Elle Fanning, Dave Franco, Lizzie Olsen, Rooney Mara… It’s proving difficult to keep track of all these semi-lesser known celebrity siblings. For what it’s worth, though, the name association game proves futile once you realize that talent so genuinely courses through the blood of these immensely talented families.
Jon Foster, perhaps best known as a series regular on the CBS comedy Accidentally on Purpose, is the younger brother of Ben Foster. Over the years, the 26-year-old Iowa native has wriggled under the skins of an eclectic galaxy of characters and it’s proven difficult to recognize him from one role to the next. Whether he’s playing a prep school student stealing a married Kim Basinger away from Jeff Bridges (The Door in the Floor), the drug-dealing boyfriend of Amber Heard (The Informers), or an 18-year-old serial killer hunted down by Russell Crowe (Tenderness), Foster has made a habit of stealing the limelight from the leads.
In Will Canon’s Brotherhood, Foster plays Frank (in a role that’s both physically brutal and emotively raw), a hyper-masculine and indefatigable frat boy who drives pledges around in a van to rob convenience stores as part of an initiation ritual. It’s when one of the pledges gets shot during a hold up that things begin to spiral out of control and the ensuing mayhem spells the end.
During our recent phone conversation with Foster, the singular trait most desired of all people quickly surfaced: a sense of humor! In a town built on raw ambition and desperate attention grabbing, he’s refreshingly honest and low-key.
Brotherhood opens on February 28 in Los Angeles.
What was your upbringing like back in Iowa and how did you get into acting?
It was really cool. I grew up in a really small town with maybe eight thousand people. My brother and I went to the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment; it was a non-denominational school with multi-religion and all that. We meditated twice a day before and after classes. We learned a lot of hippie stuff. [Laughs] That was really interesting and amazing. When I was thirteen, my brother had already carved out some sort of a career for himself and he was telling me that I had to get into it, so I did. It all pretty much happened when I was thirteen and it was a really weird transition moving from Iowa to L.A. It was just weird meditating once a day and then moving to L.A. with what you’d imagine to be there, you know? It was definitely a yin/yang experience.
Were your parents supportive of your acting careers?
They’re incredibly supportive people; they want us to do what makes us happy. But they also didn’t have high hopes about it by any means. I don’t think they expected both of us to take off in this direction and still be doing it. My dad moved to L.A. with my brother when I was maybe eleven or twelve and my mom stayed with me in Iowa because I didn’t want to go out there. They were so supportive that they spent a year away from each other to keep their children happy. I don’t think they expected much, but when things started taking off, they didn’t start to bust their way into the business or try to take control over our careers. A lot of parents do that, you know? A lot of parents think that their children are getting some fame or whatnot and try to capitalize on that. That’s sort of icky to be around. They were always hands on when we needed them to be, and when it wasn’t necessary, they weren’t around.
Did you go to college, and if you did, were you ever in a fraternity?
I didn’t go to college. I was just working so much at such an early age. At thirteen, I was getting cast in movies and on television. I was missing out on a lot of high school too because of that and I don’t think a lot of my teachers liked that very much. I think some of the teachers made it a little bit difficult for me when I would go back to school after a job, actually. It wasn’t such an accommodating place to be after being on set where you’re working with people who are really supportive. So, I sort of got magnetized towards the work world as opposed to the school world because they were more supporting of me, you know? I was never in a fraternity and I never really did team sports. When I was younger, I did little leagues and stuff like that. I experienced the pack mentality and fraternalized through other avenues. If you’re on a set, you’re pretty much in a frat. Everybody’s staying in a same motel and playing pranks on each other. So, since I never had the true fraternity experience, I did a lot of research through my friends who had been in one.
What was that research process like?
The research was a lot about just calling up my buddies who had been in fraternities and asking them how they created such an incredible bond with each other. It was about asking what they put each other through to form that intense bond. Fraternity members can be out of college, end up in some random city, and just call up the local fraternity that they were a part of and somebody’s going to house them without even having met them, you know? There’s this really amazing connection that they create. It was really interesting hearing the underground world of fraternities in that respect.
One of the things that really impressed me about you in Brotherhood is that you hold this incredible intensity throughout the entire film. It just looks like you were running laps around the neighborhood right before every take.
[Laughs] It was really exhausting. But you can look at some slasher film and be like, “Man, they’re just running and screaming the whole time begging for their lives” and that’s exhausting, too. This film was a different kind of exhausting because Frank is trying to handle this situation the best that he can and from his own point of view. It was a different kind of intensity for me because it’s not like, “I’m going to get stabbed by that guy” kind of intensity. It’s more like I had to manipulate this person, scream at that person, and there’s this drawn out momentum of fear.
To get back to the question you asked, though, there was a lot of jumping up and down, punching ourselves in the head, and running around the house. And, like you guessed, doing a lot of laps. [Laughs] It was really hot in that room; it was summertime in August Texas! It was fifteen sweaty dudes packed into a room with no electricity or air conditioning; it was uncomfortable. Will Canon, the director, did an awesome job with this. Every time that you think you got a handle on something, he just pushes you further and further. It’s like, “Are you out of your mind?” [Laughs] It really paid off.
Was it fun being so nasty and mean to your co-stars?
