Bryce Dallas Howard Interview
Daughter of the Oscar-winning director Ron, Bryce Dallas Howard could have sailed into the film business. Instead her parents brought her up to muck out the barn. The unconventional actress talks about her starring role in Twilight: Eclipse.
By Elaine Lipworth
The actress happened to be sitting across the aisle from me and my then two-year-old daughter on what seemed like an interminable, turbulent flight from Los Angeles to New York.
The red-headed 15-year-old was travelling with her three younger siblings and politely offered to entertain my toddler.
I soon discovered that this engaging teenager was the daughter of the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, who is known for decades of formidable hits – A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code,Frost/Nixon – but who is probably best remembered as the freckled Richie Cunningham from Happy Days.
The filmmaker and his wife, Cheryl, wereat the front of the plane in first class, while the children – like my daughter and I – were in economy.
‘They would never throw the kids in first class. We knew we were lucky just to be on a plane,’ says Howard laughing, when we discuss the episode later.
Howard has driven to the café – in a Toyota Prius, of course – completely alone: no assistants, no protective publicist. Her glorious mane of red hair bounces in waves down her back as she breezes in, removes her tortoiseshell Paul Smith sunglasses and orders peppermint tea.
She looks younger than her 29 years, with a creamy complexion, clear grey-blue eyes, high cheekbones and exceptionally thick, curling lashes.
Tall and slim (but, refreshingly, far from starlet-skinny) she is dressed simply in black Donna Karan leggings and a grey T-shirt.
Howard’s impressive performance playing Rosalind in an off-Broadway production of As You Like It, aged 22, led to her first starring role, in M Night Shyamalan’s thriller The Village (2004).
She’s since appeared in Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water (2006), Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of As You Like It (2006) and Lars von Trier’sManderlay (2005). (She describes the notoriously tough director as ‘a great friend, very eccentric. He used to keep chocolate in his pocket, and if I did a good take he would give me a piece. Then we would play video games together.’)
Howard’s CV also includes blockbusters including Spider-Man 3 (2007) andTerminator Salvation (2009).
But her latest project is her most high-profile yet. Howard has taken on the role of the deliciously malevolent vampire Victoria in Eclipse, the third, eagerly awaited chapter in the Twilight series based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling books.
The film reprises the romance of the schoolgirl Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire boyfriend, Edward Cullen, played by the British actor Robert Pattinson.
Victoria, as the legions of obsessed ‘Twi-Hards’ already know, is determined to kill both Edward and Bella to avenge the murder of her own lover, James.
Jumping on to the Twilight juggernaut – which has so far grossed over a billion dollars at the global box office – must have been thrilling.
‘I was really intimidated when we first started filming. I didn’t want to mess it up,’ she says. ‘But it was a fantastic experience. I am technically what could be considered a “Twi-hard”. I love the books.’
Without spoiling the plot (for those who haven’t read the books), Howard’s bitter and twisted vampire has a lot to contend with in this film, including heavy-duty fights with the conflicted, heroic Edward.
‘There’s a massive battle at the end where Edward and Victoria really face off, and obviously that becomes a huge spectacle with two vampires fighting one another. There’s a lot of swiping, grabbing, throwing, tackling. It’s totally a brawl. Everybody had bruising, but I dislocated my wrist.
The most scary thing was definitely fighting Robert. God forbid I hit his face – teenage girls would never forgive me!’
As the mother of two obsessed Robert Pattinson fans myself, I feel compelled to ask Howard whether her co-star lived up to expectations.
‘Rob is totally dreamy,’ she gushes. ‘But he’s so embarrassed about the attention. There were a lot of paparazzi and fans who had come from all over the country to see him filming. And he’s just like, “I don’t understand. There’s nothing special about me,” which there is, of course.’
Howard grew up on a farm in Connecticut, far from the limelight and the film business. ‘We were way out in the middle of nowhere,’ says Howard. ‘So there weren’t a lot of people coming to visit us at all.’
‘Tom Hanks is hilarious,’ she says. ‘Tom [Cruise] and Nicole [Kidman] were lovely, very warm and playful, and Tom was always doing acrobatics. What could be more fun for a child than someone doing back flips for you all day?’
Even though Ron Howard had been a child star himself, he didn’t let his children perform professionally.
‘When I was seven I was allowed to be an extra in Parenthood, which was amazing. But then I kind of got addicted to it and my parents didn’t want me to want to act. They felt that would be putting your kid in a adult world.’
Instead of acting, Howard and her siblings worked on the farm and learnt practical skills. ‘We had to muck out the goat barn, clean the house, do repairs, fix the toilet, mend the roof if it was broken.
My mom always told me one of the reasons that she was really happy in her life was that, if Dad never worked again, she was confident that she could support the family.’
