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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - VICKY ROACH

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.

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