By Sherrie Li
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By Sherrie Li
"You have a choice," she tells me bluntly. "You either get afraid, or you get so afraid that you're angry. It is that anger, that rage, that saved my life, I think." It was that anger that compelled a self-described "broken blossom" to argue with Cohn for permission to go to Broadway for a year, and to offer him half her salary if he'd allow her to perform on television, a medium in which she would appear over 1,000 times and counting - a spot on ER is forthcoming this season. "Well, I knew it was the future," she says, remembering her younger self's frame of mind. "Maybe this was it, maybe that's what I should have been doing all along.
"I should have been directing all along, that I should have been doing," she adds, just a little ruefully. "Nobody would let me, because I was a woman."
Which brings us to perhaps the realest part of Foch's career. After years spent on the set, on the lot and behind the scenes, she has made her experience her business. She answers the phone "Nina Foch Studio," and you call her if you're a filmmaker who desires discreet assistance with your movie. "I prepare films with directors," she says, in the most satisfied tone she'll take all afternoon. "That's what I do for a living." She won't say what films she's worked on - "I'm a lot of people's secret ingredient" - but she will tell you she's part planner, part mommy, part analyst. "You can call me up in the middle of the night," she says, as if looking forward to the ring.
"Usually, we sit in this house, and we spend the entire time working on every single beat of the script. I ask questions about the scenes, about how they're going to shoot it, about the kind of music they want. Even during the rewrite process, I work with how they're going to talk to the writers." Her clients are almost exclusively established directors ("I'm very expensive"), but she imparts her hard-won wisdom to would-be auteurs as well, teaching directing to grad students at USC. She begins her 32nd year there this week.
Foch's students have included Ed Zwick, John McTiernan, Amy Heckerling and Mimi Leder. "These are all people who admit to me," Foch notes, ticking them off. "Those are all people who don't need me anymore." What she teaches her students is, above all, how to be prepared, how to take care of business so the creativity is free to roam once shooting begins. And, horrified by the "viciousness" she sees in Hollywood today, she teaches her students to be kind. "I salute the people who have the gristle to manage it," she tells me, "to be actors in this day and age and put up with the way they're treated."
Foch has a philosophy about life and the work and pain it takes to get where you want to be. "You know what Einstein said? 'Happiness is for cattle.' You're not supposed to be happy, you're supposed to feel that you've achieved something. But to feel happy, to feel contented, is to be dead." If Nina Foch's perspective seems a bit harsh, well, maybe she's just being real.
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