Back On The Beat: Jodie Foster Embraces Her 60s – and Roles in ‘Nyad’ and ‘True Detective’ – With Aplomb

Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster describes her mid-life period as a struggle to live up to her potential while facing the ageist baggage that so often weighs women down. Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for ELLE

 Jodie Foster is positively glowing and she’s blaming it on her age.

“It is amazing how content I am,” says the Oscar-winning actor and director, who turned 61 in November. “Maybe it’s like a chemical thing that happens when you turn 60. You have a hormone that goes through your body, where suddenly there’s a contentedness and satisfaction.”

Foster has been racking up nominations for her supporting role opposite Annette Bening in the Netflix drama Nyad, about the American athlete who came out of retirement in her 60s to swim from Cuba to Florida. Now, in the latest season of HBO’s True Detective, she can be spotted up in the Arctic with boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis, as they play Alaskan cops who investigate the murder of eight scientists found buried in ice.

We’re seeing a lot more of Foster after a decade where she popped up sporadically to direct TV episodes (House of Cards, Black Mirror) and one feature (Money Monster), and starred in the odd movie, like the underrated thriller Hotel Artemis. She describes that mid-life period as a struggle to live up to her potential while facing the ageist baggage that so often weighs women down. “The 50s were tough,” says Foster on a Zoom video call with a group of journalists. “There was a lot of self-hatred. You’re competing against your old self. I turned 60 and that all changed. The pressure is off. You’re able to say, ‘This is not my time. I had my time.’”

Foster is in a Los Angeles hotel, where her gunmetal blouse and blond streaks complement the room’s gold-and-grey colour scheme. She speaks warmly about an on-screen career that began at age three with a Coppertone baby ad, and includes her breakout role, at 12, opposite Robert De Niro in an Oscar-nominated performance as the vulnerable but spirited teenage sex worker Iris, in 1976’s Taxi Driver. Foster went on to win two Best Actress Oscars before 30: the first for her heartbreaking performance as a rape victim fighting for justice in 1988’s The Accused, and the second for 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, where Foster played Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee who goes toe-to-toe with Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer played by Anthony Hopkins.

Jodie Foster
Back to front: Scott Glenn, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, circa 1991. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


While there have been few acting opportunities that could match the staying power of Starling, Foster never settled for passive roles regularly thrown at women. “I didn’t really make a career playing the mother of, the sister of, the girlfriend of,” she says, laying out intentional choices such as the cunning power broker in Inside Man, a fiercely protective mother in Panic Room and a vigilante avenging her murdered boyfriend in The Brave One

True Detective: Night Country marks the first time Foster has played a detective since Starling, but she points out the chilling franchise’s first season was inspired by the 1995 film, Seven, which, in turn, was inspired by her Oscar-winning movie. “Silence of the Lambs,” she says, “is the great-great-grandfather of this show.”

The Silence of the Lambs and True Detective share genre mechanics and gothic horror accents, but there is also a telling gulf. The film was revolutionary because it inhabited a female consciousness within a very masculine-coded genre. True Detective, one of prestige TV’s first anthology series, with its mostly bro-y pairings and voyeuristic approach to violence against women, has been largely expressed through the Y chromosome. 

Foster’s presence, alongside Reis – and aided by this season’s showrunner, Issa López – is significantly changing that purview. In the new season, Foster’s Liz Danvers is trying to solve a case playing out amid the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic. Much like Starling, Danvers is moving through a toxic and violent world shaped by men, only she’s doing it in a more calcified and destructive way. 

True Detective
Jodie Foster and Kali Reis star in True Detective: Night Country. Photo: Michele K. Short/HBO


Foster speaks contentedly about her victory lap. “Having the two female detectives who are complicated, whose internal spiritual messiness reflects a lot of the place, was such an opportunity to take the franchise and bring that to women’s lives. I don’t know why they didn’t think about that before in True Detective.”