By People Staff
March 15, 1999 12:00 PM

It’s not easy to survive a career that began by exposing one’s naked tush to the world. But since her debut at 3 as the suntanned cherub in a Coppertone commercial, Jodie Foster, 36, has crafted a résumé that includes two Best Actress Oscars (for 1988’s The Accused and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs), two directing credits and four turns as producer. Along the way she demonstrated to the next generation how to avoid the pitfalls of early celebrity. The 1985 Yale grad “is a woman that every woman in America admires,” says her friend Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of Para-mount’s motion picture group.

Key to Foster’s successful evolution is the shroud that she has drawn around her private life since John Hinckley Jr., in a chilling effort to impress the Taxi Driver star, attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Foster refuses, for instance, to identify the father of her 8-month-old son, Charles, and is protective of friends and family. She is particularly close to her mother, Brandy, 70, who herself raised four kids alone. “My mom was a great mom,” she says. Her friends expect nothing less from her. “Jodie,” says Stuart Kleinman, a former associate of Foster’s, “is the most nurturing, supportive person.”

She is also among the least affected. “Jodie is an actress, not a celebrity,” says producer and longtime pal Marc Piatt. “She’s not interested in the glamor. She defines herself from within.”