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Staying true to herself, Foster passes star test

She may not be Julia Roberts, but she can open a movie more successfully
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Today’s quiz: 10 true or false questions about female movie stars:

1. There’s only one marquee female star: Julia Roberts.

2. Female stars look like they’re under 35 — no matter what their age. (Think Sharon Stone, Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan.)

3. Their acting chops are less important than the fact that they look gorgeous and adorable in bikinis, 4-inch heels, skintight leather, low-cut evening gowns and skimpy nightwear. (Think Cameron Diaz and Jessica Alba.)

4. Audiences like them best when they play women who are beautiful, lovable, vulnerable and sexy — not smart. (Think Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore.)

5. They do best while hanging on the arms of strong leading men. (Think Kirsten Dunst and Reese Witherspoon.)

6. With a shorter window for maximizing star power than men, the more starring roles per year, the better. (Angelina Jolie starred in five movies in 2004; Nicole Kidman averages two to three films a year.)

7. Successful stars soak up media attention to get as much exposure as possible. (Think Jennifer Lopez, Lindsay Lohan and Jennifer Aniston.)

8. Actresses don’t open movies. And they can’t open movies alone.

9. Women’s pictures are soft because male audiences won’t go to see a movie starring a woman.

10. Female movie stars don’t get paid as much as male movie stars.

Here are the answers:

1. False. The No. 1 female movie star in Hollywood is Jodie Foster, who starred alone in her past two hits, “Flightplan” and “Panic Room,” which both opened at No. 1 and held that spot for two consecutive weekends. While both Roberts and Foster are robust marquee draws, Roberts’ most recent hits, “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” were ensembles. She was the biggest name in the less successful four-hander, “Closer,” and took the smart-house route with supporting roles in Steven Soderbergh’s “Full Frontal” and Geor exacted the quality control that Foster does and also understood how to choose commercial projects.

4. False. A Yale graduate, Foster is a beautiful, slim, athletic blonde who can turn on the glam when she wants to. But sexy she isn’t. In interviews, she likes to talk about being a mom. Onscreen, she tends to play an accessible everywoman who is smart, competent and strong (“Silence of the Lambs”). Similarly brainy athletes Sigourney Weaver (the “Alien” series, “Ghostbusters”) and Geena Davis (“Thelma & Louise,” “Cutthroat Island”) also tried to parlay their considerable skills into starring roles in mainstream genre films but couldn’t prove their box office mettle. “She doesn’t play over-the-top personalities,” says her longtime publicist, Pat Kingsley. “She’s an extraordinary woman who plays ordinary people.”

5. False. While Foster has occasionally starred opposite such romantic foils as Richard Gere (“Sommersby”), Mel Gibson (“Maverick”) and Chow Yun-Fat (“Anna and the King”), these days she often flies solo in such commercial thrillers as “Flightplan” and “Panic Room.” In her next movie, though, Spike Lee’s crime drama “Inside Man” (due in March), she co-stars with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen.

6. False. Sometimes, less really is more. Audiences can tire of seeing their stars too often. Foster does not allow herself to be overexposed. She works only when she wants to and then disappears from view. While she played supporting roles in the French film “A Very Long Engagement” and her production of the indie “The Dangerous Life of Altar Boys,” Foster’s last starring role in a movie, “Panic Room,” was three years ago. (She stepped in for the injured Kidman.) That means that audiences were all the more eager to see her when she returned to the big screen. According to her agents at International Creative Management, Foster turns down literally hundreds of scripts a year. “Stars who churn out two movies a year are not special,” DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press says. “It’s a smart lesson: If you want people to be fond of you, go away for a while. Foster’s movies are event-ized by her being in them.”

7. False. During a time when many celebrities jostle for clogged airspace, Foster is a welcome reminder that in the end, doing quality work is more important than mentions on (New York Post gossip section) Page Six. When Foster is promoting a new movie, the press is eager to talk to her. When she’s not, Foster tends to stay home with her two young sons and avoids the red-carpet circuit.

8. False. Foster is a marquee draw whose movies usually open big. Even without rave reviews, “Flightplan” was the No. 1 movie on its opening weekend, earning $24.6 million; it stayed at No. 1 in its second weekend and dropped only 27 percent in its third weekend. The thriller is on track to hit $90 million. In 2002, “Panic Room” opened at No. 1 with a $30 million opening weekend, stayed at the top of the box office charts for its second weekend and grossed $95.3 million in North America. While Foster stumbled in the badly executed period romance “Anna and the King,” her highest-performing film was 1997’s “Contact,” which grossed $100.7 million. Roberts, Bullock, Lopez, Barrymore, Ryan and Witherspoon also open movies alone, but they tend to be romantic comedies. Despite a big push from 20th Century Fox, Diaz was not able to draw a sizable audience for her most recent entry, “In Her Shoes,” which did not interest men.

9. False. More women go to Foster’s movies than men, but many men do show up. “She’s a female star whom men are equally comfortable with,” Press says. “That’s unusual. She does not project a girlie-girl that men would find unappealing. Her job in a movie is a professional job a man would have. ’Flightplan’ and ’Panic Room’ were sold as thrillers with action so that men didn’t reject them out of hand.” In fact, Denzel Washington and Sean Penn were each attached at one time to star in “Flightplan,” which was rewritten for Foster.

10. True. While women are making progress in the roles they are able to play (Jolie kicked Brad Pitt’s ass in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” for example), Hollywood still practices outrageous wage discrimination. Any male actor with Foster’s track record would have been earning $20 million long ago. Roberts, the only female movie star to enter the $20 million club, earns that fee for romantic comedies, which is not Foster’s genre. Roberts has recently taken time off to care for her twins, as Foster did to raise her kids. Foster earns between $13 million (“Flightplan”) and $15 million (the upcoming revenge thriller “The Brave One”) for a studio picture. In dramatic contrast, at least 20 male stars have earned $20 million at some point in their careers, including Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Leonardo DiCaprio, Keanu Reeves, Clint Eastwood, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler and Will Smith.