, writing her thesis on Toni Morrison, and graduated magna cum laude in 1985. She returned to Yale in 1993 to address the graduating class, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1997.
Foster's career began with an appearance as the Coppertone girl in a television advertisement in 1965, when she was only three years old. Her mother had originally intended only for her older brother Buddy to audition for the ad, but had taken Jodie with them to the casting call, where she was noticed by the casting agents. The television spot led to more advertisement work, and in 1968 to a minor appearance in the sitcom Mayberry R.F.D., in which her brother starred. In the following years Foster continued working in advertisements and appeared in over fifty television shows; she and her brother became the breadwinners of the family during this time. Although most of Foster's television appearances were minor, she had recurring roles in The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969–1971) and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1973), and starred opposite Christopher Connelly in the short-lived Paper Moon (1974), adapted from the hit film.
Foster also appeared in films, mostly for Disney. After a role in the television film Menace on the Mountain (1970), she made her feature film debut in Napoleon and Samantha (1972), playing a girl who becomes friends with a boy, played by Johnny Whitaker, and his pet lion. She was accidentally grabbed by the lion on set, which left her with permanent scars on her back. Her other early film work includes the Raquel Welch vehicle Kansas City Bomber (1972), the Western One Little Indian (1973), the Mark Twain adaptation Tom Sawyer (1973), and Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974), in which she appeared in a supporting role as a "Ripple-drinking street kid".
Foster has said she loved acting as a child, and values her early work for the experience it gave her: "Some people get quick breaks and declare, 'I'll never do commercials! That's so lowbrow!' I want to tell them, 'Well, I'm real glad you've got a pretty face, because I worked for 20 years doing that stuff and I feel it's really invaluable; it really taught me a lot.'"
Foster's mother was concerned that her daughter's career would end by the time she grew out of playing children, and decided that to ensure continued work and to gain greater recognition, Foster should also begin acting in films for adult audiences. After the minor supporting role in Alice, Martin Scorsese cast her in the role of a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver (1976). The Los Angeles Welfare Board initially opposed twelve-year-old Foster's appearing in the film due to its violent content, but relented after governor Pat Brown intervened and a UCLA psychiatrist assessed her. A social worker was required to accompany her on set and her older sister Connie acted as her stand-in in sexually suggestive scenes. Foster later commented on the controversy saying that she hated "the idea that everybody thinks if a kid's going to be an actress it means that she has to play Shirley Temple or someone's little sister."
During the filming, Foster developed a close bond with co-star Robert DeNiro, who saw "serious potential" in her and dedicated time outside of filming on rehearsing scenes with her. She described Taxi Driver as a life-changing experience and stated that it was "the first time anyone asked me to create a character that wasn't myself. It was the first time I realized that acting wasn't this hobby you just sort of did, but that there was actually some craft." Released in February, it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May; Foster also impressed journalists when she acted as French interpreter at the film's press conference. Taxi Driver was a critical and commercial success, and earned her a supporting actress Academy Award nomination, as well as two BAFTAs, a David di Donatello and a National Society of Film Critics award. The film is considered one of the best films ever made by both the American Film Institute and Sight & Sound, and has been preserved in the National Film Registry.
Foster also acted in another film nominated for the Palme d'Or in 1976, Bugsy Malone. The British musical parodied films about Prohibition Era gangsters by having all roles played by children; Foster appeared in a major supporting role as a star of a speakeasy show. Its director Alan Parker was impressed by her, saying that "she takes such an intelligent interest in the way the film is being made that if I had been run over by a bus I think she was probably the only person on the set able to take over as director." She gained several positive notices for her performance: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated that "at thirteen she was already getting the roles that grown-up actresses complained weren't being written for women anymore", Variety described her as "outstanding", and Vincent Canby of The New York Times called her "the star of the show". Foster's two BAFTAs were awarded jointly for her performances in Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone. Her third film release in spring 1976 was the independent drama Echoes of a Summer, which had been filmed two years previously. The New York Times named Foster's performance as a terminally ill girl the film's "main strength" and Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune stated that she "is not a good child actress; she's just a good actress", although both reviewers otherwise panned the film.
