By People Staff
Updated September 30, 2005 06:00 AM
Jodie Foster
Credit: Tsuni/Gamma

Three years after playing a protective mother in Panic Room, Jodie Foster lets her maternal instincts take control again as a woman whose daughter disappears in Flightplan. “There’s a primal connection to children,” says Foster, 42, who is mom to sons Charlie, 7, and Kit, 4. “You have to explore those fears. That’s what makes the best drama.” The former child star talked recently about being a parent, sharing the acting gene and finding the next Jodie Foster.

What took you so long to get back to the screen?
I have two small children, so they pretty much take up a lot of my life, and my life is very full and significant. But I really work when I find something that moves me. And something that I maybe haven’t done before, or is about some of the questions that I’m asking. I never know when that’s going to be.

Have you ever lost track of one of your children?
I had one moment where I lost my son. I found him very quickly. He was in a crowd and I couldn’t get to him because there were so many people between us, and he didn’t see me, and the whole anxiety that he had of not being able to find me (kicked in).

Do your kids have acting in their blood?
Not at all. They don’t seem to be very interested in it. I mean, they like movies, so they’re interested in green screen and what that is. I always try to point out how things are made, and which actors do voices. I’ll say, “Remember that guy? You can hear his voice because he’s the guy in SpongeBob.

Do you see any child actors who could be the future Jodie Foster?
Dakota Fanning is so good. I think she kind of looks like me too. Jena Malone, I really look forward to seeing her stuff too. Mostly I look at actors that have an interesting career. So right now, Terrence Howard – the guy is spectacular. Robin Wright Penn, I go see anything she does, or Jeffrey Wright.

In Flightplan, tension is so high. How do you deal with it on set?
Well, you learn: You drink some coffee, you eat some food, you talk to some people, and then somebody says “Action,” and then you’ve just got to do it. Everybody spends their life working as an actor, trying to figure out some magic-bullet technique thing, some potion you can take to figure out how to get from here to there.

In this movie and Panic Room, you’re fighting for your family. Is that what draws you to these films?
Oh gosh, maybe. (It’s) feeling like you have one person who understands you and one person you have this connection with, and they’re ripped from you. It’s clearly a fear I have, that I carry with me, and that I get attracted to in all sorts of movies.

Any type of character you’d like to try your hand at?
I like playing the bad guy. And as I get older I can kind of see that a little more, and it’s so funny because I’m so small.

What else?
I’d like to do a movie where I get to rise to some big enormous mastery of something. I’d like to play a trapeze artist, so that I can spend four months with calluses and learning what that craft is – like a violinist, a flautist, a shot putter. I speak French very well, but other than that, I can’t do anything.

What about acting?
You never feel like you master acting.