From director Jodie Foster, the real-time, high-stakes thriller Money Monster follows financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), as they are put in an extreme situation when a young man (Jack O’Connell) who has lost everything takes over their studio. During a tense stand-off that’s broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy that led to the disappearance of $800 million of investor money.
At the film’s press day, actress/filmmaker Jodie Foster sat down with Collider at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles for this exclusive interview about opening a smart and relevant thriller in summer movie season, how much the script evolved, the biggest challenges in pulling off her vision for the film, casting Jack O’Connell, having a long script that moves fast, why she finds friends and family screenings tough, her desire to direct more episodic television, and why directing is her primary focus now.
Collider: This is a wholly original adult thriller, it’s smart and relevant, it relies much more on character development than action sequences and set pieces, it’s opening in summer movie season and it’s directed by a woman, so it’s basically a unicorn.
JODIE FOSTER: That’s nice! It is a combination of things that are woven together in a tapestry. I guess that’s why it’s hard to capture it in a trailer. People have been genuinely surprised by the movie and been like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that’s what it was going to be.” It’s a general public movie that’s a taut thriller. I think you have an idea of what that’s going to be, with big movie stars, but I just wanted to make the movie I wanted to make. I guess you forget that it’s a bigger movie.
Was all of that there in the script when you read it?
FOSTER: When I first read it, no. It was a really cool satire. Mostly, it stayed 100% in the confines of that stage. So, it evolved from there. We really wanted to bring a new voice to it, so we spent a couple of years developing the screenplay. We brought in a brand new writer who was much younger and more interested in technology, the financial world right now, and media and how all of those things dovetail. That changed everything. We widened out the scope a lot, and brought in South Africa and Korea.
It feels very much like a throwback to older thrillers while still feeling relevant.
FOSTER: Yeah, it’s the kind of movie that studios don’t make anymore, and that they will make less and less. In a strange way, the fact that it harkens back to real drama, but is also a general public movie, is what makes it fresh. It goes back to the old school way of doing things. And there are lots of turns that are unexpected. I really loved The Big Short. I thought that was such a brave, inspiring, fantastic movie that was so of this time, but it’s really something totally different from what we tried to do. Even though we talk about how impenetrable the financial system is, and that it’s rigged, and that it’s meant, in some ways, to be obscure and to not have people be able to understand what’s going on, we did try to explain it to them. The Big Short is really making a different point.
What did you see as the biggest challenges in pulling off the vision you had for this?
FOSTER: There were a lot. The technology is tough. The good news is that the audience doesn’t notice how difficult it is to make a film in real time, where the same event is happening in 20 different places, with all of the monitors and technology. But, harder than that was just getting the balance right because there are a lot of things going on. It’s a thriller, but it also has comedic elements. It has these big movie stars, and yet, it’s an ensemble. It’s this big scope with helicopters, policeman and SWAT teams, but it really is about two small, frail people who are talking about their little shames. There are a lot of contrary things going on at once, and that did require a certain balancing act.
You also really get a sense of the difference in scope once you move from the confines of the studio to the outside streets.
FOSTER: It was different for them, too, because they had been confined that entire time, on that stage, and then, suddenly, the day that George [Clooney] and Jack [O’Connell] got out into the real world, it was a completely different experience for them.
Obviously, you know what George Clooney and Julia Roberts are capable of, as actors, but what was it about Jack O’Connell?
FOSTER: Hats off to Jack. It wasn’t who I had thought of. I didn’t really want to go that young, and I certainly didn’t think it was going to be an English guy, so I was suspicious. But he taped for me and I saw him audition, and I was like, “This guy is the guy.” He has this very interesting, primitive quality. He’s, at once, quite threatening and unstable, and yet, you want to throw your arms around him and he feels like an everyman. It was that combination of those two things, always with that rage boiling and that sweetness. Jack did a good job. He worked really hard. I think he might be the most committed actor that I’ve ever worked with. I just feel lucky watching him. It’s exhausting watching him because he brings so much to the table and he loves it. He’s so full of joy and he’s happy when he’s working. He’s just happy to do another take, and he’s grateful to be there. It was great.
This is a very tight story that moves at a very fast pace. How long was your first cut of the film, and did you have to cut a lot out?
FOSTER: There’s very little of the movie that was cut out. I make really short movies. Interestingly, the script was long, but people talk fast. They talked really fast and things happened really fast. I was like, “Oh, my god, what am I going to do? The script is 145 pages. That’s insane!” Normally, you would cut 45 pages out, immediately. But, we did a reading and we timed it and we were way under. We realized that if we were going to honor this overlapping idea of this new, fast world, it was going to be fast and complicated and we were going to have to stay really lean. The first reel was probably the one we had to balance the most because there’s a lot of backstory. You’ve gotta introduce Lenny, Patty and Lee, you figure out what the show is, you learn about the ear piece, and you find out about IBIS. There’s a lot that has to happen before the guy comes out with a gun, and all of that was tricky. There was a lot of technique into making it a seamless experience. There were a lot of seams that we had to erase later.
When it comes to the finished product, do you rely on friends and family screenings? Are there people that you always want the opinion of?
FOSTER: I go back and forth. On The Beaver, I brought people in early and that was such a mistake. It was not helpful, at all. I said, “I’m not doing that again.” They didn’t want to see it a second or third time, and then they were useless to me. I had already blown all of my people in the first few screenings and I had nobody to show the movie to, to get their opinions. So this time, I did the opposite. I didn’t really let anyone see the movie. I did show it to other people’s friends. I called it “other people’s friends and family screenings.” So, we did show it to other people, but just not any of my people, until a few days ago.
Do you find test screenings useful?
FOSTER: It’s always different. People that are filmmakers are obviously going to have a very different perspective on the movie than people off the street. On this film, in particular, it was important to have more of an everyman’s feeling about the movie first. Even if we said, “I don’t want to take that into consideration,” at least we knew what the problems were going to be for an everyman, and we started there. But, every movie is different. You get sensitive about notes because it’s your child. You’ve built the child a certain way and they’re like, “We think that’s stupid.” It’s hard. I have no problem cutting. I’m not precious about cutting. I really like to see my original intentions go to the end, before I’m ready to abandon them and sometimes that’s frustrating for people who are like, “Just get rid of it!” I’m like, “No, I was trying to do this.” It takes me awhile to be able to abandon things.
As a director, you tell such interesting stories with fascinating and compelling characters. Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
FOSTER: I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do next. It’s terrible. I’m not a multi-tasker. This film has been hard, so I’m really looking forward to doing nothing. I really love doing episodic television, and doing cable right now, so I’d like to jump into that a little bit in 2016. After that, I don’t know.
Is directing in the primary position for you, at this point? Is that what’s taking priority?
FOSTER: Yeah, definitely. I’ve wanted to be a director since I was a kid, and I’ve only made four movies in all these years ‘cause I did other things. I had a big career, as an actor, and I had kids. I don’t regret that, but now is the time for me to really focus on the directing and I can’t just do it half-way. I can’t do it any other way. I’m not somebody who can delegate things, and I’m not going to multi-task.
Money Monster opens in theaters on May 13th.