Jodie Foster's odd, rambling speech at last week's Golden Globes left me perplexed, then curious.
Perplexed lasted a few moments, until it became clear Foster was sort of acknowledging, in defiant, awkward, circuitous ways, that she is a lesbian.
For those of us who write about Hollywood, this was hardly a news flash. But I remained curious about the angle she was playing. She was not being feted by GLAAD or the Human Rights Commission, but by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which was giving her its Cecil B. DeMille career achievement award.
Discussing one's sexuality is not an imperative in accepting this award. If it were, 2007 DeMille winner Warren Beatty's speech would have run into the wee hours, just recounting the 1970s alone.
So what was Foster's agenda?
Covering the entertainment industry makes you cynical. Stars are available for interviews only when there are projects to promote. Seemingly private announcements often accompany news about memoirs or music deals.
But Foster has rarely had an angle or an agenda, and never has seemed as career-driven as other actresses of her stature. If she were, she would not continue to stand by that pariah Mel Gibson, whom she directed in the 2011 movie "The Beaver."
The atypical child star who went to Yale instead of rehab, Foster rarely has followed a prescribed path. Winner of two Oscars by age 29, Foster made hay while the sun shone, acting in several big-ticket Hollywood films in the 1990s. But it wasn't Jessica Chastain-level haymaking. Foster spent some of her prime moneymaking acting years directing movies.
I did not always admire Foster's acting. I found her too fierce sometimes ("Carnage"), and too slight to be believable in her action roles ("Flightplan"). But I always thought she conducted herself well in her life, from what I could observe, and appreciated that she never seemed hungry for attention.
She lacked the ungoverned ambition of other Hollywood actors, she told me in a 2011 interview with The Bee, because she started in show business so young.
"Real actors entered this profession because they couldn't wait to act, and they went to Juilliard and probably did a lot of theater," Foster said. "I fell into it because it was the family business."
I always believed Foster desired and deserved more privacy than most stars because she had been stalked as a teenager by John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan to try to impress her.
The Hinckley incident would be "appalling" for anyone to experience, said Patti Barcena, a Sacramento civil servant and former Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Film Festival programmer.
Barcena, 62, is out at work and everywhere else. She applauded Foster's speech, even if Foster never uttered the words "gay" or "lesbian."
"It was brave of her," Barcena said. "Her kids were sitting right there."
But why now?
Over the years, the media mostly have respected Foster's privacy. It wasn't hard to do, since she did not "beard" or avail herself to paparazzi cameras anywhere but on red carpets.
It could be perceived that a "glass-closet" approach was eating at Foster, by all reports a person of great integrity, and that could have led to her tacit declaration at the Globes. She took a tentative step out by thanking "my beautiful Cydney," referring to now-ex-partner Cydney Bernard, at a 2007 event. It was the shout-out heard around the gay and lesbian press.
Acknowledging Bernard again, this time more explicitly, appeared to be at the heart of Foster's Globes speech, which, despite its swerving and oblique nature, made an impression.
"Her speech was amazing. I got emotional because she got emotional," said Terra Lopez, leader of popular Sacramento band Sister Crayon. "I thought it was badass at the same time. You know, 'I have been doing this for decades and I can be myself, and I am not going to apologize for it.' "
Lopez, 27 and living in Oakland, is out and has given interviews to gay outlets. Her generation more readily accepts out celebrities, she said, like R&B star Frank Ocean, 25, who acknowledged last year that his first love was a man and then hit No. 1 with his album "channel ORANGE."
"That would not have happened 10 years ago," Lopez said.
But coming out often "depends on the scale," Lopez said. "The bigger an artist is, the more secretive you are about your orientation."
The pressure to stay in the closet is greater for actors than musicians, Lopez said, because they need to be desirable on screen to audience members of the opposite sex.
As an A-list actress, no wonder Foster seemed nervous. No wonder her speech was as weird as it was remarkable. But she soldiered on, and the speech, taken in the context of a mostly uncompromising career and an uncompromised life, proved again that Foster is an exemplary figure.
"I have a lot of respect for her," Lopez said. "This is someone who has done their time. She is such a strong figure. I think anyone can relate."