Friday, August 12, 2011

Bryce Dallas Howard: Helping Out in the Family Business

Seems like Bryce Dallas Howard was destined to be a show biz kid. She was conceived while her parents, director Ron Howard and wife Cheryl, were on location in Texas, shooting a TV movie called Skyward. (Her middle name pays tribute to the city where sperm met egg.) Bryce’s paternal grandparents were actors; her father, of course, had been a child TV star, as had Uncle Clint (Gentle Ben). So it’s no great shock to see Bryce featured in a mainstream movie like The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel. Perhaps the only surprise is that she plays the villain of the piece, genteel racist Hilly Holbrook. This is quite a departure from her father’s good-boy appearances as Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham.

If you’d thought Ron Howard wanted his little girl to follow the family tradition, you’d be (pretty much) wrong. When two-year-old Bryce was running around the set of Splash yelling “Action!” and “Cut, please,” he told reporters he’d let his daughter choose her own path when the time came. Later, as the family expanded, he said he’d discourage his kids from entering the business as children, “but if I saw that it was their burning desire to try this, then I would do everything I could to help them become good.” Still, he warned that any offspring of his who took up acting would have to face unfortunate comparisons with little Ronny Howard.

A desire to raise his children far from the lures of Hollywood was one reason behind the family’s move to sedate Greenwich, Connecticut. As the four Howard youngsters entered their teens and showed definite signs of being stagestruck, Howard turned emphatic: “I wouldn’t allow them to be kid actors, knowing what I know.” His veto quickly became a bone of contention in the Howard household: “They’re all mad because I won’t let them go on auditions.”

Bryce, in particular, seemed determined to start on an acting career. As high school graduation neared, I’m told she was pouting aloud about Howard’s insistence that she go to college, instead of immediately pursuing her dream. But she enrolled in NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, and got a thorough grounding in stagecraft. By the time her big break came, she was ready.

It didn’t happen immediately. A studio executive told me she’d auditioned for 2003’s Mona Lisa Smile, in which Julia Roberts played an unconventional teacher at an all-female college. Bryce didn’t land a part (among those who did were Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, and Maggie Gyllenhaal), but when the exec praised her acting chops to Ron and Cheryl Howard at an industry cocktail party, they glowed with pride, just like any other set of doting parents. Remarkably, Bryce’s first leading role didn’t trade on her family connections. M. Night Shyamalan saw her in an Off-Broadway production of a Shakespearean comedy, then cast her as the blind waif at the center of The Village. She survived that outrageously contrived movie (and also Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water) with her dignity intact, then went on to do art films for everyone from Lars von Trier (Manderlay) to Kenneth Branagh (As You Like It) to Clint Eastwood (Hereafter). For a change of pace, she’s played Gwen Stacy in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. She’s also been busy of late with writing, directing, producing, and (oh yes), motherhood. So perhaps one day–if there are no parental objections—we’ll see a fourth generation of actors in the Howard family.


  1. Oh, I'd adore seeing that fourth generation light up the screen! I love finding Rance in movies or TV shows; grew up with Richie Cunningham; enjoyed Clint's teen roles like Rock N Roll High School and Evilspeak; and enjoyed young Ms. Howard in The Village (though didn't particularly enjoy The Village) and Spider-Man 3! I just need to hang on a few more years, and I'll bet this wish comes true!

    1. I should add that Bryce's younger sister Paige (also, yup, a redhead) is also doing movies these days. No news about Paige's twin, Jocelyn and younger brother Reed.