Jodie Foster was born Alicia Christian Foster (she was later nicknamed "Jodie") in Los Angeles, California, on November 19, 1962. The daughter of Evelyn "Brandy" Ella and Lucius Fisher Foster III, Foster is the youngest of four children. The future Academy Award winner began her acting career at the tender age of 3, with a role as the Coppertone Girl in a television commercial for the iconic brand of suntan lotion.
A precocious and bright child from the start, Foster began talking at nine months and had taught herself to read by the time she was 3 years old. Despite never having taken an acting class, she dove headlong into show business in 1968 with her first television show, Mayberry R.F.D. From there, she would continue on to a busy career as a child actress, with Brandy Foster always by her side, playing the dual role of manager and mother. "My mom managed me when I was young," Foster later recalled. "I still treasure her impact. She was very strong, self-educated, but wasn't pushy. She'd stay in the trailer and read magazines while I worked."
Foster's first foray onto the big screen came with roles in the Disney movies Napoleon and Samantha (1972) and One Little Indian (1973). All the while, Foster was studying at the private prep school Lycée Français de Los Angeles, juggling a challenging course load and becoming fluent in French.
Foster's unforgettable and controversial breakout film role came when she was only 12 years old. Taxi Driver (1976), an iconic and dark Martin Scorsese picture set in the gritty underbelly of 1970s-era New York, saw Foster playing a child prostitute who becomes the obsession of the title character, played by Robert De Niro. Taxi Driver garnered Foster an Oscar nomination, establishing her as a teenage star and leading to roles in popular films like Freaky Friday (1976) and Foxes (1980), further cementing her place as Hollywood's next darling.
But Foster was uncomfortable with her growing fame. In search of anonymity and an ordinary collegiate experience, she enrolled in Yale University after graduating high school. The famous Ivy League rigor didn't seem to intimidate the young actress, as she immediately enrolled in upper level French courses. "I chose Yale basically for writing and literature," she says. "Of course, you can't be sure—you get your first D and could decide to be a chemistry major."
In 1981, a disturbed man named John Hinckley Jr. shattered the young actress's dream of a quiet college life when he attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saying he did it in order to impress her. While she attended college, Hinckley became obsessed with Foster, writing her love letters and calling her on the phone. She eventually testified during Hinckley's trial and admitted to being badly shaken by the experience. Nevertheless, Foster returned to work shortly after the incident, starring in Svengali alongside Peter O'Toole, finding in acting a release from the intense and unwanted scrutiny Hinckley's actions had drawn her way.
After graduating from Yale, Foster made the transition from child star to mature actress, appearing in a series of mostly unremarkable pictures through the mid-1980s. Her next widely acclaimed role came in another intense and gritty picture, when she played rape survivor Sarah Tobias in The Accused (1988). For this performance she won both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress, establishing her as one of Hollywood's most esteemed serious actresses.
Foster made a strong impression again in 1991 with her performance as FBI agent Clarice Starling in blockbuster hit The Silence of the Lambs (1991), in which Foster's character goes head to head with the unforgettable psychopath Hannibal Lechter, played by Anthony Hopkins. For this role, Foster collected her second Academy Award and Golden Globe.
Firmly established as one of Hollywood's biggest stars and enjoying the professional and financial freedom to follow a different path, Foster turned to directing. When asked about the differences between acting and directing, she said, "Well, you have control, but you also have 175 people involved. Acting, for me, is exhausting. I'm always so energized by directing. It's more intense to direct. I can pop in and express myself, then pop out again. It's a huge passion for me." Her feature-film directorial debut, Little Man Tate (1991), won widespread plaudits from critics.
Between her occasional directorial projects, Foster continued to act in hit movies such as Maverick (1994), Contact (1997) and the box office smash Panic Room (2002).
Foster's choice of scripts spans from blockbuster to indie and foreign. In The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002), she played a nun, Sister Assumpta, while also producing the film. After taking a small part in a French film, The Very Long Engagement (2004), Foster returned to big-budget Hollywood fare with Flightplan in 2005.
Foster has been very selective about her projects in recent years. She reunited with her Maverick colleague Mel Gibson in the offbeat drama The Beaver (2011). For the film, Foster served as its director and as Gibson's co-star. She also worked with Roman Polanski on his dramatic comedy Carnage (2011) around this time. Foster and John C. Reilly play a New York City couple who become involved in a dispute with another couple (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) in the film.
In recent years, Foster has continued to pursue filmmaking. She stars opposite Matt Damon in the sci-fi film Elysium (2013). Around the same time, she began working on a new directing project: Money Monster (2016), a film about a television star who becomes a Wall Street guru through insider tips.