20 Fascinating Facts About Jodie Foster’s Oscar-Winning The Accused

Jodie Foster started acting when she was just three years old, and received an Oscar nomination aged just 12 for her amazing performance as an underage prostitute in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

However, it wasn’t until 1988 that we saw Foster’s breakthrough into adult roles.

This transition came after Foster starred as rape survivor Sarah Tobias in The Accused, a hard-hitting legal drama that saw Foster win both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.

Below are some fascinating facts about this brilliant film that one reviewer called “an experience that is sometimes unbearable and always riveting.”



20. The film was inspired by a real-life case

The Accused makes for harrowing viewing immediately from the subject matter alone, but this feeling is only intensified on learning it’s based on a real-life case.

The film is a fictionalised account of the case of Cheryl Araujo, an American woman who was raped by four men in a New Bedford, Massachusetts tavern in 1983 when she was 21 years old.

Six men were arrested and charged in connection with the rape, and Araujo’s case received national coverage.

The case caused such outrage that it resulted in some states passing legislation to protect the identity of rape victims.

Based on this notorious incident and the ensuing fallout, Paramount’s then-head of production, Dawn Leslie Steel, felt the time was right for a film exploring the subject.

19. The film’s screenwriter conducted interviews with real-life criminals and victims as research

Paramount boss Dawn Steel tasked screenwriter Tom Topor with penning a script loosely based on the trial of Cheryl Araujo.

In researching the story, Topor interviewed a number of rape victims, as well as rapists, medical professionals and lawyers.

Screenwriter Topor and director Jonathan Kaplan recognised that they were venturing into territory that had not been approached in a major film before.

Topor recalls, “There were almost no movies where the subject of the movie is rape. There are many movies that have a rape incident in them, but The Accused is about rape, there’s no other subject.”

“And it’s about two women; there’s no man who comes to rescue them. It’s a very tough subject.”

18. Jane Fonda was initially cast as District Attorney Kathryn Murphy

The top-billed role of the District Attorney leading the prosecution of the rapists was initially set to be played by film legend Jane Fonda.

Fonda was a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner for Klute and Coming Home, but her film career was slowing down at the time; she was best known in the 80s for her series of workout videos.

Fonda ultimately walked away from The Accused as she felt the initial draft of the script (which focused more on the lawyer than the rape survivor) was badly written and exploitative.

After her 1990 film Stanley and Iris, Fonda went into a long semi-retirement, and didn’t take another acting role for 12 years.

Following Fonda’s departure from The Accused, other actresses offered the role of Kathryn Murphy included Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Pfeiffer and Geena Davis.

17. Meg Ryan and Jennifer Grey both turned the film down before Foster was cast

A number of big-name actresses were said to have been offered the role of Sarah Tobias before Jodie Foster was considered.

These actresses included Meg Ryan (above), Jennifer Grey (below), Jennifer Beals, Ally Sheedy, Kelly Preston, Kim Basinger and Joan Cusack.

However, every single one of the aforementioned turned the film down due to the graphic nature of the script.

After a number of further auditions, Jodie Foster ultimately landed the role that would revive her acting career.

Though Foster had been a prolific and acclaimed child actress, it had been some time since she’d been in a real hit before The Accused.

16. Kelly McGillis turned down the lead role because it reminded her of her own rape case

Kelly McGillis – then at the height of her fame thanks to 1986’s Top Gun – was first offered the role of Sarah Tobias, before Jodie Foster signed on to play that role.

However, McGillis turned down the role of Sarah, due to her own personal experience of being raped by two men in 1982.

Instead of playing Sarah, McGillis signed up to play the nominal lead role of Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Murphy.

To prepare for her role, McGillis spent time with the attorney who prosecuted her own rape case a few years previously.

“I learned there’s a level of detachment because you can’t become emotionally invested in everything you do,” McGillis was quoted as saying, “otherwise you’d be absolutely exhausted and probably suicidal.”

15. One producer told Jodie Foster she “wasn’t sexy enough” for the part

Despite the difficulty in securing an actress for the role of Sarah, top brass at Paramount initially refused to let Jodie Foster audition.

Though she had been a big child star and an Oscar nominee for Taxi Driver, Foster’s star power seemed to be on the wane at the time.

To an extent this was deliberate: Foster had shunned the spotlight following the notorious assassination attempt on President Reagan, as shooter John Hinckley was an obsessive fan who’d hoped killing the President would impress Foster.

