Jodie Foster: On Guantánamo and the Power of Forgiveness in “The Mauritanian”

Jodi Foster

Jodie Foster helms a stellar cast including Tahar Rahim and Benedict Cumberbatch in the fact-based movie, The Mauritanian. Indulge caught up with the veteran actor to explore the movie’s powerful message and how she approached her tole.

Jodie Foster as Nancy Hollander in Kevin Macdonald’s “The Mauritanian.” Photo: Graham Bartholomew

INDULGE: What drew you to this very intense, controversial story?

FOSTER: The beautiful thing about making movies is that it’s always about emotion. That always comes first, and even though the facts are interesting and fascinating, and they’re part of our history, none of it really comes together unless it’s sewn together with characters and their emotional lives together.

INDULGE: What was it like playing a role based on attorney, Nancy Hollander, a real person?

FOSTER: She’s this crazy ball of contradiction, somebody who is very measured and can be very tough and to the point, and can be brutal in her analysis, and yet she’s incredibly warm. You really feel that through all of these years of spending all this time with Mohamedou Ould Slahi, pleading his case and defending him, and spending years and years and years really just sitting in a cell with him while on an elliptical or watching television, that she really came to love him. And when you see them together as I’ve been able to do, it’s such a special thing, this older woman who feels very maternal towards this guy. You can see the twinkle in both their eyes.

Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster in “The Mauritanian.” Photo: Graham Bartholomew

INDULGE: In a time when foreign relations cultural harmony feels so frayed, this movie feels incredibly timely. What do you think we should take away from it?

FOSTER: Mohamedou and his story have a lot to teach us about healing, about humanity, but also about forgiveness and the human spirit. He’s someone who’s lived a life that none of us could imagine surviving, cruelty that we could never imagine. Abducted from his home, taken to many prisons, tortured, feeling like he would never leave there…and yet, he loves this world, and had to have a real understanding of the people that imprisoned him. He has become a writer so in some ways, his path was opened to him by this terrible, terrifying experience. It revealed to him who he was. Here he is, a guy who ended up being a writer.

Director Kevin MacDonald and Jodie Foster during the shoot of “The Mauritanian.” Photo: Graham Bartholomew

INDULGE: On working with Director Kevin Macdonald…

FOSTER: I just love the way his mind works. He’s just really curious and inquisitive and I’ve been really amazed by this shoot to see how the documentary spirit really works. It really works by instinct. He really believes that the way you approach making films is that you don’t try to control or shape it, that you spend your time noticing. You’re in the space, you see the characters, and you notice what’s happening, and then you make sure that you capture that. I think it gives this film a really interesting tone.

INDULGE: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this film?

FOSTER: We really wanted to get it right. To be fair to all of the parties. I believe the truest stories are the ones where there aren’t any bad guys. Just human beings who come together and are trying to do the best that they can. But they’re guided by fear. If there is a lesson in this story, it’s that the fear impulse is so strong. Unfortunately, in the era of Guantanamo and 9/11, it took over the American psyche. We were making international foreign policy decisions by fear instead of using the laws and rules that we knew, that we hold dear to.

— G. Dhalla

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.