Bryce Dallas Howard Talks Wearing Resale on 'Rocketman' Tour, Playing Elton John’s Mom

Bryce Dallas Howard attends the "Rocketman" UK premiere - Getty-H 2019
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"Truly the most sustainable thing you can do is buy used clothing," says the actress, who dons vintage styles in the film, wears pieces from The RealReal on the 'Rocketman' tour this month and has consigned or auctioned over 60 red carpet looks.

In the midst of the press tour for Rocketman, in which she stars as Elton John’s late mother Sheila Farebrother, Bryce Dallas Howard talked to The Hollywood Reporter by phone from Cannes about the role, wearing all vintage clothing on set and her personal mission to promote a more sustainable and affordable styling process on the red carpet for women of every size.

Long championed for eschewing the system by styling herself, the actress has chosen to wear only pre-owned pieces she selected from The RealReal during the Rocketman press tour this month. To date, she has resold at least 50 of her red carpet looks and auctioned about 10 premiere and red carpet gowns to benefit the HALO foundation, a non-profit that benefits homeless children.

Do you still style yourself or are you working with a stylist now?

I don’t work with a stylist. I haven’t for quite a long time, but I get very good advice from my publicist Alex Schack. It’s funny because I was actually just telling someone the story of me buying [my red carpet] clothes and I realized that it started at my very first trip to Cannes when I was here with a Lars von Trier movie, Manderlay, in 2005. I managed to borrow a dress from Zac Posen, who is so lovely and ended up making my wedding dress later. And for everything else I didn't really know what to do!

My parents are pretty strict around finances and buying clothes and things. We didn't go shopping much when I was a kid. So I was talking to my dad and I was like, “Yeah, I'm excited. I'm going to Cannes!” And he said, “What are you doing for your clothes?” I said, “I'm just going to wear stuff that I have, and I bought this one dress for the big event.” And my dad was like, “I think we should go shopping; don't tell your mother!” And he took me to Liberty in London and I remember he got me a Temperley shirt and dress. And I was wearing jeans, which now I know Cannes is a little bit fancier than that!

Tell us about your experiences working with designers and stylists.

It’s definitely been a learning curve for me when it pertains to the interplay between the fashion industry and the entertainment industry. … If you have a relationship with the designer and you are sample size, then you can have access to free clothes that can be loaned to you, which is sustainable. But designers only have access to the most recent runway collection. So if they want a garment in a different size than what the model wore, they need to purchase it.

When I work professionally and there is a studio involved, they have a budget for a stylist. What I didn't realize is that the stylists don't have a budget to purchase clothes. They're being hired for their relationships, taste and skill — basically borrowing clothes for an actor, styling them and making sure those clothes and accessories safely get delivered back to the designer. But what's tricky is when it gets into a situation where there needs to be a lot of alterations or it doesn’t fit because it's straight from the runway.

I was so excited when I first started working, thinking, “Oh, it's just going to be racks and racks of clothes! Because I wasn't sample size, it was never racks and racks of clothes and the options were very limited. It's not something that offends me, because I completely understand the process. But it was a dilemma. And there were a few times where I worked with stylists and they would, after the fact, bill me for clothes that they would buy for the press tour. And one time I got a bill that was over $40,000 and I wanted to throw up. I literally couldn't afford it; I did not have that much money in my bank account.

I've talked with other actresses who've similarly shared this experience. One actress who was nominated for an Oscar is very tiny. She was smaller than sample size to the point where altering the clothes to that degree would prevent them from being loaned again. And she also had very small feet. She was living with three roommates. The studio hired her a stylist, who then said, “You need to buy this $900 pair of shoes — it’s the Oscars.” It's not the stylist's fault because that can’t come out of their paycheck! Certain stylists have enough leverage with certain designers when they're working with certain clients to be able to make things from scratch. But that's a lot to ask and not something you can assume every designer is going to be able to do for every person walking a red carpet.

So you work with Alex now; who else has helped you with styling?

One of my friends and style icons, Daphne Javitch, who was a costume designer and worked on some projects I directed. She said to me, “You know, you should not feel like you have to fit into that system in a specific way.” Because I was getting to this space where I was not dieting for the movie [role], I was literally dieting for the press tour. It was so insane; I was thinking, “I can't afford to buy more clothes.” So for the Twilight and Terminator Salvation press tours, I worked with Daphne and got money that would have gone to a stylist. Daphne took a much lower rate as a favor and we basically went shopping.

It was a really empowering time for me. I just didn't quite fit into the mold and was straining myself because I wanted to be able to wear the dresses and be professional and do what it seemed like every other person was doing…Then [while helping with styling for a New Zealand photo shoot], Alex said, “You shouldn’t go on some crazy diet for the press tour; you should just be you and buy your clothes.” … I felt this weight lift from me, because also I know that I have a really appealing and attractive body, no matter the fluctuation. So I know it's insane to try to be less than what I am because it's great. I'm grateful.

When did you first speak out about styling yourself?

It wasn't something that I really talked about until the Golden Globes [in 2016]. I found out late, like 10 days before, that I was going to be presenting. Alex said, “You’re not going to be able to get a designer to make something this quickly.” So we went to Neimans and got a [dark blue sequined $4,800] Jenny Packham dress, but there wasn’t a studio paying for it. And I was I little bit sick over it because it was extraordinarily expensive. I was thinking, “Am I really spending this amount of money on fabric?” But I needed a dress and that dress really worked. And, like it or not, in the profession of acting, you do this thing called posing on the red carpet and that is an aspect of the job.

