A month ago, a very pregnant Jodie Foster appeared before TV critics to promote a Showtime movie she had executive produced. Its title? "The Baby Dance."
"I think it's kind of a coincidence," Foster said with a laugh. "But I love movies about people and about humanity and about the complexity of humanity. And I have made a lot of films about family. Both of my films that I directed - `Little Man Tate' and `Home for the Holidays' - really do circle around the idea of family and what we do to each other and why we do the things we do to each other."So it was already something that I was pretty fascinated by. And chances are if it's something that's good enough for me to think about on film, it's probably good enough for me to think about in real life."
And viewers who tune in to "The Baby Dance" will definitely find something to think about. The movie, which first-time director Jane Anderson adapted from her own play, is a surprising, often wrenching story about two couples who couldn't possibly be more different but are drawn together by the birth of a child.
Stockard Channing and Peter Riegert star as Rachel and Richard Luckman, a high-powered Los Angeles couple who have tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive a child. Finally opting for adoption, they turn to Wanda and Al LeFauve (Laura Dern and Richard Lineback), an impoverished Louisiana couple who already have four children they can't afford.
These are two couples with nothing in common who find themselves sometimes trying to work together, sometimes terribly at odds with one another. The performances are outstanding, and Anderson's screenplay provides no easy answers - only difficult questions.
And, to Foster's way of thinking, "The Baby Dance" is exactly the kind of movie that she wants to be involved with.
"I really try to choose movies that move me and to play characters that I love," Foster said. "And to try to find the personal story in the universal story, no matter what the context of the movie - whether it's a science-fiction film or a genre film."
And, like so many other actors, directors and producers, she's finding that this sort of film, which is difficult to get produced as a theatrical release, can find a home on cable TV.
"I absolutely foresee doing more on cable because I realize that there are some things that are just incredibly well-suited to cable nowadays," she said. "Where people are willing to take the financial risks to say, `Well, I won't get paid my full fee, but I'm going to try to make a film that's unique, that's about character, that's a portrait where none of these people is perfect.' And that's something that's increasingly much more difficult to do in features now."
And, though Foster has had both incredible box-office and critical success - she's won two best-actress Oscars - she isn't exactly enthusiastic about the state of the American film industry these days.
"As an actor for hire, I live in a very different industry than as a director, for example, where I make mostly independent films that are, say, under $30 million. Or as a producer where I make a full range of styles of films," she said. "As a producer, it's always hard setting up films. And it's especially hard setting up movies that are meaningful, that are different, that are unique.
"It's much easier to set up movies that have been done before, that aren't interesting, that feature a bunch of people you've seen a million times doing the same thing."
Which is why she created her own film company, Egg Pictures, in 1992 - to make movies and allow others to make movies that didn't necessarily fit the current Hollywood mold.
"At our company, we really tend to take the harder route. I'm not sure that has as much to do with being a woman in Hollywood as it does being somebody who's interested in making, perhaps, riskier projects," Foster said.
Director Adrian Lyne, appearing before critics shortly before Foster, decried the current morality that left his film "Lolita" without an American distributor for two years. He added that he didn't believe a movie like "Taxi Driver" - the 1976 film in which Foster played a teenage prostitute - could be produced by Hollywood today.
Foster, however, disagreed.
"I think you could absolutely still make `Taxi Driver,' but you couldn't make it for anywhere near the amount of money that we made it for - which was only a million-and-a-half dollars," she said.
"I don't think that we've become more repressive morally. I just think that people are more risk-averse financially. The corporate-structure of the film business has changed dramatically, and films cost a lot more. And there's a lot more competition out there - there's more movies that are being made. It now is completely star-driven. There's a lot more advertising."
And it isn't a business that it's exactly easy for new directors to break into.
"I really was very, very lucky to be somebody in the business who was already a known commodity so that when I walked in, I was given the kinds of freedoms I would love to be able to give other directors," Foster said. "Most female directors don't get that opportunity. So I am the luckiest white girl in Hollywood."
Which is part of the reason Foster is so pleased to be giving someone like Anderson a chance to direct.
"Directing is a great job," she said. "I have to say it's the most creative, most fun, most intellectual thing that I do in my professional life. And that's really why I wanted to form the company, to be able to protect other directors like myself. To create a safe environment so that they could tell their stories."
Foster is planning to direct again soon, but she doesn't have any acting roles lined up right now. But, less than a week before the birth of her son, Charles, she wasn't exactly worried about future employment.
"I have a film to direct at . . . the end of spring '99. And we have another film at the company that's called `Waking the Dead,' that we produced that will be out in January or February next year," she said. "So I haven't really taken a hiatus in terms of producing and thinking about what's next.
"I don't have another film as an actor yet, but I think I'll work again," Foster said with a laugh. "I'm pretty sure I'll work again."