x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

All-American girl

Bryce Dallas Howard speaks about her varied roles, her first screenplay and life in a famous family.

Bryce Dallas Howard arrives at the premiere of Terminator Salvation in Hollywood in May. "I think I was a last-minute addition" to the film, she says.
Bryce Dallas Howard arrives at the premiere of Terminator Salvation in Hollywood in May. "I think I was a last-minute addition" to the film, she says.

Bryce Dallas Howard may be Hollywood royalty, but that doesn't stop the actress-turned-scriptwriter from bringing a refreshing dose of realism and a down-to-earth attitude to "the business" and her life. Having a famous filmmaker father (Ron Howard), two actor grandparents (Jean Speegle Howard and Rance Howard) and Henry Winkler as a godparent may have had something to do with it. (Her mother is the writer Cheryl Howard Crew, whose debut novel, In the Face of Jinn, was published in 2005).

Rather than arriving in Hollywood with stars in her eyes, Howard was born in Los Angeles and grew up well aware of the ups and downs of the entertainment industry. "Right now with the economic crisis, any hubris that people had in their various industries has dissipated," she says. "The same goes for the entertainment industry. We are not recessionproof like people thought in the past. With a big movie, they are not going to just launch into production. They are going to wait and see how it goes before making another film."

Although Howard has starred in a string of high-profile movies since breaking through on the big screen in 2004 with M Night Shyamalan's The Village, she makes it sound as if she doesn't do very much at all. Her past credits range from blockbusters such as Spider-Man 3 to more offbeat fare such as the Danish director Lars von Trier's Manderlay. "I do not work a lot," Howard says. "I don't work back-to-back projects. And there are sometimes huge spaces of time where I am unemployed. But I feel like I have been fortunate to get a wide range of things to play. I haven't felt disgruntled, frustrated or pigeonholed. I feel really fortunate." Hearing her present her career in such a modest fashion is a pleasing departure from the self-hype and oversell more common to Los Angeles.

This may have to do with the fact that her parents raised her on the East Coast of America, in Greenwich, Connecticut, in order (it has been reported) to keep her at a distance from the industry and the city she now calls home. (Howard lives in Hollywood with her husband, Seth Gabel, and their two-year-old son, Theodore Norman Howard Gable.) She went to the same school as George W Bush, the Greenwich Country Day School, and went on to attend Byram Hills High School and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she majored in writing and acting.

Still, she says her parents never discouraged her from her chosen career path. "I did a double major at NYU in acting, and the only time my father ever advised me on anything was on whether or not to focus on acting or writing," she says. "My dad is a director and was an actor and my mom is a novelist, and they basically started to kind of argue about what is better. My dad started making a strong pitch for the entertainment industry."

It turns out that her parents need not have worried. As of last month, Howard can add screenwriting to her acting and directing credits. Universal, where her father's company, Imagine, is based, acquired her first screenplay, The Originals (Ron Howard may also direct the film). The story follows a group of former students who reunite in Manhattan when they learn that one of their teachers has fallen ill. Howard wrote the screenplay with a writing partner and became so attached to her computer that she now refers to it as her "baby".

Displaying the wisdom of one who knows the fickle nature of the industry, she says: "The proof is in the pudding. We will see if it sees the light of day and if it is any good. Selling the script was a shocker for me. I was like: 'Really? OK, maybe I might have another career. We will see.'" For Howard, there are advantages and disadvantages to being the offspring of famous folk. On the up side, having seen the realities of the business at close quarters - from the disruptions caused by union strikes to failed financing, unpredictable directors or battles between egos - she has developed the necessary armour to survive problems in style. "I take it as it comes," she says. "That is something I learned from my dad. Even though he is a filmmaker and there is a degree of control in that, you are always surprised and are like: 'Oh, OK. I thought I was going to do this and now I am doing that.'"

Case in point was her latest film, Terminator Salvation, in which she was cast to replace Charlotte Gainsbourg as Christian Bale's wife after the film was underway. "Everything is always meant to be," she says. "I am kind of speaking out of turn but because of the writers' strike, Terminator had to be pushed a bit so there was a genuine scheduling conflict. I think I was a last-minute addition. I was cast and I was on the set and shooting in a few days. Everyone was looking so post-apocalyptic."

She had a similar experience on von Trier's Dogville sequel, Manderlay, in which she replaced Nicole Kidman, who had played the role of Gloria in the first film. Working with von Trier, who has a reputation for getting actresses to go places they might not otherwise ever go, was a learning experience for Howard. "I think that Lars is a really incredible storyteller and you trust him when you are with him. And that is the reason he can do that," she says. "We actors do what we do because we want to be part of these visionary stories. It is not like it is happening to us in real life.

"Lars is extreme in his storytelling and he happens to be on the cusp of something that people don't always see, something that is considered taboo or experimental or insane at times. But you voluntarily are a part of it and, for me, working with him was a really profound experience. I hope I get to work with him again." Howard, it seems, relishes an opportunity to work on different types of films and with multiple directors. "I am still in touch with Lars. Spider-Man was really fun too and I am still in touch with the director Sam Raimi," she says. "In life you meet people and have the good fortune to connect with them. I think Lars connects with a lot of the people he works with. He is a very special individual."

Although coming from a famous Hollywood family clearly has advantages, it has also had a distinct effect on Howard's personal life. "I think that some of the choices I have made in my life were because my dad was a public figure and we could be scrutinised that much more," she says. "I have never had a sip of alcohol in my life. It wasn't because I didn't want someone to take a picture of me and put it on the internet. It was because I felt... well, that I have a responsibility as his child to reflect the kind of father that he is. Even if it is private, then I am not representing the type of parent he was to me if I behave differently to how he raised me.

"Having said that, I am not pristine and I have stuff that if it got out then I would be really embarrassed. But I think in a way it has given me an opportunity to think about my actions that much more and it is that much worse when I do something. I am like: 'Duh. That is so stupid.'" Howard's publicist comes to collect her, and she exits with the same perfect manners she has displayed during our interview. She gives an all-American-girl farewell.

"Bye. Have a great rest of the day." And she disappears into the ether.