Jodie Foster and private lives of actors

Jodie Foster’s speech at the Golden Globes was described as her coming out, but it was essentially a defense of privacy for celebrities.

Andrew Sullivan did not care for it.

“How beautiful it once was”? When gay people were put in jail, or mental institutions, or thrown out of their families – all because of the “beauty” of privacy for Hollywood royalty like Foster? And she honestly believes it’s courageous to come out in aretirement speech? Well I guess we should be relieved she didn’t leave it for her obit.

The accusation that she’s lying is rather strong, since as far as I know, she never claimed to be straight. Sullivan and Foster have wildly differently professions. As an essayist and a blogger, his job is to be as honest and open as possible. Foster’s job is to routinely pretend to be someone else.

And there is an argument that anything that we know about an actor or actress ruins our ability to believe the character. There are occasional discussions about whether it’s difficult to accept gay actors as heterosexuals, and whether it’s homophobic to suggest that an actor’s sexuality could be a problem for audiences. And sometimes there are questions about ethnicity- for example, whether a Jewish actor is believable playing an Italian.

The mistake may be limiting the question to just the aspect of an actor’s life that they have no control over (ethnicity and sexuality), since anything we know about them can affect how we perceive their performances. If Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play enemies in a film, it’s distracting to know that in real life, they’re good friends. It’s harder to accept George Clooney as a family man when you know that in real life, he’s a happy bachelor. It’s difficult to buy Michael Douglas as a man married to a woman his age when he’s married to a famous woman 25 years his junior. And if he and Catherine Zeta Jones ever play spouses in a film, the fact that they’re married in real life will color how the audience perceives their on-screen relationship.

The insistence that any actor be a role model will be a distraction in their performances, where they will often play characters who are not role models. Mel Gibson will probably not be cast a kindly rabbi, since Hollywood realizes that it would be difficult to accept an actor whose flaws are well-known in an unambiguously positive role. But shouldn’t this also apply to actors whose good deeds are well known? If Brad Pitt does humanitarian work in Africa, it’s distracting to accept him as a hitman.

So there is something to be said for actors deciding to remain private. The hope is that we would think of the role as opposed to the person playing it. Although eventually there is the possibility that we’ll start associating the role with previous performances by the same actor, especially if an actor gives a defining performance (IE- Sean Connery’s James Bond, Anthony Perkins in Psycho).

It’s understandable for actors to try to make these decisions on their own terms. There’s no obligation to become a role model.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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