The youngest of four children born to Evelyn "Brandy" Foster, Jodie Foster entered the world on November 19, 1962, under the name Alicia, but earned her "proper" name when her siblings insisted upon Jodie. A stage-mother supreme, Brandy Foster dragged her kids from one audition to another, securing work for son Buddy in the role of Ken Berry's son on the popular sitcom Mayberry RFD. It was on Mayberry that Foster, already a professional thanks to her stint as the Coppertone girl (the little kid whose swimsuit was being pulled down by a dog on the ads for the suntan lotion), made her TV debut in a succession of minor roles. Buddy would become disenchanted with acting, but Jodie stayed at it, taking a mature, businesslike approach to the disciplines of line memorization and following directions that belied her years. Janet Waldo, a voice actress who worked on the 1970s cartoon series The Addams Family, would recall in later years that Foster, cast due to her raspy voice in the male role of Puggsley Addams, took her job more seriously and with more dedication than many adult actors.
After her film debut in Disney's Napoleon and Samantha (1972), Foster was much in demand, though she was usually cast in "oddball" child roles by virtue of her un-starlike facial features. She was cast in the Tatum O'Neal part in the 1974 TV series based on the film Paper Moon -- perhaps the last time she would ever be required to pattern her performance after someone else's. In 1975, Foster was cast in what remains one of her most memorable roles, as preteen prostitute Iris in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Both the director and the on-set supervisors made certain that she would not be psychologically damaged by the sleaziness of her character's surroundings and lifestyle; alas, the film apparently did irreparable damage to the psyche of at least one of its viewers. In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Reagan, and when captured, insisted he'd done it to impress Foster -- a re-creation of a similar incident in Taxi Driver. The resultant negative publicity made Foster (who'd been previously stalked by Hinckley) extremely sensitive to the excesses of the media; through absolutely no fault of her own, she'd become the quarry of every tabloid and "investigative journalist" in the world. Thereafter, she would stop an interview cold whenever the subject of Hinckley was mentioned, and even ceased answering fan mail or giving out autographs.
This (justifiable) shunning of "the public" had little if any effect on Foster's professional life; after graduating magna cum laude from Yale University (later she would also receive an honorary Doctorate), the actress appeared in a handful of "small" films of little commercial value just to recharge her acting batteries, and then came back stronger than ever with her Oscar-winning performance in The Accused (1988), in which she played a rape victim seeking justice. Foster followed up this triumph with another Oscar for her work as FBI investigator Clarice Starling (a role turned down by several prominent actresses) in the 1991 chiller The Silence of the Lambs.
Not completely satisfied professionally, Foster went into directing with a worthwhile drama about the tribulations of a child genius, Little Man Tate (1991) -- a logical extension, according to some movie insiders, of Foster's tendency to wield a great deal of authority on the set. Foster would also balance the artistic integrity of her award-winning work with the more commercial considerations of such films as Maverick (1994). She made her debut as producer in 1994 with the acclaimed Nell, in which she also gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a backwoods wild child brought into the modern world. Foster would continue to to produce and direct, with 1995's Home for the Holidays and 2011's The Beaver.
Foster would continue to chose a challenging variety of roles, playing scientist Ellie Arroway in Robert Zemeckis' 1997 adaptation of the Carl Sagan in Contact, and a widowed schoolteacher in Anna and the King (1999), and a mother defending her daughter during a home invasion in David Fincher's Panic Room. The 2000's would see Foster appear in several more films, like Inside Man, The Brave One, and the Roman Polanski directed domestic comedy Carnage. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi