October 08, 2011 11:57am PT by Scott Feinberg
Bryce Dallas Howard, Star of 'The Help' and '50/50,' Producer of 'Restless,' on Banner Year (Audio)
If I took one thing away from my interview in Toronto last month with Bryce Dallas Howard (which you can hear for yourself below), it's that the 30-year-old actress/producer is absolutely lovely -- smart, funny, and remarkably humble and down-to-earth. This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, based on everything that I'd previously heard about her and the fact that her father is Ron Howard, one of the most liked and respected men in Hollywood... but I must confess that it sort of did, primarily because she was so convincing on screen this year playing not one but two -- forgive me -- irredeemable bitches, a southern racist and a philandering girlfriend, in Tate Taylor's The Help and Jonathan Levine's 50/50, respectively.
Seven years ago, while performing in a play under the pseudonym "Bryce Dallas," Howard was picked out of obscurity by writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and cast -- without so much as an audition -- as the lead in The Village (2004), and subsequently in Lady in the Water (2006). She has since gone on to star in numerous indies, including Lars von Trier's Manderlay (2005) and Jodie Markell's adaptation of the previously unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008), while also taking on smaller parts in blockbusters, such as Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 (2007), McG's Terminator Salvation (2009), David Slade's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010), and Clint Eastwood's Hereafter (2010).
Now six months pregnant with her second child (and simultaneously gracing a huge billboard along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood), she was in Toronto to attend the world premiere of 50/50, and also to support another film about cancer that is even closer to her heart: Restless, a drama written by Jason Lew -- a close friend of hers from their college days at NYU -- that she helped to guide from infancy to release as one of its producers. The film, which was directed by Oscar nominee Gus Van Sant and stars the up-and-coming youngsters Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper, opened the Cannes Film Festival in May and is now in general release.
Some excerpts from our conversation...
Didn't always appreciate her father's stature in Hollywood "When people would say, 'Oh,' you know, 'you're Ron Howard's daughter?' or something like that, like, it didn't mean to me what it meant to other people... The first time that it really, kind of, clicked to me, 'Oh, wow, he's really created, kind of, a remarkable career for himself' was when I moved to Los Angeles when I was 22, and I had been cast in The Village, and I was, kind of, doing general meetings, and everyone, kind of, seemed to know him, or be really impressed with him. I always had a lot of respect for him... but just to kind of see that, or to meet filmmakers who I had so much admiration for talk about how my dad had been an influence, or something like that? That, kind of, was a little paradigm-shifting for me."
Accusations of nepotism "That was something that I was definitely concerned about... I wasn't resentful of it -- I, kind of, understood it, you know, and I got the psychology behind that thinking. So when I first started auditioning -- I mean, even when I went to school, actually -- I just used the name 'Bryce Dallas,' because I wanted to, kind of, like, avoid that as much as possible. And the same deal when I first started working with my agent... Night saw me in a play [she was playing Rosalind in As You Like It] and just cast me [as the lead in The Village (2004)] without an audition... He happened to come on one of my best nights... That was, kind of, my introduction into the film world... That's a very uncommon thing to happen... It was hard to argue with the faith that he had in me as a performer, and I think that did me a really big favor, because I think I would have dealt with more criticism had it not been for Night taking that huge leap of faith."
Why Shyamalan cast her in The Village without an audition "He told me that he knew that I wouldn't be good in an audition... The thing that he's always said to me is that it was my 'innocence'... We worked together for six months rehearsing, because I didn't actually know how how to be a film actor, and I needed that, kind of, help and that, kind of, guidance...For whatever reason, he's really believed in me, and not just been a supportive friend but been, like, a very actively supportive friend."
On her pride in being a part of The Help "It's a group of people who had so much integrity and stuck together, no matter what was, kind of, happening. Like, the director, Tate Taylor? This is one of his first films, and he's best friends with the woman who wrote the book, and when he first started writing the screenplay he was adapting his best friend's unpublished novel. And the fact that, when it did become such a success, she fought for him, and then he fought for Octavia Spencer, who she had based the character of Minnie on? You know, I mean, this group stuck together, and they made some really powerful choices that would normally not happen in the formulaic Hollywood system. It's such a high moment that that movie is as successful as it is when the people at the center of it just had such purity in their intentions for the project."
On being a part of the ensemble of 50/50 "I have a very, very small role in 50/50. But I really wanted to work with that group. They're, kind of, like, a tribe of friends who have been, kind of, self-generating material for quite a while, and we're all the same age, and I'm just very inspired by what they're doing. And they're doing it in such a gracious, fun, easy-going, cool way! I mean, none of those folks are into themselves or anything like that. And so I, for a while, have really wanted the chance to work more closely with them. And so I auditioned for [it]... and [it] was great, and I'm really proud of the movie, and I think it's a really special movie."
On how she met Jason Lew, the screenwriter of Restless "Jason is one of my closest friends from NYU. We met doing really crazy experimental theater together at school -- like, naked theater! [laughs] I mean, when you're eighteen, and you're living in New York, and you've just left school in Connecticut, all you want to do is take off your clothes and be on stage -- I don't know why. [laughs] It was insane. So we met doing that kind of work together. And then he was roomates with my [future] husband and a guy named Dane Charbonneau, who became my writing partner and has since, actually, married my sister. So it was, like, these three boys that I loved, you know, in very different kinds of ways."
On the role she played in guiding Restless from infancy to the big screen "Jason wrote this... and gave it to a bunch of his friends, just, kind of, for initial feedback, and our first conversation was, I think, four-and-a-half hours. And then, from that conversation, he did some re-writing, and turned it around quickly. And then it was, you know, instead of just, 'Let me give you my quick thoughts,' it was, 'Why don't you come over, and we'll spend some time together, and talk about it more in-depth?'... We were working very consistently doing read-throughs, doing workshops, and just continually re-writing on a daily and weekly basis... After a couple of years, it was ready... It was at a place where it was a feature film. And he kept saying early on, you know, 'Do you want to produce it? Do you want to produce?' And I was like, 'Well, I would just be absolutely audacious to say, 'Yes, I want to produce it,' when I don't know what it takes to produce... When it was time, he was like, 'Well, you're the producer, so you take it out.' And I met with a bunch of production companies and independent producers, and the two executives I met with at Imagine [her father and Brian Grazer's production company] actually understood it better than anyone, which was so ironic to me, and then they took the project to Brian and my dad, and they were really moved by it."