FANTASY MEETS REALITY
An everyday mother off-screen, Bryce Dallas Howard’s latest role is anything but ordinary, as her on-screen son makes an unlikely friend
or a secondgeneration Hollywood actor who remembers Tom Cruise as one of her babysitters, Bryce Dallas Howard is surprisingly unscripted.
Conducting this interview from the garage office of her home in Los Angeles, the 35year-old suggests her own neighbourhood bears an uncanny resemblance to the idyllic ’70s world of her latest film, Pete’s Dragon, about an orphaned boy who survives six years in a remote forest thanks to the friendship of a giant, fire-breathing beast.
“It’s the most amazing thing. On our block there are like 24 kids. The ones across the road are the same age and gender as mine (Theodore, 9, and Beatrice, 4). It’s like The Wonder Years.”
Howard plays National Park ranger Grace Meacham in Pete’s Dragon, a live-action remake of the 1977 Disney classic that plumps for CGIenhanced naturalism with a nostalgic glow.
Sensible, outdoorsy, nurturing, she’s the perfect mother figure for a boy like Pete (Oakes Fegley).
The actor says she was nonplussed by recent media reports that she was told to lose weight for the role.
“If the character is an athlete, you want the character to look like an athlete,” she says. “If the character is someone who is struggling to lose weight, you want the character to look like someone who is struggling to lose weight. I am really very mindful of how my character should look and I am always working to achieve that.”
Howard perceived Meacham as a sturdy woman, strong and grounded.
“So that was her look. Then I did an episode of Black Mirror for which I gained weight.
“Now, I am getting ready for (the) Jurassic (sequel) with fitness and all that. But nowhere in there has there been a conversation about my weight at all. Never.”
Howard’s inappropriate footwear, on the other hand, has been an extraordinarily hot topic of conversation.
Jurassic World, the fourth highest-grossing film ever, spawned a series of memes poking fun at her character’s high heels.
The actor is confident she’ll be equipped with a pair of flats for the untitled sequel in which she is rumoured to have a larger role after director Colin Trevorrow, who takes a producer’s credit on the followup, coined the hashtag #NoHeels2018.
Running jokes aside, Howard is quite at home in the natural environment.
Her parents, director Ron Howard and writer Cheryl Howard, moved to a farm in Greenwich, Connecticut, when their four children were young to raise them away from the world of show business. TV was restricted to encourage outdoor activities.
“There are definitely pop culture references that I have missed,” Howard laughs.
The actor and her husband, Seth Gabel, whom she married in 2006, take a similar tack with their own children.
“It’s really hard in today’s world – I mean I find it difficult to limit my own screen time.”
Howard and her family spent six months in New Zealand while filming Pete’s Dragon, living in a number of locations.
Most of the 750 people who inhabit the South Island town of Tapanui moved out, temporarily, to accommodate the big-budget production, which also stars Robert Redford and Karl Urban.
“Driving from there we would get into these magnificent forest settings where you could actually believe there might be a dragon that dwells there,” Howard says.
Howard, who suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of her son, is mindful of the need to maintain a good work/life balance.
While she doesn’t regret going public with her illness, there were times when she felt as though she might have spoken out a little prematurely.
“I was still in the thick of it and still wrestling with it and also trying to articulate it and represent it. When I finally got to write my thoughts down, that was very therapeutic. I thought to myself, if I have something to say ever, I am probably going to try to write it down first.”
In continuing to speak out, however, Howard hopes to do her bit in challenging the pervasive sense of shame that continues to cling to mental illness. Pete’s Dragon opens today
Bryce Dallas Howard as Grace and Oakes Fegley as Pete in Disney's Pete’s Dragon.