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Feature: Jodie Foster on Panic Room

Panic Stations

Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart in the Panic Room

A change in lead actress because of an accident, movie execs wanting a new ending: it wasn't all fun and laughter for star Jodie Foster and director David Fincher on the US box-office smash, Panic Room

"I love David Fincher," explains Jodie Foster. That was reason one why Foster signed on for Panic Room. "I've known him for a long time and tried to work with him many times, and I followed this script. So I knew about the project. Frankly, I came to them as quickly as they came to me. I offered my services."

This all happened rather later than the 11th hour. Nicole Kidman had already been before the camera, starring in Panic Room as divorcee Meg Altman, whose New York City house features a little something called a ‘panic room’. This is a mini-fortress, an impenetrable room forged in steel, filled with bare necessities: rations, a phone line, security monitors... Meg and her teenage daughter (Kristen Stewart) race there when three robbers start lurking around. Unfortunately, what the robbers seek is actually hidden in the panic room...

Three weeks into production, Kidman aggravated a knee injury that that forced her to depart, and Foster quickly stepped in. (But listen closely for a woman's 'phone voice belonging to Kidman!) "I've seen all the dailies with Nicole in them," says Fincher. "It's a completely different movie - equally as valid, but more of a Hitchcock-studio picture. But when [the actor who played] Clarice Starling walks into the set-up, you say ‘She's capable. She can handle herself.' There's something glamorous about Nicole, the Grace Kelly damsel in distress. What Jodie Foster brings to it is what she's been building for 35 years of her career and her life – she's smart, thoughtful and capable. She's nobody's fool."

Foster notes that Fincher lived up to his advance billing. He was smart, personable, demanding, and asked for take after take in order to achieve a visually unique look. "David's style is a very particular style," notes Foster, herself a respected director. "He has an opinion and pretty much does the job of every single person on the movie. So he discusses colour temperatures, sound quality, where to put the microphone... There isn't one decision that hasn't been specifically drawn from his idea or his vision of the film, including my performance and everyone else's. I love that. So the film is a complete signature movie in every aspect."

Fincher faced another hurdle deep into editing the movie. After it had been test-screened with audiences, there were suggestions by studio heads that the ending might be changed, in line with viewers' reactions to the outcome.

"I didn't think that was a good idea," says Fincher, simply. "The script they bought for $4 million was right about how it should end. They said ‘Could you just try it?' I said ‘I would love to. But the set, which had been torn down, will cost $3 million to rebuild, and take eight or nine days of shooting...' The grand total was about [an extra] $6 million. So they said: ‘We like the way the movie ends.'" With The Panic Room already having taken $82 million in the US in just four weeks, it would seem his trials were worth it...

by James Mottram & John Reading

Panic Room opens on May 3 in the UK.
Read the full feature and review in:
Film Review (Jun)

Image © Columbia TriStar
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

Taken from
Film Review (Jun), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Jun)
#618, June 2002
ships from Apr 25 2002
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