Jodie Foster ’85 revisits alma mater

After the Jodie Foster credit rolled across the screen to the closing score of “The Silence of the Lambs,” the real Jodie Foster ’85 walked down the aisle of the crowded Whitney Humanities Center auditorium on Wednesday and ascended onto the stage as the audience cheered.

“With time, this movie has proven to be a good American classic,” Foster said as she explained why she chose “The Silence of the Lambs” to be screened before her talk on Wednesday evening. “I can’t say that about every movie I made, but this one is timeless and the relevance continues on.”

The event, which was organized by the Yale Film Studies program, featured a 35mm screening of “The Silence of the Lambs” and a question and answer session with the Academy Award winning actress, who portrayed the protagonist Clarice Starling in the Hannibal Lecter classic. Students reserved tickets a week in advance and arrived 30 minutes before the screening began to snag their seats.

Foster, who graduated from Yale with a B.A. in literature, discussed how her understanding of fiction and text helps her develop on-screen characters.

“I am moved not by visuals but by words,” Foster said of her acting style, which she said she found through experience and not professional training. “I am really inspired by fiction and words and the way they come across.”

As a student at Yale, Foster had to balance being a student and a celebrity: She filmed more than five movies while an undergraduateand, in a publicized episode, had two obsessive stalkers pining after her prostitute character from “Taxi Driver.” John Hinckley Jr., who followed Foster to New Haven, attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981 in an effort to impress the young actress, he wrote to her in a letter at the time.

Yet Foster said the undergraduate experience transformed her as a person. It was not the rigorous class work, but rather the environment of “interesting and thoughtful peers,” as she put it, that influenced her, Foster said.

After her remarks, the event’s coordinators opened the floor to the audience, and many students asked about the graphic and violent nature of “The Silence of the Lambs.” While Foster admitted that she was scared during the filming, she said she found the end result “amazing” and “powerful.”

“Tony was really scary,” Foster said of the actor Anthony Hopkins, who portrayed the cannibal serial killer Hannibal Lecter. “We actually talked for the first time on the last day of shooting. We were eating tuna sandwiches and he came up to say, ‘I was really scared of you!” And I said, ‘No, I was really scared of you!’ ”

Several audience members also commented on Foster’s long history of playing powerful, solitary women. Foster said she loves playing characters like Clarice Starling and interpreting strong, feminist roles, but she refused to call herself an activist.

“I appreciate and am inspired by those actors who do take on the activist role,” Foster said. “But I myself can’t put on the instruction hat for the public.”

While Foster had to leave quickly after the question-and-answer session to attend a dinner event with the Film Studies Department, audience members interviewed afterward said they enjoyed the brief time they spent with the Hollywood actress.

Alice Tai ’08 said she had been looking forward to the event since the moment she saw the promotional poster for it. “It was just amazing and great to be in her presence,” Tai said.

Film Studies major Mary Senn ’10 said while she had seen “The Silence of the Lambs” many times before, it was a new experience seeing it on the big screen, especially with Foster in the theater.

“She was just very laid back and funny,” Senn said

Prior to the movie screening, Foster gave a Master’s Tea with Calhoun College in Swing Space. Foster was a member of Calhoun during her time as an undergraduate.

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