Bryce Dallas Howard may have Hollywood in her genes via her dad Ron, but she's proved her mettle on the big screen. The multitasking actress costars in Oscar favorite "The Help" as the bitchy Hilly Holbrook and is currently promoting the dramedy "50/50," in which she takes on another hard-to-swallow role as a crappy girlfriend to a young guy with cancer.
With the Gus Van Sant movie "Restless," she's taken on a new responsibility, as producer. The arty romance about a dying girl named Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) who falls for a funeral-obsessed teen (Henry Hopper) is set to open this Friday. Watch the trailer here. She talked to us about working with Van Sant, playing an unsympathetic character and her take on the controversy over "The Help."
You were instrumental in getting the "Restless" script to the screen, and as a hands-on producer. What's it to be involved day-to-day in a production role?
Everything that I have to say, I need to say [with] a huge disclaimer beforehand, which is I don't think it's a normal experience to have your first film be a Gus Van Sant film. Not only is Gus such a masterful filmmaker, but from a production standpoint, he's a very efficient filmmaker. We came in $300,000 under budget because of the way that Gus shoots, and so if I go from here and produce some kind of independent film, I'm not going to really apply the experience that I had with Gus to an experience with, say, a first-time filmmaker or another filmmaker because he's a dream director for a producer, absolutely.
So the experience was profoundly educational for me, really stimulating and exciting and collaborative and fantastic, but all that being said, I feel very fortunate that I was working with Gus.
Was it awkward or stressful to work with a friend like screenwriter Jason Lew? Sometimes mixing business with friendship can be dicey, especially when it's a creative project.
The first time that Jason and I had met was actually [when] we were doing a play together, and we did a series of plays together, so that was kind of the foundation of our friendship ... The particular kinds of plays we did were very avant-garde and experimental and highly collaborative, so we were used to working with one another in that sort of way. And I think it helped feeling not only like an admirer of the person's work that you're working with but also to feel genuinely emotionally connected to them and to feel a real friendship. I think it makes things go faster and easier because there's never any question about how the two people feel about one another. It really gets to just be about the work.
I didn't even know Henry Hopper acted. How did you guys go about finding him and casting him? I understand he was painting in a bohemian commune. How was he on his radar for this movie?
Well, he wasn't. Francine Maisler, the casting director who's been Gus's casting director for a while, and she works with Sony as well, had seen him in a couple of plays and really felt like he could be right. Henry at the time was painting in Berlin, and we weren't quite sure if he was going to be coming in for the audition or not, and when he eventually did, I mean, Francine was absolutely right ... The people that we had seen before him were great actors, really wonderful actors and really read it in the way that we had always envisioned ... And then when Henry read, I remember I was watching the tapes and just leaning forward because he interpreted the character in a way that I had never seen the character previously. And everything came alive in a very, very specifically unique way, and that absolutely stood out.
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Especially with the loss of his father [Dennis] ... that must have been very difficult.
At the time, his father was very ill, and I mean, thank goodness his father was actually able to see the movie, because it was Henry's first performance in a film. So he was able to see it before he passed, which was something that was very important to all of us.
I saw "50/50" and loved it. Was your character based on a real person?
Not as far as I know. A lot of the elements of the movie were fictionalized. The writer, Will Reiser, was 25 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer, so that aspect of the movie was true to him, and his best friend at the time, who's still his best friend, is Seth Rogen, but clearly Seth Rogen doesn't work at a radio station, know what I mean? Doing stories for radio. There were a lot of things that were fictionalized, but I think they tried to keep everything that was fictionalized in a very honest place. They would say, could this have happened? Could we imagine something like this happening? And if it was too outrageous, they would cut it, and if it felt real, they would keep it in the movie.
Rachael has a very painful and difficult-to-swallow reaction, but some people deal that way with grief.
Well, I don't know if she was grieving. [laughs] I think that she was in a dilemma, which is that they'd been dating for a few months and she had already decided that it wasn't going to work out, and she called all her friends and said, "You know, I'm going to be breaking up with this guy, I'm just waiting for the right time," and then he comes home and tells her that he has cancer. And he says, "You know, if you need to bail, you can bail," and she's like, "I'm not gonna bail!"
I think that that moment and that dilemma is very understandable, particularly for someone in their mid-twenties and being in a relationship that isn't going to sustain itself, and yet they don't know how to leave because they want to be supportive. What she then subsequently does, I have no respect for, obviously, and no one would. But I think that was the way she was dealing with just being in a situation that she felt like she didn't sign up for.
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"The Help" has gotten some amazing reviews and Oscar buzz, but it's also stirred up some controversy. What's your take on that, that it's historically inaccurate or whitewashing some of the aspects ...?
I feel like it's a good story [that's] well told. There was never any attempt to say this story is nonfiction. I think if that was the case, we could argue with certain points, but I feel like it's a very personal movie to the people who were involved in it, and I feel like it's a very inspirational story. The fact that there are conversations about the movie means the movie's being seen, and that's something that's very important to all of us, obviously.
I read that the director was tracking everyone's hormonal cycle. Is that true?
No! Tate! Well, Tate [Taylor] is hilarious, the director. No! That's probably some joke he made at some point, but he definitely wasn't. I would not reveal that to my director. That would be highly unprofessional. [laughs]