Just about everything in the SLS Beverly Hills suite where I meet Ben Foster is a little off-kilter—the fully stocked beverage cart in the entrance hall, the towels strewn on a chair in the corner, the ruffled sheets and vertically standing pillows against the headboard. Even the publicist tapping away on her phone on the edge of a California King seems a tad disheveled, thanks to another epic press day during an awards season chock-full of them. Only Foster, who is tucked into the corner of the room, glugging a Corona and picking away the filter of an American Spirit almost to its tobacco quick, seems put together amidst this mess.
His blonde hair has been swept back into a Rockabilly-style pompadour, and his clean-pressed denim shirt is rolled down to cover (most of) his tats, real proper-like. Still, he has an edge to his eyes and a gravel to his voice that makes me feel like he could kick the shit out of just about anyone who tangles with him—kind of like his show-stealing performance as the insane yet lovable big-bro, Jake Mazursky, in 2006’s Alpha Dog. It was a role that led to a slew of parts, as violent, wild-eyed time bombs—from a Wild West psychopath in 3:10 to Yuma, to an unstoppable assassin in The Mechanic. “I’m a nice guy, I’m nice person,” the 31-year-old actor mockingly croons, before the gravel returns. “I’m a gun for hire. I’m sure a doctor could analyze why I get these roles and give an educated assessment. But I enjoy character work.”
Foster’s currently promoting two films, both vastly different—the widely-advertised Mark Wahlberg caper vehicle Contraband, and a fiery cop drama which Foster also produced called Rampart. It stars Woody Harrelson as a corrupt L.A.P.D. sergeant in the late ‘90s, who plays by his own self-destructive rules to get the job done. The film reunites Harrelson and Foster with director Oren Moverman, who in 2009, directed the actors in the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated war drama The Messenger. “If this were a modern Western, you could say Woody’s character is the last of the old sheriffs in town,” Foster explains. “Times are changing and he refuses to change. So he’s going to be run out.”
For Foster, one project tied directly into the next. Rather then returning home to a busted relationship and a New York garage he called an apartment, he followed Moverman back to LA after ushering The Messenger through the Berlin Film Festival. “I didn’t really have much to go back to,” Foster explains, while taking another drag of his smoke. He got an apartment off Craigslist, started a production company, and began gathering material, determined to pop his producing cherry. When Harrelson signed on to Rampart, wooed by a hard-hittingscript Moverman altered from one originally written by James Ellroy, the movie was suddenly greenlit. It was all very new to Foster, who seems to be idling somewhere between character and leading man these days. He was cast as John Gotti, Jr. in the much talked about Gotti biopic (you know, the one that Lindsay Lohan was, then wasn’t, then was starring in), and gained a ton of weight for the role, only to be forced tp lose it when the project was put on hold. He was up for the role of John McClain’s son in the next chapter of the Die Hard franchise, though the coveted part has yet to be cast. What’s most frustrating, it seems, is that Foster is one of the more capable prospective leading men in the game, a guy who fits into the movies where things blow up, and who is believable in the movies where everyone makes very human mistakes and kicks themselves hard for doing so.
“Pornography,” Foster jokes, when I ask him what he’s been up to lately, “in clown masks.” In truth, he’s been roaming from place to place, opportunity to opportunity. Sometimes, he’s hiding in a trailer in the woods of Northern California, trying to keep his sanity. Sometimes he plays the hero, like in X-Men: The Last Stand, as Angel. Other times, he plays the maniac, like in 3:10 to Yuma. Sometimes, like today, he’s not playing at all, just waiting endlessly in hotel suites on press days, moving everything slightly off-kilter in the room, because that’s how he likes it. The role Foster was born for is out there. Until then, he’ll be waiting, loaded and ready.