Foster's fourth film of 1976 was the Canadian-French thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, in which she starred opposite Martin Sheen. The film combined aspects from thriller and horror genres, and showed Foster as a mysterious young girl living on her own in a small town; the performance earned her a Saturn Award. On November 27, she hosted Saturday Night Live, becoming the youngest person to do so until 1982. Her final film of the year was Freaky Friday, a Disney comedy commenting on the generation gap, which was "her first true star vehicle". She played a tomboy teen who accidentally changes bodies with her mother; she later stated that her character's desire to become an adult was matched by her own feelings at the time, and that the film marked a "transitional period" for her when she began to grow out of child roles. It received mainly positive reviews, and was a box office success, gaining Foster a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
After her breakthrough year, Foster spent nine months living in France, where she starred in Moi, fleur bleue (1977) and recorded several songs for its soundtrack. Her other films released in 1977 were the Italian comedy Casotto (1977), and the Disney heist film Candleshoe (1977), which was filmed in England and co-starred veteran actors David Niven and Helen Hayes. After its release, Foster did not appear in any new releases until 1980, the year she turned eighteen. She gained positive notices for her performances in Adrian Lyne's debut feature film Foxes (1980), which focuses on the lives of Los Angeles teenagers, and Carny (1980), in which she played a waitress who runs away from her former life by joining a touring carnival.
Aware that child stars are often unable to successfully continue their careers into adulthood, Foster became a full-time student at Yale in fall 1980, and her acting career slowed down in the following five years. She later stated that going to college was "a wonderful time of self-discovery", and changed her thoughts about acting, which she had previously thought was an unintelligent profession, but now realised that "what I really wanted to do was to act and there was nothing stupid about it." She continued making films on her summer vacations, and during her college years appeared in O'Hara's Wife (1982), television film Svengali (1983), John Irving adaptation The Hotel New Hampshire (1984), French film The Blood of Others (1984), and period drama Mesmerized (1986), which she also co-produced. None of them were however successful, and Foster struggled to find work after graduating in 1985. The neo-noir Siesta (1987), in which she appeared in a supporting role, was a failure. Five Corners (1987) was a moderate critical success and earned Foster an Independent Spirit Award for her performance as a woman whose sexual assaulter returns to stalk her. In 1988, Foster made her debut as a director with the episode "Do Not Open This Box" for the horror anthology series Tales from the Darkside, and in August appeared in the romantic drama Stealing Home (1988) opposite Mark Harmon. It was a flop, with film critic Roger Ebert even "wondering if any movie could possibly be that bad".
Foster's breakthrough into adult roles came with her performance as a rape survivor in The Accused, a drama based on a real criminal case, which was released in October 1988. The film focuses on the aftermath of a gang rape and its survivor's fight for justice in the face of victim blaming. Before making the film, Foster was having doubts about whether to continue her career and planned on starting graduate studies, but decided to give acting "one last try" in The Accused. She had to audition twice for the role and was cast only after several more established actors had turned it down, as the film's producers were wary of her due to her previous failures and because she was still remembered as a "chubby teenager". Due to the heavy subject matter, the filming was a difficult experience for all cast and crew involved, especially the shooting of the rape scene, which took five days to complete. Foster was initially unhappy with her performance, and feared that it would end her career. Her fears turned out to be unfounded: although The Accused received overall mixed reviews upon its release, Foster's performance was positively received by the critics and earned her Academy, Golden Globe and National Board of Review awards, as well as a nomination for a BAFTA Award.
Foster's first film release after the success of The Accused was the thriller The Silence of the Lambs (1991). She played FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who is sent to interview incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in order to solve another serial murder case; Foster later named the role one of her favorites. She had read the novel it was based on after its publication in 1988 and had attempted to purchase its film rights, as it featured "a real female heroine" and its plot was not "about steroids and brawn, [but] about using your mind and using your insufficiencies to combat the villain." Despite her enthusiasm, director Jonathan Demme did not initially want to cast her, but the producers overruled him. Demme's view of Foster changed during the production, and he later credited her for helping him define the character.
