Jodie Foster Was The Person Least Concerned With Her Taxi Driver Casting

Martin Scorsese, in addition to being one of the most talented filmmakers of all time, is also no stranger to controversy. From the ultra-violent ending of "Taxi Driver" to the much stupider outrage over his criticism of Marvel movies, Scorsese is used to being in the crosshairs of the media.

In most cases, like the two mentioned above, the controversies are really silly, and Scorsese clearly has the right to say or depict whatever he likes. However, in terms of a different controversial aspect of "Taxi Driver," the morality of Scorsese's work is more legitimately in question.

"Taxi Driver" follows Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam war veteran who works as a taxi driver in New York City, whose mental state declines until he goes on a murderous rampage to rescue a 12-year-old sex worker, after which he is praised by the media as a hero. It's a great film with a very prescient message about the American media's glorification of violence, but unless you completely glossed over the phrase "12-year-old sex worker," it's easy to see why the movie drew some controversy.

A lot of concern was raised on the behalf of Jodie Foster, who played the role of the young sex worker Iris as a 12-year-old herself. Some believed that using an actual child to play a role in such a dark film could have seriously detrimental psychological effects on her. For others, the very idea of portraying a child sex worker on the silver screen is abhorrent on its own.

According to Foster herself, however, she never had a problem with playing the role. According to a 2021 interview with Yahoo, Foster believed that other people were far more uncomfortable with her in the role than she herself was.

Just another role

While the opinion of someone who was twelve at the time the movie filmed doesn't necessarily completely negate all criticism of her starring in the film, it's encouraging to know that Foster believes she was more or less psychologically unscathed from the experience. In the Yahoo interview, Foster explains it was just another role for her.

"I don't think it was uncomfortable for me; I think it was uncomfortable for other people, but it wasn't really for me. I had been an actress for a long time, I had done a lot of movies before I did 'Taxi Driver.' To me it was another role, and I understood the difference between making movies and actually being a person. So it wasn't really impactful for me. I don't think I was confused by the sexuality in the film."

By all accounts, Foster was treated extremely well on set, and was even given extensive psychological testing before receiving the part to ensure she would not be emotionally harmed by the material.

According to Foster in an interview with The Independent in 2016, the other people on set were the only ones having trouble with her in her role. "They were very uncomfortable about my character. Nobody knew how to direct me. Scorsese would say something like 'unzip his fly' and just start laughing and not know what to do so he would hand it over to Robert De Niro and then Robert would tell me what to do."

Rightfully proud

While there are certainly many valid points to criticism regarding casting a child in such an overtly sexual role, I generally lean towards the opinion that films can touch on these sorts of morally repugnant and taboo topics as long as they do so with delicateness and a clear artistic vision. I believe "Taxi Driver" does a good job in this respect, as the movie makes a clear statement about the plight of these child sex workers among its many statements on American culture.

Foster agrees that the film helped shed light on important issues. "I think the movie's a really important movie," she said in the Yahoo interview. "I'm really proud of it. Those girls existed, those girls exist, and female sexual slavery is something that we need to discuss — the complexity of it."

"Taxi Driver" has certainly held up as one of Scorsese's early masterworks. Aspects of it have become iconic and have served as inspiration for many great films to come. Jodie Foster, young as she was, put in a great performance and was a big part of making the movie as emotionally impactful as it was. She's proud of her performance, and rightfully so. "So yeah, I felt pretty good about it," said the actress. "Sometimes I can't believe that I was so young. When I look back and see the movie, it was surprising that I was only 12 years old. But yeah I'm proud of it."