Alicia Christian Foster was born on November 19, 1962, in Los Angeles, California. Foster’s father, Lucian, left the family before she was born; her mother, Evelyn, supported herself and her four children by working for a film producer. Advertising executives for Coppertone suntan lotion “discovered” Foster when she tagged along with her older brother Buddy, a child actor, to one of his auditions. At age three, she became the tow-headed, bare-bottomed “Coppertone girl” in a now-famous ad campaign.
By age eight, Foster had expanded her acting repertoire to include nearly forty commercials, as well as appearances on television shows such as The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bonanza, and The Partridge Family. By the time she was ten years old, her acting jobs were supporting the entire Foster family. Her feature film debut came in 1972 with the Disney film Napoleon and Samantha. In the next five years, she appeared in no fewer than eleven more films, bringing to each role a precocious intelligence that impressed both critics and filmmakers.
In 1976, Foster made what she has referred to as the film that changed her life--the dark, violent Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese. Her performance won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Unlike many young actors, Foster, who learned to read at age three, chose not to sacrifice her education to her growing film career. After graduating in 1980 from Los Angeles Lycee Francais (where she delivered the valedictory address in perfect French), she enrolled at Yale University. In March 1981, however, Foster was dragged unwillingly into the international spotlight when John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, stating as his primary motive the desire to impress the nineteen-year-old actress and Yale freshman. Foster was so affected by Hinckley’s actions and the subsequent media frenzy that she published an article in Esquire plaintively entitled “Why Me?” and refused to speak publicly about the incident any further.
Foster graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 1985 with a B.A. in Literature. She made a number of films during and in the few years after college, but none attracted as much attention or won her as much acclaim as Taxi Driver. In 1988, however, Foster finally gained respect as an adult actress--along with an Academy Award--for her portrayal of Sarah Tobias, the working-class victim of a brutal gang rape in The Accused. Her next great performance came three years later in the haunting thriller, The Silence of the Lambs. With darkened hair and a West Virginia twang, Foster played fledgling FBI agent Clarice Starling opposite the mesmerizing Anthony Hopkins as psychologist-cum-serial-killer Hannibal Lecter. At the 1991 Academy Awards, the film won Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor and Best Actress.
Her directorial debut came in 1991 with Little Man Tate, a moderately well-received film about a child prodigy and his protective single mother (played by Foster). In 1992, Polygram Filmed Entertaiment committed to finance three films for Foster’s production company, Egg Pictures. Foster produced and starred in the first of those films, 1994’s Nell; her performance as a woman who lives in the woods and speaks in her own invented language earned her a fourth Oscar nomination.
Over the past several years, Foster directed her second film, 1995’s comedy Home for the Holidays and delivered a Golden Globe-nominated performance as an astronomer looking for extraterrestrial life in 1997’s Contact. Egg Pictures has several pictures in development, all of which Foster has the option to produce, direct, and/or star in. In late 1999, Foster starred in Anna and the King. She is set to direct and produce Disney’s Flora Plum in 2000, but has reportedly turned down the opportunity to re-team with Anthony Hopkins in the much-awaited sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, called Hannibal. Today she lives in the San Fernando Valley with her son, Charles, who was born on July 20, 1998.