Into the wild

It’s hard to imag­ine Bryce Dal­las Howard in a glum mood, but post-par­tum de­pres­sion dev­as­tated her en­tirely. She dis­cusses fam­ily life, film­ing ‘Pete’s Dragon’, and an up­bring­ing that went from high LA so­ci­ety to the wilds of Con­necti­cut, with Tara Brady

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Then I read the script and it was ev­ery­thing I cared about from the 1977 ver­sion and some­thing more. It re­minded me of the really clas­sic fam­ily ad­ven­ture films. It was emo­tional and sin­cere. I just loved it

If it wasn’t for her trademark red-hair, the first thing you’d no­tice about Bryce Dal­las Howard is her laugh. It’s not a laugh ex­actly; more a gig­gle, and it’s not ex­actly sin­gu­lar. It’s more fits and peels of gig­gles, mis­chievous-sound­ing and in­fec­tious enough to make you think, ha, hey, what am I laugh­ing at?

The daugh­ter of Ron Howard, erst­while star of Happy Days and Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor, ought, one feels, to be a lit­tle less per­sonal and a lit­tle more Hol­ly­wood. She is, after all, part of a heavy-hit­ting Tin­sel­town dy­nasty: her grand­fa­ther Rance Howard is still work­ing at 87 and popped up in The X-Files re­vival ear­lier this year; her late grand­mother was sit­com vet­eran Jean Spee­gle; her god­fa­ther is Henry Win­kler; Bryce and her twin sis­ters were once babysat by Tom Cruise; one of her ear­li­est mem­o­ries is try­ing on the mask from 1985’s Co­coon.

In­stead she’s the kind of per­son who says “Oh my gosh” a lot, and who de­scribes her par­ents as “the nicest peo­ple in the world”.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause I still get really star-struck,” she says. “You know what I think what it is? We al­ways trav­elled with my mom and dad when he was work­ing on a movie. We were on the set. But we were al­ways around the process of mak­ing a movie. We were on set. We were mostly with the crew. Or at craft ser­vices.

Great re­la­tion­ships

“Ac­tors need to con­cen­trate and very of­ten they’re stay­ing fo­cused and keep­ing to them­selves. Of course there were some great re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple who were recog­nis­able. But I never went to pre­mieres and what­not. We weren’t raised in Los An­ge­les.”

She laughs: “Then once I was an adult and I was in my 20s and liv­ing in LA, I sud­denly thought: Oh my gosh! All these celebri­ties! It had never really oc­curred to me that much.”

In­stead of schmooz­ing, the Howard chil­dren were dis­cour­aged from watch­ing tele­vi­sion and trained to be self-suf­fi­cient at the fam­ily’s Con­necti­cut farm. As the el­dest, Bryce was tasked with mak­ing oat­meal ev­ery morn­ing but all of the kids were schooled in such prac­ti­cal things as do­ing re­pairs, or mend­ing a bro­ken roof or toi­let.

“And muck­ing out a goat stall,” she adds. “There was al­ways a lot of goat poop. My fam­ily moved to Con­necti­cut when I was four. I was sur­rounded by woods. It felt really idyl­lic. I’m al­most tear­ing up think­ing about it now. We would spend all day in the woods and come back for din­ner. We had a lot of free­dom. I was of­ten left to my own imag­i­na­tion. I was kind of a quiet kid. I kept to my­self a lit­tle bit. I had an imag­i­nary friend: Minky Mil­dred. Minky Mil­dred and I would give all these epic speeches to king­doms of fairies. Liv­ing like that really opened me up. It was so defin­ing for me as a child.”

Her out­doorsy up­bring­ing would pro­vide a great foun­da­tion for her role as a park ranger in Pete’s Dragon, a lovely folk­loric film in which Howard dis­cov­ers a lit­tle boy named Pete and his dragon friend El­liot liv­ing wild in the woods. Peo­ple were surprised to note that Dis­ney’s re­boot of the not-en­tirely-suc­cess­ful 1977 mu­si­cal had at­tracted a cast that in­cluded Howard and Robert Red­ford. They were equally in­trigued by the in­volve­ment of in­die hot­shot David Low­ery (di­rec­tor of Ain’t Them Bod

ies Saints, ed­i­tor of Up­stream Colour and pro­ducer of Lis­ten

Up, Philip) and then, down­right shocked, when the fin­ished film turned out to be the best fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment since Spiel­berg’s high kidult pe­riod.

Fam­ily ad­ven­ture films

In an era of ex­pen­sive do-overs – fol­low­ing on from Ghost­busters, sit tight for re­makes of Bladerun­ner, Ben Hur, Spi­der-Man and Beverly Hills Cop – Howard com­pletely un­der­stands any Pete’s Dragon- re­lated cyn­i­cism. She too was scep­ti­cal about the en­tire en­ter­prise.

