At the Golden Globes ceremony last week, Jodie Foster had an admission to make. Her speech wobbled and slithered like a push-bike crossing a ploughed field, but in the end there was no doubt what the actress was owning up to. She was still friends with Mel Gibson.
As is traditional on these occasions, she thanked her family and colleagues, and then, swivelling her eyes across the room, added: "and, of course, Mel Gibson, you saved me, too". The camera frantically panned to Mel, who looked astonished. Quite what it was that he saved Jodie from was not entirely clear, but it certainly wasn't her propensity to make speeches that required expert decoding.
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Jodie Foster comes out publicly at Golden Globes
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One popular suggestion was that Gibson had helped Jodie deal with her sexuality. She duly dealt with it by coming out as perhaps the most confused human being ever to appear at an awards ceremony. "I can't help but get moony, you know," she said. "This feels like the end of one era and the beginning of something else. Scary and exciting, and now what? Well, I may never be up on this stage again, on any stage for that matter. Change, you gotta love it. I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It's just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick."
Eventually, we got to the bit where Jodie appeared to be confirming she was gay. Except that she didn't, really, and even if she had done, it would have raised the reasonable question of why anyone would waste a big occasion like the Golden Globes on telling the audience something it already knew. "I have a sudden urge to say something that I've never been able to air in public," she said. "Yes, I am... single. No, I'm kidding, but I mean I'm not really kidding, but I'm kind of kidding." She waffled on in similar elliptical vein for a while, before declaring: "I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago."
Then, bizarrely, Jodie complained that she isn't allowed any privacy. Which raised the equally reasonable question of why, if it matters so much to her, she was discussing her sex life, her dating status, her children, her mysterious kinship with arch-pariah Mel, and her mother's dementia in front of a worldwide TV audience.
Ms Foster, 50, gets a lot of respect in Hollywood, much of it deservedly. She is formidably smart, highly professional, realistic enough to understand her limitations, and has been delivering the goods almost since she could walk. Yet after her Globes performance there was a sense that she'd have been better off simply saying thanks and going home.
Twenty years ago, when the movie business was less relaxed about homosexuality than it is now, a number of gay groups urged Jodie - then at the height of her Silence of the Lambs fame - to come out of the closet. Such a declaration from a big-name star, it was argued, would be of help to others. She refused, as was her right, but ever since there has been the suggestion that she has walked through doors that others opened, and on Sunday night - to the extent that she fudged the issue - was letting them close behind her.
And what about Mel? The incendiary Mad Max star has been persona non grata with the gay community since he insulted it in a magazine interview. Mel's also in bad odour with the anti-domestic violence lobby, the Jewish community, police support groups and 40 million US Hispanics, but Jodie nevertheless maintains he is "one of the most loved people in the business".
One rumoured possibility is that Mel is the father of Jodie's two children, Charles, 14, and Kit, 11, whom the actress conceived by artificial insemination and raised with her former partner, Cydney Bernard. Ms Foster has refused to identify her donor, saying the disclosure would affect her hopes of giving the boys the kind of "normal" upbringing she never had.
It was, indeed, a strange, if privileged, showbusiness childhood that saw her appearing in front of the cameras by the age of three. Her mother, Evelyn "Brandy" Almond, was an actress and producer, her father, Lucius, a wealthy US Air Force colonel who left the family home before Jodie was born - supposedly after discovering that his wife was involved with a woman. Jodie went to an expensive French lycee, was an international star at 14 thanks to her appearances in Bugsy Malone and Taxi Driver, and by the time she went to Yale had already notched up 50 screen and television credits.
It was at university that the first serious crisis of her young life descended. A deranged movie fan, John Hinckley Jr, who had become obsessed with Jodie after seeing her in Taxi Driver, shot President Ronald Reagan in the hope of impressing her. In the wake of the media storm that followed, she was forced to suspend her studies, and ever since has been reluctant to reveal much of her inner or private life.
Her admirers tend to recall this trauma when explaining why she has never fully come out. Jodie puts it another way: "If you had been a public figure since you were a toddler, if you'd had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against the odds," she told the Globes audience, "then maybe you, too, might value privacy above all else." A sentiment that at least made sense.
There was a sense that she'd have been better off simply saying thanks and going home.
The Sunday Telegraph