[Laughs] I wish I could say that it was really fun. I think it was fun because I’d never played anyone like Frank before in my life. I think that’s the greatest thing for an actor where you can jump into playing someone who isn’t anything like yourself or anything that you’ve tapped into before. But the fact is that I have a history with these guys and we’re friends from back home; it’s hard to separate yourself from that kind of friendship. It feels horrible to be looking into the eyes of somebody who’s your equal and not treat them like an equal. We had to haze them for three or four days to get ourselves into the right mindset, and it was tough, man. I was putting them through hell and they really didn’t like it! But everyone was down and they were in for it. They were pissed, and I felt bad, but you have to overcome that. It was really fun, but you really need to get over yourself to do it.
You play such a villainous and unlikeable character in this film, and yet, I was able to step back and tell myself that you’re this amazing actor. I think that says a lot about your acting chops.
Thank you! That’s a great compliment.
You obviously have a background in the sitcom world. Do you prefer playing a lovable character on TV or a villain like in Brotherhood?
They serve a different purpose, I guess. It’s for other people to enjoy. When I run into somebody and they say, “I watched last night’s episode and it was so funny!” You go, “That’s great! I’m glad it made you laugh!” And with this movie, I get booed when I walk out to do a Q&A because I play such an unlikable character. So, you’re really entertaining in a different way. I like doing both because, as an actor, I want freedom. But TV doesn’t really allow for that because you’re on such a crunch and you have to lay down so much information in one episode. There are just a lot of things that you can and cannot do on a sitcom compared to an independent film where you can say and do whatever you want. There was a lot more freedom involved with Brotherhood and you sort of run with it.
Do you find it challenging juggling your fulltime sitcom work with feature films?
It’s tough because when you’re on television, you’re contractually bound to that job. I get really excited when I get to play different characters one after the other in movies. On TV, you can be playing one person for five years. That’s fine because a lot of people would love to do that, but I like the whole process of discovering a character—stripping yourself down, building that character up, and becoming it. When the job is done, you go back to who you are again while you wait for the next one. I don’t want to say “miss out” because it looks like you hit the jackpot when you get work on a TV series, but you’re ultimately missing out on a lot of projects that are being circulated while you’re working on a television show. Personally, I get a little bummed out when that happens because all of my friends are going out for these great projects. So, as fun as it is to be on TV, it’s like, “Wait, the grass seems greener over there. What are you doing? That sounds like fun!” [Laughs]
What attracted you to the role of Frank in Brotherhood?
Will somehow came to the conclusion that I was the right guy for this role before I even met him and he sent me the script. I read it and, exactly how you feel when you walk out of the movies, is what I felt like when I put the script down. I was like, “Wow. This is crazy. This is an insane movie.” [Laughs] The first thing I thought to ask was, “How the hell did you see me playing this part?” I had never done anything like it. The script itself was so in your face and balls to the wall; it was dirty and gritty. The character was unlike anything that I’d ever played before and I think that really made me want to do it. And, on top of that, two of my best friends were going to do it too, so that was even cooler. There was a trust there even before we got on the plane to go to Texas to shoot it.
Everywhere I look, you’re being referenced as being the younger brother of Ben Foster. It makes sense for headlines, but does it ever get old?
[Laughs] That couldn’t annoy me. Ben and I are best friends. He’s my dude; he’s my guy. I don’t care what people call me. They can call me whatever they want to call me. As long as they enjoy the films that are being made, I couldn’t care less what they make of me. Ben is one of the best actors of our time; he’s my best friend and my family. I have a hard time being away from him for even a few hours, let alone for a few months when we’re working. Hopefully, at some point, people will be able to distinguish us and not get confused like my mom does when she calls me “Ben” or the dog’s name when she’s yelling through the house to get my attention. [Laughs]
There’s this stigma when a famous actor or actress’ sibling suddenly enters the spotlight because you think it might have little to do with talent and everything to do with connections. What do you make of that as Ben’s brother? And is there any sibling rivalry?
Not at all! And there never has been. Funnily enough, I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Ben; I mean that in the sense that I wanted to quit many times—many times. He refuses to let me. If I tell my parents that I don’t think I can do this anymore and I have to do something else for awhile, Ben would be on the phone fifteen minutes later saying, “What the fuck are you talking about?” [Laughs] He would be like, “You can’t stop. It’s you and me all the way!” It’s really a team effort. He always had my back. Even with The Door in the Floor, Ben wanted to do it way back when, but he got too old to play that character. He told them, “You’ve got to check out my brother.” So, he’s the one who created this awareness to even get me that role and that was what really kick started my career. There’s never been any rivalry. Just going back even further than that, when I was eight years old, he would try out for Charlie Brown and he would say, “You have to come and try out for Linus.” I didn’t even know what acting was back then, you know? And we both got the parts. I played Linus and Ben played Charlie Brown.
What’s it like to grow up in front of the camera? Is it weird seeing a younger version of yourself immortalized on film?
It’s definitely strange. We’re such a vulnerable species. When you’re putting yourself on camera, you’re locking it down forever and it’s shared with the entire world, regardless of how many people end up seeing it. It’s weird to think that you’re being trapped in time, you know? Not getting so obsessed with watching yourself and just keeping yourself from being swallowed up by the industry is the hardest thing. I’ve just seen that happen to so many people in the industry. For a decade and a half, I’ve seen how people last and don’t last, you know? But if I look back on my past movies seven years from now and I’m totally embarrassed by it, then so what? I’m sure somebody had a good time watching it, or at least I hope they did. I could talk about this topic forever. Growing up in this industry is really strange. The hardest thing is transitioning into a man because there’s definitely a limbo period for everybody who starts off young and they’re transitioning into their manhood or womanhood. There’s a break period where no one knows where to place you or how to understand you.