From the time he could walk, Ben Foster was entertaining his family so it was perhaps inevitable that he would find his niche as an actor. Although born in Boston, he was raised in the relatively small town of Fairfield, Iowa, which surprisingly had four local community theaters. By the age of eight, Foster had begun acting with those companies, landing his first leading role at age 11 as the title character in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. The following year, he debuted as a playwright and director with a one-act that won a statewide competition. Dropping out of high school in his junior year, Foster headed to L.A. and was soon gainfully employed, making his film debut in the little-seen “Kounterfeit” (1996) before landing the high profile role of Tucker James, who along with lifelong friend and neighbor Becca Fisher, behave like normal 13-year-olds, in the Disney Channel/ABC series “Flash Forward” (1996-97). Although only 26 episodes were produced, the show found a core audience of fans and became something of a cult hit in its various reruns.
Shifting gears, the baby-faced actor played a teen murderer in the 1998 NBC movie “I’ve Been Waiting for You”. Returning to the big screen, Foster joined an impressive cast that included Adrien Brody, Joe Mantegna and Bebe Neuwirth, as members of a Jewish family in 1950s Baltimore in Barry Levinson’s semi-autobiographical “Liberty Heights” (1999). Cast as Ben, a character based on Levinson’s cousin Eddie, who also served as the inspiration for Steve Guttenberg’s character in Levinson’s “Diner”, the young actor deftly portrayed a rebellious teen whose antics include dressing up as Hitler on Halloween and courting a black classmate (Rebekah Johnson). After delivering that standout turn, Foster appeared in the pilot episode of NBC’s “Freaks and Geeks” playing a mentally challenged student and then joined the cast of other up-and-coming young players (Shane West, James Franco, Marla Sokoloff, Jodie Lyn O’Keefe) in “Whatever It Takes” (2000), a modern version of “Cyrano de Bergerac” set in high school.
Returning to the big screen, he appeared as a high school basketball star who loses his girlfriend right before his big senior year in “Get Over It” (2001), a teen comedy co-starring a playful Kirsten Dunst. After a small role in the well-received war drama “Black Hawk Down” (2001), he turned up in the ensemble caper comedy-turned-box office bomb, “Big Trouble” (2002). Despite being held back by the events of 9/11—the movie featured a nuke on an airplane and jabs at lax airport security—it suffered under the weight of a large cast and muddled storyline. In “Northfork” (2003), a quirky fairy tale from the Brothers Polish (Michael and Mark), Foster played Cod, one of the eccentric denizens of a local bar in a frontier town in Montana. Set in 1955, the story centered around a group oddball residents who refuse to leave town when the government tries to evacuate them before construction begins on a nearby hydroelectric dam. Foster next appeared in “The Punisher” (2003), the first—but probably not last—failed comic book adaptation courtesy of Marvel Comics mogul Stan Lee. Then in “Hostage” (2005), he played a seriously deranged punk who, along with two buddies, kidnap an shady accountant (Kevin Pollak) and his two children after a bungled robbery.