12/30/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
Scarlett O'Hara would have admired her posture: chin firmly perpendicular to her thrown-back shoulders, steel-blue eyes defiant. You see it in her exemplary performance as the scrappy FBI recruit who challenges a cannibal in the year's top chiller, The Silence of the Lambs, as well as in the street-smart waitress who mothers a genius in Little Man Tate—the movie in which she made her debut behind the camera. "She's a born director," says Jonathan Kaplan, in whose 1988 The Accused she won an Oscar. Kaplan affectionately dubbed her BLT—Bossy Little Thing—because of her penchant for telling him how some scenes should be done. Tate production designer Jon Hutman mischievously refers to her as Miss Authoritiva, explaining, "Jodie will discourse on anything with absolute conviction, whether or not she knows anything about it." Any wonder then, that The New York Times critic Vincent Canby labeled Foster's work on that film "a terrifically self-assured debut"?
Off" the set, that Cinemascope confidence is tempered by gratitude. "This year has been the culmination of everything I've worked for," says Foster, 29. A former child star who dodged the odds by staying in—and succeeding in—the business, she retains her filmmaking passion. "As a director, you have to understand, with every pore, every element of your movie," says Foster. "It's harder physically than acting but healthier emotionally because you're in control."
Control seems vital to this daughter of Hollywood. For one, she has learned to control interviews with a gracious yet firm detachment, refusing to talk about her personal life at all. For another, she has taken a vow of silence regarding John Hinckley, the distraught drifter who in 1981 turned a gun on then President Reagan in a psychotic gambit to impress her. In fact, last October this woman of her word walked out right before a Today show taping because the producers were preparing to run footage on Hinckley.
She controls her work life with similar conviction. "I go after any role I like," she says. "I wouldn't feel good about myself if I didn't." Foster nabbed the plum part of Clarice Starling in Silence, for which the New York Film Critics Circle has named her best actress, by doing just that. While director Jonathan Demme was wooing Michelle Pfeiffer, she actively campaigned to be his second choice.
Tate, the offbeat tale of a kid prodigy, seems to many to mirror Foster's own precocious youth. That's a theory Jodie won't buy. "I was never gifted," protests the 1984 Yale graduate. Directing Adam Hann-Byrd, 9, she recalled her own childhood experiences in front of the camera and says, "I wanted him to feel it was serious, but I also wanted him to go home and say, 'God, I can't wait to do this again.' "
Still, for all her Tate triumphs, in 1992 she vows to "get back to acting." Having already completed Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog for February release, Foster insists, "I was happy just having somebody tell me what to do." Sure, sure. But Miss Authoritiva would hardly want to make that a habit.