“I love funny!” says Ben Foster, who is quite literally screaming over the voice of a Bluetooth-sporting businessman in the Library Room at the Trump Soho. “I watch Funny or Die all the time.” Foster wins the stare-down and the man hisses into his phone, “I’ll call you back.”

Foster’s commanding presence has garnered attention on a well-chosen lineup of projects, including The Messenger, The Mechanic, and 3:10 to Yuma. But his latest project, a collaboration with writer Oren Moverman on Rampart, which is due in theaters January 27 and based on a true 1990s LAPD corruption scandal, challenged the 31-year-old actor to bring that discernment off-screen, as a producer.

Moverman and Foster first worked together on the twice-Oscar-nominated film The Messenger and today run the film production company The Third Mind. When they initially received funding for the Rampart, Foster was on board to produce, but it took significant convincing on Moverman’s part to have him act as well. Foster confesses he didn’t see a role for himself in Rampart and preferred to learn the ropes as a producer without distraction. “I have been working in film and television for a while, but it is very different to be part of the mechanism; it’s a steep learning curve,” Foster says. “Forget the make-believe acting; producing is a fantastic job where you are confronting 200 impossible projects every day.”

Eventually Moverman got his way, and Foster took on the role of General Terry, a small but significant character in the film. “The balance [between acting and producing] was a curious and interesting one,” says Foster. “Working alongside people like Oren, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect as a true filmmaker, and Woody [Harrelson], an exquisite actor, it was a very warm environment. And the other producers held my hand, helped me find my own way to contribute and not feel like one of those jokers who just sit behind the camera.”

After nine months working on Rampart and several more promoting it alongside his next film, Contraband, due in theaters January 13, one wonders if he has downtime in the city he loves. “The greatest part about New York is that there’s always something happening,” says the actor, who lives in Chinatown. “If you’re willing to seek a little bit, you’ll be fed well.”

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