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Intelligent Beauty

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If they could write a song about Bette Davis eyes, isn’t it time we had one celebrating Jodi Foster’s? A deep, unflinching blue, magnetically expressive and as no-nonsense as a jeweler’s scale, they are an arresting counterpoint to the pellucid, quick-to-freckle skin that stretches over her cover-girl cheekbones. “My face must have dropped in the last five years,” the 29-year-old actress wryly suggests. “Suddenly I got bones that I never had before. Now I really enjoy putting care into my clothes, my makeup, my appearance; when I was younger, I would have rather died than think about it. It took me a long time to grow into my looks.”

And to earn the clout befitting one of the few Hollywood women who can green-light a project on either side of the camera. Last year Foster starred in the nape-raising The Silence of the Lambs, earning her second Oscar in three years, and made her directing debut with Little Man Tate, a deeply felt tale of childhood precocity and single parenthood. Says Universal studio chief Tom Pollock of her intelligent career management: “It is hard to imagine doing it better.”

In her distinctive husky alto, Foster remembers the confusion of adolescence. “I thought of myself as a funny-looking kid with a really round face, a tomboy walk and a little too much baby fat,” she says. “I felt the angst of not being pretty, petite or demure enough to be a star. Our culture is so obsessed with body perfection and beauty that it has undervalued substance. The message is that if your chin were pointier or your chest bigger, you’d be happy. All of this presumes that success is found under the gaze of others.”

In a way, Alicia Christian Foster’s has been. A visual log of her 27 feature films, available at your local video store, traces her molts from the prepubescent sylph of 1976’s Taxi Driver to the overstuffed Yalie of 1984’s Hotel New Hampshire, a phase made more stressful by demented fan John Hinckley Jr. She’s back down to 110 lbs., with sturdy kickboxer’s calves (from years of training) supporting a trim 5’4″ frame (with faint lion-bite scars on stomach and back, suffered at age 8 filming Napoleon and Samantha). Foster owns a ranch-style house in Los Angeles, runs her own errands and likes to do lunch in her car, where she simply sits back and watches people. “I find the imperfections the most interesting thing about a person,” she explains. “My senses are usually drawn to the gestures, the details of a person’s face or carriage that illuminate how they have lived: tiny, elegant lines around the face, the shy flitting of the eyes, the way a graceful hand tells a story, the way a belly laugh signals great passion.”

Foster is now in Virginia shooting Sommersby, a post-Civil War drama with Richard Gere; next she’ll coproduce and act in a bioflick on actress Jean Seberg, the tragic gamin from Iowa who starred in one of Foster’s favorite movies, Breathless. (Smeared by the FBI for befriending the Black Panthers, Seberg committed suicide in Paris in 1979 at age 40.) Foster is drawn to those facets of Seberg that “led her into situations and events I personally have protected myself from.” It doesn’t hurt that she shares Seberg’s milk-fed good looks.

“Beauty is part of what I do,” allows Foster. “But I don’t think of myself as that smart or that beautiful. People just don’t know the silly side of me. I’m just as liable to put on a pair of clogs and do moose calls!” Adam Hann-Byrd knows that side of her. Says the 10-year-old who portrayed Little Man Tate: “Sure Jodie’s pretty, but she’s also pretty smart, pretty caring—and a pretty terrific friend.”