Released in February 1991, Silence of the Lambs became one of the biggest hits of the year, grossing close to $273 million, with a positive critical reception. Foster received largely favorable reviews and won Academy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA awards for her portrayal of Starling; Silence won five Academy Awards overall, becoming one of the few films to win in all main categories. In contrast, some reviewers criticized the film as misogynist for its focus on brutal murders of women, and blamed it for homophobia due to its main villain, serial killer "Buffalo Bill". Much of the criticism was directed towards Foster, whom the critics alleged was herself a lesbian. Despite the controversy, the film is considered a modern classic: Starling and Lecter are included on the American Film Institute's top ten of the greatest film heroes and villains, and the film is preserved in the National Film Registry. Later in 1991, Foster also starred in the unsuccessful low-budget thriller Catchfire, which had been filmed before Silence, but was released after it in an attempt to profit from its success.
In October 1991, Foster released her first feature film as a director, Little Man Tate, a drama about a child prodigy who struggles to come to terms with being different. The main role was played by previously unknown actor Adam Hann-Byrd, and Foster co-starred as his working-class single mother. She had found the script from the "slush pile" at Orion Pictures, and explained that for her debut film she "wanted a piece that was not autobiographical, but that had to do with the 10 philosophies I've accumulated in the past 25 years. Every single one of them, if they weren't in the script from the beginning, they're there now." Although she was publicly lauded for her choice to become a director, many reviewers felt that the film itself did not live up to the high expectations, and regarded it as "less adventurous than many films in which [she] had starred". Regardless, it was a moderate box office success. Foster's final film appearance of the year came in a small role as a prostitute in Shadows and Fog (1991), directed by Woody Allen, with whom she had wanted to collaborate since the 1970s.
The following year, Foster founded her own production company, Egg Pictures, a subsidiary of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. She was to produce up to six films, each with the budget of $10–25 million, in the following three years. Her next films were a romantic period film and a comedy, and according to film scholar Karen Hollinger, featured her in more "conventionally feminine" roles. She starred opposite Richard Gere in Sommersby (1993), portraying a woman who begins to suspect that her husband who returns home from the Civil War is in fact an impostor. She then replaced Meg Ryan in the Western comedy Maverick (1994), playing a con artist opposite Mel Gibson and James Garner. Both films were box office hits, earning over $140 and $183 million respectively. Foster's first project for Egg Pictures, Nell, was released in December 1994. In addition to acting as its producer, she starred in the title role as a woman who grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and speaks her own language as her only human connection has been her disabled mother. It was based on Mark Handley's play Idioglossia, which interested Foster for its theme of "otherness", and because she "loved this idea of a woman who defies categorization, a creature who is labeled and categorized by people based on their own problems and their own prejudices and what they bring to the table." It was a moderate commercial success, but a critical disappointment. Despite the negative reviews, Foster received a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
The second film that Foster directed was Home for the Holidays, released in 1995. It starred Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr. and was described as a black comedy "set around a nightmarish Thanksgiving". Released in November 1995, it was a critical and commercial failure. The following year, Foster received two honorary awards: the Crystal Award, awarded annually for women in the entertainment industry, and the Berlinale Camera at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival. After Nell in 1994, Foster did not act in any new projects until 1997, aside from voicing characters in episodes of Frasier in 1996 and The X-Files in early 1997. She was in talks to star in David Fincher's thriller The Game, but its production company, Polygram, dropped her from the project after disagreements over her role. Foster sued the company, saying that she had an oral agreement with them to star in the film and had as a result taken "herself off the market" and lost out on other film projects. The case was later settled out of court. Foster finally made her return to the big screen in Contact (1997), a science fiction film based on a novel by Carl Sagan and directed by Robert Zemeckis. She starred as a scientist searching for extraterrestrial life in the SETI project. Due to the special effects, many of the scenes were filmed with a bluescreen; this was Foster's first experience with the technology. She commented, "Blue walls, blue roof. It was just blue, blue, blue. And I was rotated on a lazy Susan with the camera moving on a computerized arm. It was really tough." The film was a commercial success and earned Foster a Saturn Award and a nomination for a Golden Globe. She also had an asteroid, 17744 Jodiefoster, named in her honor in 1998.