So if all else fails Howard could give up acting and get a job as a plumber? There is a loud, deep laugh. Howard nearly keels over. ‘If my parents were here and heard that they would tell you, “She didn’t learn anything.” It really frustrates my mom.’
Despite her parents’ doubts about her becoming an actress, she went on a summer drama camp in the Catskill mountains as a teenager.
There she struck up a friendship with Natalie Portman that has lasted to this day. Indeed, Howard credits Portman with inspiring her to pursue acting as a career.
‘I think seeing the joy that Natalie felt doing plays had an impact on me. I thought, “Oh, wow, how great to make a living doing something that you enjoy.” I had grown up in that world, but it wasn’t until I had a peer like Natalie that I really understood it was a possibility for me as well.’
Howard was so keen to kick off her acting career that she left New York University before completing her degree – something she now regrets.
‘I just went to my younger brother’s college graduation in South Carolina, and I leaned over to my dad and said, “I feel like a failure.” And he looked over at me and laughed. But I really have a thing about completion and would still like to get my degree.’
While at university she met Seth Gabel, who is now a director. Ten years on the two are married with a three-year-old son, Theo.
It was love at first sight, but not for him.’ There is another throaty laugh.
‘I pursued him for months and there was no interest. Then I called him at an insane hour of the night and asked him out for coffee. He agreed and afterwards he called one of our friends and he said, “The tables have turned. I am so nervous she doesn’t like me anymore, and I really like her.”‘
They married in June 2006 and spent their honeymoon touring the Greek islands with Howard’s parents. ‘It was actually a family reunion, and it was idyllic. If it were up to us to organise our own honeymoon, we would just have gone out to dinner.’
She has no regrets about missing out on single life in her twenties, or having a baby young, at a time when her career is rocketing.
‘That being said,’ she says, pausing to take a sip of tea, ‘Theo was a delightful surprise: we were planning to have children in our thirties.’
Howard suffered severe postnatal depression. ‘What was so devious about it is that I am normally such an optimistic person,’ she says. ‘And it hit the moment that he was born.’
‘Something was really off, and I didn’t want to admit it. I felt as if I was in a black hole and I couldn’t get out of it. It was really overwhelming and went on for a long time.
I was crying in the shower all the time, not feeling like myself, not feeling connected to my son or to my husband – certainly not to myself – not being able to make decisions…
I felt totally overwhelmed in every area, and like a failure. When he was a year and a half old it was gone, suddenly one day. I was sitting with my sister and my best friend and I just suddenly felt as if everything was OK. There was a hormonal shift.’
At the moment Howard is busy and contented. She has three films coming up: a comedy with Seth Rogen, I’m With Cancer, a starring role in the film version of the bestselling American novel The Help – ‘I play the villain again’ – and she is starring opposite Matt Damon in the forthcoming Clint Eastwood filmHereafter, a supernatural drama written by Peter Morgan (who also wrote The Queen, The Damned United and Frost/Nixon).
‘All the directors I’ve worked with texted me saying, “What was it like working with him? What are his set-ups like?” Because he is one of the masters.’
‘Clint is very cool and relaxed. He doesn’t yell “action” or “cut”. He just says, “You know, when you’re ready.” I told my dad he should do that.’
Howard is also in the process of co-writing a screenplay with a college friend,The Originals, which she describes as
‘a kind of Big Chill for my generation.’
‘My friends and I are really fascinated by the fact that our generation had really high expectations for our lives, our careers and our relationships.
We are known as the trophy generation because growing up we all got trophies just for participating in anything, so we all feel special.
And then we get into the workplace and we’re not special anymore. We got into the real world after we left school and were kind of surprised that things didn’t turn out the way that we imagined them to.’
On top of all this Howard is somehow finding time to produce her first film, a thriller called Restless, with Gus Van Sant (the director of Milk and Good Will Hunting) and her father’s company, Imagine Entertainment.
It’s written by a college friend and has Mia Wasikowska, the star of Alice in Wonderland, in the leading role.
‘My manager said to me, “Please do not do this with your dad because this is a great script and you will never get credit for it.” But I just knew the best version of the film was going to happen at Imagine.’
Indeed, Howard is not afraid of accusations of nepotism; she knows it has played a part in her success.
‘The family name is going to pique people’s curiosity. “Oh, she’s Ron Howard’s kid. Is she bad, is she good, what does she look like?” Probably they would say, “Bring her in for the audition,” and that has been to my advantage. But it doesn’t actually equate to getting a job.’
Howard dreams of working with Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze and Martin Scorsese.
Most of all, though, ‘I’d love to work with my dad. That hasn’t happened yet,’ she says, ‘because I haven’t been invited. I ask him all the time and he just says, “Well, the right thing hasn’t turned up yet.”‘
Perhaps now she’s proved her mettle, working with some of the best directors in the business, Ron Howard will finally give his daughter a job.