Alex said to me, “You can consign the dress and you'll make back a good portion of this, Bryce.” So on the red carpet it came out that I had bought it. Afterwards, there was a little attention on the dress so I was able to put it up for auction for a cause on a bigger scale and the dress sold for $10,000 or $13,000, some awesome amount. And it was Neiman Marcus that bought it and all the money went to the HALO foundation, so I was really excited.

Usually, I keep the premiere dresses to auction and I’ve done maybe 10 total including the [$300 ruby-sequined Dress the Population gown from] the 2017 SAG Awards, the [$240 Topshop dress at the] 2017 Critics’ Choice Awards, dresses from the Jurassic World and Pete’s Dragon premieres, and a couple others last year. And I’ve resold at least 50 other red carpet looks. 

Why and how did you come up with this concept of wearing resale pieces?

I started using The RealReal a lot. … When I was getting ready for Cannes this year, I was on The RealReal looking and there's such great stuff. Alex and I realized that a large percentage of what I was going to be wearing was from The RealReal so we thought, “Why don't we just do all of it?” It was easier because it's not just what's available seasonally (I always like to wear styles with sleeves, even in summer) or what's on trend ... it goes back five or 10 years. I got to be fancier this time around [in labels like Gucci, Chanel and Fendi] because, exclusively shopping on consignment, I got a bit more bang for my buck.

When I was a kid, my mom let us go shopping every three years; she would buy my clothes big and hem them temporarily and then take them out. … I was the oldest and had three younger siblings, so there were hand-me-downs, that was part of life. So it seemed crazy to me to be constantly updating your closet when you had a perfectly good closet of clothes. Doing the press tour stops, you have to wear a different outfit at every single event. In fact, whatever the studio pays a stylist is based on each look. I felt so conflicted because I couldn’t see myself wearing [these dresses again] at every other wedding. I was perpetuating a chronic problem of over-consumption.

So that led to your mission of sustainability on the carpet?

All I could see were the ways in which I was being part of the problem and not the solution. The fashion industry as a whole is responsible for eight percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Another statistic that really stood out to me was that the average consumer bought 60 percent more clothing in 2014 then in the year 2000, but kept each garment for half as long, and nearly three-fifths of all clothing that's produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.

These are things that are un-ignorable, and to pose on the red carpet knowing that I'm perpetuating that just did not sit right. Truly the most sustainable thing you can do is buy used clothing. Natalie Portman and I have been friends since we were 15; early on, Natalie was incredibly conscientious about the jewels she was wearing and leather accessories, because she was a vegan. Her being so self-aware definitely opened my eyes.

How would you describe your style aesthetic?

Here’s what I'll say. The Kardashian family came onto the scene in 2007, the same year that I had my son. After my pregnancy, my body had more curves. And I remember seeing how much the Kardashians embraced their curves and the way that was publicly embraced. And I was like, “Oh, I also have a big butt!” And I just started not being as shy about it. Really embracing the shape of my body. And then I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy grew up in that area, as well. And she was just so elegant and classic … she's definitely a style icon. I did a lot of downtown avant-garde New York theater when I was a student at NYU and there's sort of that part of me, too. So I’m a curvy Greenwich girl with like a little bit of playfulness or spunk.

Tell us about the style of your character, Sheila, in Rocketman.

I’m glad you asked that because it’s completely relevant. I pretty much wore all vintage clothing. And there was one U.K. company that made exact replicas of dresses from the '50s and '60s. The way we approached it is, Sheila had dark hair and Elizabeth Taylor was a really good friend of Elton's; it was that era, so we decided to go in that direction with her, probably more glamorous than was the case in reality.

It’s interesting because I feel so at home in movies that takes place in this time period. I remember feeling the same way when I was doing The Help because all the clothes I wore were from the '50s. It’s definitely the body shape. I got a little jealous of my grandma and how things were cut back then because they are certainly very, very flattering.

Was Elton involved in costuming your character?

He was very involved, not with me specifically in person, but he looked at every single costume image. At one point, Kit [Connor], who plays young Elton John (Reggie Dwight) had his hair a certain way and was dressed up and Elton said, “No, no, you can't look like that. I never looked that cool." So definitely, there were opinions.

You played Sheila over something like a 60-year period, right?

Probably about 50 years, from 20 to 70, but we only did a handful of scenes when she was older. … My parents were in the U.K. and my mom came by during my makeup test and it wasn't looking right. She's in her mid-60s and has never touched her face. She looked in the mirror and I was like, “Okay, let's do this. Let's copy her.” And we realized that we hadn't given me nearly enough freckles. That was really helpful for the makeup artists because, if you're a redhead with fair skin and you spend 70 years on the planet, you're going to have an inordinate amount of freckles.

How did it feel to play Elton's mother?

Pretty wild and surreal and also kind of complicated. I wanted to be able to take on a fun thing of “Oh, I'm his mama and I'm so proud of him.” But the reality was that they had a really dysfunctional, toxic relationship and that wasn't the dynamic between them, of being supportive. It was so fun to be a part of this, but it’s truly so sad. Just the relationship between them and the lack of love and the void that Elton felt in his life starting from a really young age.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.