Is a Hollywood favor behind "The Beaver"?

"I fought for you and I will continue to fight for you because I love you," Jodie Foster tells Mel Gibson in the new trailer for their movie, "The Beaver." The movie, directed by Foster, follows a man in crisis who turns to a hand puppet to derail his rage and depression. It's also about a woman who stands by her man, despite what other people say.

That's a role Foster has taken on in real life, going to bat and possibly salvaging the career of co-star Gibson, a man who stands accused of spousal abuse, and whose notorious sexist, racist and anti-Semitic tirades have offended a good portion of the planet. Sound like a strange position for a feminist icon to take on? While some speculate money is playing a role in Foster's defense of the Gibson, they're ignoring a more plausible reason: Foster may just be paying back a long-owed debt, Hollywood-style.

In the early 1990s, Jodie Foster was in her own career crisis, as her 1992 Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs" resulted in gay and lesbian activists protesting over the negative portrayal of homosexuality in the movie, and bringing the very private actress' personal life into question. Publicly outed by a columnist in Outweek, and hounded by tabloid speculation, Foster refused to address the rumors. But in an era of closeted Hollywood, when superstars-especially leading ladies-were practically blacklisted for going public with their sexual orientation, her career was in jeopardy. (It wasn't till 1997 when Anne Heche, an actress up for similar parts, would come out as a lesbian, and even then it resulted in career limitations.)

Enter Mel Gibson, then the biggest star in Hollywood, all set to film and executive produce "Maverick," a major mainstream blockbuster comedy, when his leading lady, Meg Ryan, drops out. Though Kim Basinger was suggested, Gibson pushed for Foster-an unlikely suggestion.

"I wanted a very pretty, very sexy comedienne," "Maverick" director Richard Donner told press. Executives were concerned Foster didn't have what was then described in Hollywood-speak as "schwing factor."

Foster and Gibson in 1994 blockbuster Foster and Gibson in 1994 blockbuster

"Jodie isn't the first actress who springs to mind when you read the script," Gibson said in interviews. "But now I can't think of anybody else in the role."

Foster joined the cast two weeks before filming, dressed in cleavage-baring saloon dresses, as a way to prove she was still a viable candidate for hetero-lust. Foster told the press: " I think 'Maverick' may be a way for me to say, 'You haven't figured me out yet.'"

The film was a hit at the box office and kept her in good graces with producers and intolerant audiences. Critics hailed her turn as glamorous, sexy and surprising. Gibson and Foster went on to other films, but they continued their campaign of mutual admiration. He'd get advice from her about directing. She'd adapt his bizarre pranking penchant, playing tricks as director on her own cast and crew.

Perhaps the biggest lesson she learned from Gibson was helping out a fellow superstar in the trenches. He was the first to stand behind Robert Downey Jr. after his drug-fueled demise, casting him in "The Singing Detective" and pushing the director of "Gothika" to do the same. In the sequel to "Tropic Thunder", it was reportedly Downey Jr. who extended the cameo offer to Gibson, hoping to return the favor.

When Mel's first bout of bad press came with his arrest in Malibu, Foster came to his defense, comparing him to Downey Jr.: "You cannot find anyone in the film business who does not love Downey, and look at some of his exploits," she said at the time. "Is [Mel] an anti-Semite? Absolutely not...But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism. I just wish I had been there, that I had been able to say, 'Don't do it. Don't take that drink.'"

She may not have been there then, but she's there for him now. As production of his other films are at a standstill and his efforts at getting even cameo roles are foiled, "The Beaver" is poised for release this spring. Some critics speculate his performance could earn enough praise to rekindle his career. If that's the case, Foster will have returned the favor. But the circumstances don't really match up. Her career was in jeopardy because of homophobic intolerance. His career crisis is born out of his own sexist, racist intolerance. It's a welcome change to see extreme misogyny, and not sexual orientation, take down a sex symbol. And most people who've witnessed Gibson's downfall don't think he deserves another chance. But Foster remains as loyal to her co-star as she was in the '90s. "I would defend him from thieves, I would kill for him," she told Variety back in 1996 when Gibson was still on top of the world. One thing can be said: she's a woman of her word.

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