“When I first read the script it wasn’t be­cause any­one had sent it to me or was of­fer­ing it to me, I just wanted to see what it was like. I had heard there was go­ing to be a re­make of Pete’s Dragon and I thought, Hey! Why do you guys have to re­make ev­ery­thing? Then I read the script and it was ev­ery­thing I cared about from the 1977 ver­sion and some­thing more. It re­minded me of the really clas­sic fam­ily ad­ven­ture films. It was emo­tional and sin­cere. I just loved it. I just feel like the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pete and El­liot is so beau­ti­ful. And it’s a very pow­er­ful mes- sage: you’re not alone in the world. Even if it feels that way. What it means to find a fam­ily. I re­alised it’s not a re­make; it’s a reimag­in­ing. Of course, that’s the word peo­ple al­ways use. But it’s true.”

Howard has served time in fran­chise-world, hav­ing es­sayed Vic­to­ria in The Twi­light Saga, Kate Con­nor in Ter­mi­na­tor Sal

va­tion and Claire Dear­ing in Juras­sic World. Pete’s Dragon aside, she re­mains cooler on the movie re­cy­cling busi­ness.

“I’m some­one who can get in­dig­nant about re­makes. I feel like the re­makes and se­quels I have liked pre­vi­ously really make their own case. They need to be some­thing more and be­yond what the orig­i­nal was. Ev­ery time.”

She’ll soon re­turn to the tit­u­lar monster play­ground of Juras

sic World to reprise her role as an ex­ec­u­tive turned dino-hunter. The orig­i­nal film – well, the orig­i­nal re­boot – sparked con­tro­versy last year when Joss Whe­don de­nounced one scene as “70s-era sex­ist”; oth­ers, mean­while, pon­dered why the pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als favoured Chris

Pratt when Bryce Dal­las Howard was clearly the lead.

Howard in­sists she can’t com­plain: “It was such a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. I loved play­ing a char­ac­ter that had such a sig­nif­i­cant jour­ney. That’s not noth­ing in an ac­tion film. I think ac­tu­ally – and you can fact check this if you go to the Geena Davis In­sti­tute web­site – only 23 per cent of speak­ing roles in ac­tion films are women. So that was very mean­ing­ful for me.”

Post-par­tum de­pres­sion

It’s hard to pic­ture Howard in a glum mood. A care­ful soul who has never drunk al­co­hol and who only had one boyfriend be­fore her hus­band, Seth Ga­bel, she was more shocked than any­one when she ex­pe­ri­enced a crip­pling bout of post-par­tum de­pres­sion fol­low­ing the birth of her first child – a son named Theo – in 2007.

“It was ab­so­lutely dev­as­tat­ing,” she re­calls. “It’s not some­thing you get over eas­ily. Once you have you ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere or chronic de­pres­sion it be- comes part of your life. It’s tragic that cul­tur­ally, we don’t have an un­der­stand­ing of de­pres­sion and how to nav­i­gate it. If some­one has a phys­i­cal ail­ment there tends to be a lot of sup­port or un­der­stand­ing. But if some­one is suf­fer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cally or emo­tion­ally, it’s con­fus­ing for ev­ery­one around them.

“Some­thing I’ve learned is that a more ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion is post-par­tum mood dis­or­der. Moth­ers be­come over­whelm­ingly anx­ious. I wasn’t ly­ing in my bed all day. I’m freak­ing out. I’m cry­ing in the bath­room. I’m clean­ing ob­ses­sively.”

Hap­pily, Howard had a much bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence fol­low­ing the birth of her daugh­ter, Beatrice, in 2012. She re­mains de­ter- mined, how­ever, to share her ex­pe­ri­ences so that oth­ers bat­tling post-par­tum dis­or­ders might not feel so alone.

“I had my sec­ond child in Van­cou­ver in Canada and in the hospi­tal they had a spe­cialised men­tal health re­pro­duc­tive unit. They started hav­ing ses­sions with me dur­ing pregnancy so they could es­tab­lish a base­line for where I was at. They had two peo­ple – a psy­chi­a­trist and a psy­chol­o­gist – so there was al­ways a sec­ond opin­ion and some­one who could be there for the mother. I was speak­ing with them for a year.

“That’s typ­i­cal in Canada, where, of course, those ser­vices are free. And I’m very grate­ful for that ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­cause if you feel out of it and lost for the first few years of your child’s life, it’s time you never get back. But the more we can talk about post-par­tum, the more we can learn and help fam­i­lies go­ing through it.”

Pete’s Dragon opens Au­gust 12th

Bryce Dal­las Howard “I get cast as really in­no­cent, other­worldly, or wicked.” Be­low: with Robert Red­ford in Pete’s Dragon

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