There I was, making my occasional rounds of the Vivian Beaumont on Wednesday evening, before The King and I. On reconnaissance at the top of the stairs that tumble down into the main part of the lobby, I saw her: Jodie Foster. She caused no fuss as she and her family made their way past the ticket-takers. Stars who carry themselves discreetly in public rarely encounter much bother in Manhattan: New Yorkers pride themselves on being too cool to make a fuss, and tourists take so long to decide “Is that really…” that the person in question has vanished before they’ve made up their minds.
Though I did not have a chance to speak with Foster – she stayed in her seat at intermission – I knew that I had to record her presence here on the blog: in the life of a long-run, it is important to signal the high points. And, unlike most of the bold-face names who have attended The King and I, Foster demanded that attention must be paid.
Why? She starred in the 1999 movie Anna and the King, which, like The King and I, uses as source material Margaret Landon’s Anna and the King of Siam. You are forgiven if you somehow missed the picture: though its box office was respectable and it was nominated for two Oscars (Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design), the movie could not compete with the collective affection accorded the stage and movie versions of The King and I. And, in fact, 1999 also brought an animated movie of The King and I. How could the Foster film, which the New York Times said was “haunted” and “cursed” by the musical, find a foothold?
Having just watched the version with Foster, and with Chow Yun-Fat as the King, I can assure you that their pairing has sufficient charm and strength as to make comparison to other performers less inevitable. Filmed in Malaysia, the movie has an epic sweep and the pleasures, so rare at the movies in 2016, of an unironic romance. We don’t often associate Foster with period roles, so seeing her confined to a corset, hoop skirt, and hairnet is a pleasurable jolt. As for Chow, I cannot improve upon what Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker: “It must have taken a superhuman effort to step into the shoes of Yul Brynner, mainly because Yul rarely wore any.”
If I spy Chow at a performance of LCT’s The King and I, I will be sure to record it. Meanwhile, Foster took time from a New York visit to promote her new movie, Money Monster (she directed; George Clooney and Julia Roberts star), to revisit the royal palace of Siam.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.