This aside, the studio execs felt Foster was wrong for the part; producer Stanley R. Jaffe told the actress she “wasn’t sexy enough.”

As crass as this may be, Foster seemed to understand the studio’s reluctance, saying “I’d spent five years in college, and the last time people saw me in a film, I was a chubby teenager.”

14. The film was originally called Reckless Endangerment

While the film that made it to cinemas in 1988 was entitled The Accused, the project was initially entitled Reckless Endangerment.

This title was used at first as it is under this charge that the film’s rapists are initially convicted, following a plea bargain.

Although this charge is sufficient for the attackers to serve jail time, it does not acknowledge the true extent of their crime.

In response to this, Jodie Foster’s Sarah pushes for further legal action to be taken against the men.

Ultimately it was decided that Reckless Endangerment did not fully express what the film was about, hence the title was changed to The Accused.

13. An unknown Brad Pitt auditioned to play Ken Joyce

Brad Pitt was one of the actors to audition for the role of Kenneth Joyce, one of the key characters in the film.

In the film, Joyce is a friend of one of the rapists, watching the attack before calling the police and later becoming the trial’s star witness.

However, the future superstar Pitt was still pretty much a total unknown at the time of auditioning.

Consequently, Pitt did not get the part, and Bernie Coulson was cast as Kenneth Joyce instead.

It wouldn’t be until starring as J.D. in 1991’s Thelma & Louise that Pitt really broke through as an actor.

12. Changes were made from the Cheryl Araujo case because the producers didn’t want to get sued

While the Cheryl Araujo case was the main inspiration behind The Accused, the filmmakers did not have the rights to her story (Araujo was tragically killed in a car crash only four years after her assault).

As such, certain aspects of Tom Topor’s original script had to be changed if they too closely resembled the real case.

One key aspect of this that Topor has mentioned was that, in his first draft, Foster’s Sarah was raped over a pool table.

This had also been the case for Cheryl Araujo – and Topor says “the producers were terrified of being sued.”

Because of this, the pool table was written out, with a pinball machine used in its place.

11. Prince refused to allow his song Kiss to be used in the rape scene

The filmmakers allowed Jodie Foster to choose the music that would be playing on the jukebox during the pivotal rape scene.

Foster chose Kiss by Prince, which had been one of the pop superstar’s biggest hits in 1986.

However, Prince (who was notoriously guarded about the use of his music) flat-out refused to give the filmmakers clearance to use the song.

Because of this, The Accused’s composer Brad Fiedel was asked to compose an original song specifically for the scene.

Fiedel collaborated with Ross Levinson on a song called I’m Talking Love which was used instead, performed by Vanessa Anderson.

10. Actor Peter Van Norden got verbally abused in public for playing the defending lawyer

Peter Van Norden, who stars in The Accused as Paulsen, the attorney defending the rapists, discovered first hand the effect the film had on audiences.

Van Norden recalls, “I went to see the movie with my wife… Sitting in front of me were two African-American girls.”

“When it got to my monologue to the jury, one of these teenage girls yelled out, ‘F*** you!'”

The actor reflects, “When the movie was over, I leaned over (to the girls sat in front of him) and said, ‘Boy that was intense.'”

“She started screaming at me, ‘You! I hate you!’ It was one of those movies that had that impact.”

9. Producers hated the short hair wig, but Foster insisted it stay in the film

One aspect of The Accused that caused concern behind the scenes was the wig that Foster wears for the bulk of the film.

Concerned that the look was wrong or distracting, the producers considered doing away with it altogether.

However, Foster argued that the wig was necessary, and ultimately the producers agreed to let her wear it.

Foster felt that Sarah cutting her hair was a powerful reflection of the change in her own character.

The actress says, “It’s such a huge story point – the fact that she just cuts all her hair off in this act of rage.”

8. A former girlfriend of Jodie Foster’s performs on the soundtrack

In the years since The Accused was released, both of its leading ladies have come out as gay.

Kelly McGillis was the first do so in 2009, followed by Jodie Foster in 2013 – although in Foster’s case it had been something of an open secret for years.

It is rumoured that one of the artists who appear on The Accused soundtrack, Gina Schock, was Foster’s girlfriend at the time.

Schock wrote and performed three tracks on The Accused soundtrack: Love in Return, Middle of Nowhere and Walk in my Sleep.

Schock was formerly the drummer in new wave rock group The Go-Go’s, best known for being fronted by future solo star Belinda Carlisle.