Foster's next project was producing Jane Anderson's television film The Baby Dance (1998) for Showtime. Its story deals with a wealthy California couple who struggle with infertility and decide to adopt from a poor family in Louisiana. On her decision to produce for television, Foster stated that it was easier to take financial risks in that medium than in feature films. In 1998, she also moved her production company from PolyGram to Paramount Pictures. Foster's last film of the 1990s was the period drama Anna and the King (1999), in which she starred opposite Chow Yun-Fat. It was based on a fictionalized biography of British teacher Anna Leonowens, who taught the children of King Mongkut of Siam, and whose story became well known as the musical The King and I. Foster was paid $15 million to portray Leonowens, making her one of the highest-paid female actors in Hollywood. The film was subject to controversy when the Thai government deemed it historically inaccurate and insulting to the royal family and banned its distribution in the country. It was a moderate commercial success, but received mixed to negative reviews. Roger Ebert panned the film, stating that the role required Foster "to play beneath [her] intelligence" and The New York Times called it a "misstep" for her and accused her of only being "interested ... in sanctifying herself as an old-fashioned heroine than in taking on dramatically risky roles".
Foster's first project of the new decade was Keith Gordon's film Waking the Dead (2000), which she produced. She declined to reprise her role as Clarice Starling in Hannibal (2001), with the part going instead to Julianne Moore, and concentrated on a new directorial project, Flora Plum. It was to focus on a 1930s circus and star Claire Danes and Russell Crowe, but had to be shelved after Crowe was injured on set and could not complete filming on schedule; Foster unsuccessfully attempted to revive the project several times in the following years. Controversially, she also expressed interest in directing and starring in a biopic of Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl, who did not like the idea. In addition to these setbacks, Foster shut down Egg Pictures in 2001, stating that producing was "just a really thankless, bad job". The company's last production, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2002. It received good reviews, and had a limited theatrical release in the summer.
After the cancellation of Flora Plum, Foster took on the main role in David Fincher's thriller Panic Room after its intended star, Nicole Kidman, had to drop out due to an injury on set. Before filming resumed, Foster was given only a week to prepare for the role of a woman who moves with her daughter to a house fitted with a panic room, which they have to use on their first night due to a home invasion. It grossed over $30 million on its North American opening weekend in March 2002, thus becoming the most successful film opening of Foster's career as of 2015. In addition to being a box office success, the film also received largely positive reviews.
After a minor appearance in the French period drama A Very Long Engagement (2004), Foster starred in three more thrillers. The first was Flightplan (2005), in which she played a woman whose daughter vanishes during an overnight flight. It became a global box office success, but received mainly negative reviews. It was followed by Spike Lee's critically and commercially successful Inside Man (2006), about a bank heist on Wall Street, which co-starred Denzel Washington and Clive Owen. The third thriller, The Brave One (2007), prompted some comparisons to Taxi Driver, as Foster played a New Yorker who becomes a vigilante after being seriously injured and losing her fiancé and dog in a random street attack. It was not a success, but earned Foster her sixth Golden Globe nomination. Her last film role of the decade was in the children's adventure film Nim's Island (2008), in which she portrayed an agoraphobic writer opposite Gerard Butler and Abigail Breslin. It was the first comedy that she had starred in since Maverick (1994), and was a commercial success but a critical failure. In 2009, she provided the voice for Maggie in a tetralogy episode of The Simpsons titled "Four Great Women and a Manicure".
In the 2010s, Foster has focused on directing and taken fewer acting roles. In February 2011, she hosted the 36th César Awards in France, and the following month released her third feature film direction, The Beaver (2011), about a depressed man who develops an alternative personality based on a beaver hand puppet. It starred Maverick co-star Mel Gibson and featured herself, Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence in supporting roles as his family. Foster called its production "probably the biggest struggle of my professional career", partly due to the film's heavy subject matter but also due to the controversy that developed around Gibson as he was accused of domestic violence and making anti-semitic, racist, and sexist statements. The film received mixed reviews, and failed the box office, largely due to the controversy surrounding its star. In 2011, Foster also appeared as part of an ensemble cast with John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz in Roman Polanski's comedy Carnage, focusing on middle class parents whose meeting to settle an incident between their sons descends into chaos. It premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival in September 2011 to mainly positive reviews and earned Foster a Golden Globe for Best Actress nomination.
