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Jodie Foster Writes Heartfelt Tribute to Jonathan Demme

Variety logo Variety 5/2/2017 Jodie Foster
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Jonathan was everybody’s cheerleader. He was like an embarrassing grandpa at a Little League game. After every accomplishment he’d hug you so tight and do that little J.D. dance. He might even hum that crazy “yeah” in a weird baby voice right in your eardrum while he shook you a little. As if his entire purpose was to wrap your self-worth in the blanket of his joy. For all of his wild enthusiasm and childlike positivity, he could be laser focused on the art at hand. It might all feel free and haphazard in the moment but there was a fierce conductor on that train. He knew where he was going, and he was stubborn enough to never release his eyes from the destination.

When he sent letters or emails they were scrawled with “I wuv yoooos!!!” He might as well have been saying, “The circus is in town!!!” Equally, when he felt wronged or when he felt injustice being waged, he was a scary tiger.

Jonathan saw art as a way to “become.” Finding your place in the world, figuring out what you believe in by standing up for something. He saw himself in the characters that had been left out, marginalized, under-represented. The small woman, the long-suffering slave, the gay man grappling with AIDS… His camera was fighting to be heard with dignity and purpose.

J.D.’s film world was a family, a community of loyal merry men and women. Every film set felt like a dance party. There was Aloha Shirt Friday and Rasta music at wrap. He put friends and crew members in the scenes as extras or even day players. You never knew who you might be acting with that day — his babysitter, the dolly grip, his mother, a buddy visiting from out of town.

I’ll never forget Oscar night for “Silence of the Lambs,” Jonathan’s rambling speech that was interminable because he couldn’t leave out one person on the planet. We all ribbed him for it later. But there was nothing like winning all those trophies. Backstage, everyone sweaty, giggling, our arms around each other. It was like winning the lottery with your whole family.

In fact, they threw a party in NYC a week or so later and had him re-create his Oscar speech. He got up to the mike, opened his mouth, thought again and left the stage to uproarious laughter.

Listening to J.D. talk about his kids was like watching someone tell the story of how fire was invented. His children were miracles he had the honor to witness. He was so proud of them. His wife, Joanne, was the light of his life. He sometimes would stop and say, “Jeez, do you believe how beautiful she is? Man, oh boy!” He couldn’t believe his luck.

Every once in a while he’d call me up out of the blue and we’d have these long rambling talks, as if we had just seen each other the day before. They’d veer from movies to art to music to current events. He had that whirling mind that never stopped. All roads led back to love. He was on a mission that couldn’t be conscribed to small goals. He was striving for the big ones: Peace, Love, Justice and… Fun.

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