7. Jodie Foster almost quit acting for good before taking on the role

After starring in a string of unsuccessful films after graduating from Yale University, Jodie Foster was ready to quit acting for good before signing up for The Accused.

Making the film didn’t do much to change her mind at first, as after an early screening of the film Foster thought her performance was terrible.

Soon after seeing the film, Foster started looking into pursuing an academic career, making plans for graduate school.

However, the acclaim and accolades she soon received for The Accused – not least including her Academy Award – made Foster change her mind.

Within a few years, Foster would become one of the few two-time winners of the Best Actress Oscar (she received her second for The Silence of the Lambs).

6. Kelly McGillis didn’t go public about her real-life rape until the studio began promoting the film

Although Kelly McGillis had turned down the role of Sarah owing to her own experience with rape, she still kept this ordeal a secret for the most part.

Producer Sherry Lansing later recalled, “I had never known that Kelly had been raped, even after we had shot the film.”

It wasn’t until they were preparing to do the PR tour for the movie that McGillis discussed the matter with Lansing, unsure as to whether or not she had go public on the matter.

Lansing says, “She told me, and I said: “This is so personal. You have to do what is best for yourself.” She felt so strongly that she had to tell the story so other people wouldn’t be ashamed.”

Explaining her decision to speak openly about her attack, McGillis says, “I chose to say the truth. I got a lot of flak for it. A lot of people accused me of doing it for publicity. People can be incredibly cruel.”

5. Jodie Foster blacked out, broke blood vessels in her face from crying during the assault scene

The Accused garnered a lot of attention, and some controversy, because of its graphic presentation of rape.

The film’s assault sequence was the longest and most explicit scene of sexual violence ever to appear in a major studio film up to that point.

Rehearsing and shooting the scene took a number of days, and by all accounts it was a traumatic experience for both the cast and crew.

Jodie Foster has revealed that the stress meant she blacked out during filming, and burst blood vessels in one of her eyes due to the amount of crying she did.

The sequence was rough on the male actors involved too, at least one of whom ran from the set to vomit during filming.

4. The film was very nearly shelved following poor test screenings

Not everybody approved of The Accused; in fact, preview viewings of the film resulted in the lowest test screening scores in the history of Paramount Pictures.

To the horror of the filmmakers, the bulk of the test audience felt that Jodie Foster’s character deserved to be raped.

Because of this, studio Paramount at first tried to prevent the film from being released at all.

Concerned that the initial test audience was the wrong demographic, producer Sherry Lansing then asked for another preview screening made up of just women.

Thankfully this screening, as well as other test screenings that followed, proved to be far more successful, with audiences who were more receptive.

3. It was the first time composer Brad Fiedel did an orchestral score

The Accused was a bit of a departure for many of those involved, with its producers and director more accustomed to far less hard-hitting material.

Another figure for whom The Accused marked a significant break from the norm was the film’s composer, Brad Fiedel.

Up to that point, Fiedel’s film score work had been primarily electronic, and his best-known work was on 1984’s The Terminator and 1985’s Fright Night.

The Accused marked the first time that Fiedel did a more traditional orchestra-based film score.

In the years since, Fiedel’s credits have included Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies and Johnny Mnemonic.

2. The film was widely praised for the way it depicts the horror of rape and its effect on a victim’s life

The Accused was both a critical and commercial success on its theatrical release in October 1988.

The film ultimately grossed $37 million worldwide, making a substantial profit on a production budget of just $6 million (a good portion of this coming from screenings after Foster’s Oscar win).

On top of this, The Accused went down well with critics; today, it stands on a 91% fresh rating at reviews aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.

Many critics praised the film for being one of the first to realistically deal with the horror of rape and its subsequent effect on a victim’s life.

The film was also hailed for its frank discussion of issues related to misogyny, PTSD, victim-blaming and women’s empowerment.

1. The film was nominated for just one Academy Award – which it won

As mentioned already, The Accused won Jodie Foster the Academy Award for Best Actress.

This was the only category in which the film was nominated at the prestigious awards ceremony.

It’s a comparative rarity for a film to take the Best Actress Oscar without garnering any other nominations.

In fact, The Accused was the first film do so since Two Women in 1960, which saw Sophia Loren awarded the Best Actress Oscar without the film being nominated in any other category.

This was also the case for Monster in 2004, a film that saw Charlize Theron take the Best Actress Oscar but which had no nominations elsewhere.