In January 2013, Foster received the honorary Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 70th Golden Globe Awards. Her next film role was playing Secretary of Defense Delacourt opposite Matt Damon in the dystopian film Elysium (2013), which was a box office success. She also returned to television directing for the first time since the 1980s, directing the episodes "Lesbian Request Denied" (2013) and "Thirsty Bird" (2014) for Orange Is the New Black, and the episode "Chapter 22" (2014) for House of Cards. "Lesbian Request Denied" brought her a Primetime Emmy Award nomination, and the two 2014 episodes earned her two nominations for a Directors Guild of America Award. In 2014, she also narrated the episode "Women in Space" for Makers: Women Who Make America, a PBS documentary series about women's struggle for equal rights in the United States. The following year, Foster received the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award at the Athena Film Festival, and directed her next film, Money Monster, which stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and was released in May 2016.
In interviews, Foster rarely talks about her private life, and she has explained that she "values privacy against all else" due to having spent most of her life in the public eye. She lives in Los Angeles, and had two sons, Charles "Charlie" Foster (b. 1998) and Christopher "Kit" Foster (b. 2001), while partnered with Cydney Bernard. She met Bernard on the set of Sommersby (1993) and was in a relationship with her from 1993 to 2008. In April 2014, Foster married actress and photographer Alexandra Hedison. She stated in 2011 that having children has made her take on fewer projects: "It is a big sacrifice to leave home. I want to make sure that I feel passionate about the movies I do because it is a big sacrifice... Even if you take the average movie shoot of four months – you have three weeks' prep, press duties here and abroad, dubbing and looping, magazine covers, events and premieres – that's eight months out of a year. That's a long time. If you do two movies back-to-back, you're never going to see your children."
Foster's sexual orientation became subject to public discussion in 1991, when activists protesting the alleged homophobia in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) claimed that she was a closeted lesbian in articles in publications such as OutWeek and The Village Voice. While she had been in a relationship with Bernard for a long time, Foster first publicly acknowledged it in a speech at The Hollywood Reporter's "Women in Entertainment" breakfast honoring her in 2007. In 2013, she addressed coming out in a speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 70th Golden Globe Awards, which led many news outlets to afterwards describe her as lesbian or gay, although some sources noted that she did not use the words "gay" or "lesbian" in her speech.
Foster is an atheist but has said it is important to teach children about different religions, stating that "in my home, we ritualize all of them. We do Christmas. We do Shabbat on Fridays. We love Kwanzaa. I take pains to give my family a real religious basis, a knowledge, because it's being well educated. You need to know why all those wars were fought." She also supports gun control.
During her freshman year at Yale in 1980–1981, Foster was stalked by John W. Hinckley, Jr., who had developed an obsession with her after watching Taxi Driver. He moved to New Haven and tried to contact her, both through letters and by phone. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan, wounding him and three other people, claiming that his motive was to impress Foster. The incident made her subject to intense media attention, and she had to be accompanied by bodyguards when on campus. Although Judge Barrington D. Parker confirmed that Foster was wholly innocent in the case and had been "unwittingly ensnared in a third party's alleged attempt to assassinate an American President", she was required to give a videotaped testimony, which was played at the trial. During her time at Yale, Foster also had other stalkers, including Edward Richardson, who initially planned to murder her but changed his mind after watching her perform in a college play.
The experience was very difficult for Foster, and she has rarely commented on it publicly. In the aftermath of the events, she wrote an essay titled Why Me?, which was published by Esquire in 1982 on the condition that "there be no cover lines, no publicity and no photos". In 1991, she cancelled an interview with NBC's Today Show when she discovered Hinckley would be mentioned in the introduction, and the producers were unwilling to change it. She discussed Hinckley with Charlie Rose of 60 Minutes II in 1999, explaining that she does not "like to dwell on it too much [...] I never wanted to be the actress who was remembered for that event. Because it didn't have anything to do with me. I was kind of a hapless bystander. But [...] what a scarring, strange moment in history for me, to be 17 years old, 18 years old, and to be caught up in a drama like that." She stated that the incident had a major impact on career choices she made but acknowledged that as difficult as the ordeal was for her, it was minimal compared to the suffering of Reagan's press secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled in the shooting and died as a result of his injuries 33 years later, and his loved ones: "whatever bad moments that I had certainly could never compare to that family".