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EXCLUSIVE: Bryce Dallas Howard Just May Be the Happiest Person in Hollywood

by Stacy Lambe 7:20 AM PST, January 26, 2017
Photo: Getty Images

Bryce Dallas Howard has a laugh that should be heard to be appreciated. It’s hearty and genuine -- an infectious burst of gusto that happens when she gets excited about something, such as acting, which, surprisingly enough, is not something that all actors enjoy talking about. But in Howard’s case she does.

Over the course of a couple of phone chats -- one interrupted by a dead cell phone battery -- one can hear the earnest joy in her voice, usually followed by that laughter, when talking about her journey from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, her feature film debut, to the massive success of Jurassic World despite her character’s penchant for running in heels from dinosaurs and, most recently, her 2017 Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated performance in an episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror.

“Maybe this is a little corny, but I’m a third-generation actor, so it’s awesome to be recognized in that way,” Howard tells ET about why being nominated for a SAG Award is so particularly special.

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The daughter of director and actor Ron Howard (and wife Cheryl Alley) and granddaughter to longtime actors Rance and Jean Speegle Howard, Bryce grew up in the business, operating the camera at her father’s auditions when she was 11 and appearing as an extra in his films. Later, she attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and started acting in Off-Broadway plays, where she caught the attention of Shyamalan, who subsequently cast her in the starring role of his next thriller.

Howard’s journey into acting, she fully admits, didn’t follow the traditional path of doing commercials, then landing bit or guest-starring parts on TV shows before landing that breakout role -- a “traditional ramp-up,” as she puts it. Instead, it found her. The daughter of Ron Howard was suddenly starring in $71 million budget film for a director some were calling “the next Steven Spielberg.”

“I knew at the time it was a very unique situation,” Howard says, looking back on the project, which she filmed nearly 15 years ago in October of 2003, just after graduating from NYU. “Even more now, I’m acutely aware of what a huge leap Night took [laughs] and how extraordinary that is. To have not done anything and then to play that role in that kind of movie -- that took a lot of guts on his part and then a lot of follow through, because he worked really hard with me.” 

Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village. Photo: Buena Vista

While she has since grown as an actor -- and shed the “daughter of…” moniker -- Howard is still struck by how lucky she was at the time. “It’s really interesting because there’s a perspective now that I didn’t have when I was doing the junket, when I was 23 years old,” Howard marvels.

But playing Ivy Elizabeth Walker, a blind girl sent on a mission to retrieve medicines from a town outside a remote village in the woods, was a formative experience for the actress. Working with Shyamalan, in particular, taught her a reverence for the movie-making process. “He set me off on this path that acting is not just showing up and saying your lines and doing your best to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” Howard says. “You’re part of a message, part of a legacy that’s going to potentially last for generations to come. And you’d better take it seriously and give every ounce of humanity to it.”

After working with him, Howard felt like she couldn’t do a project unless it was something she truly believed in. “It contextualized the ‘why we do it all,’” she explains. “He inspired that in my head, so that it felt natural for me to work for Lars von Trier,” which she did immediately following The Village, “or Black Mirror. That just feels so right. You can feel the art behind it. Those are the situations I want to be in.”

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And in the midst of all that, there was some stuff with being “Ron Howard’s daughter.” Early in her career, she wouldn’t read for him or seek his advice on auditions. At times, she would get wrapped up with asking herself if she had an advantage and whether or not she had used it. “It was about me processing that and trying to let go of the fears of other people around you,” she says of trying to find her own identity, which she’s still figuring out. But now, at 35, she’s come to terms with it -- and actually seeks it out. “I want my identity to be aligned with his. The older I get, the more that’s all I care about.”

At first worried about nepotism, Howard has shrugged that off. “I’m sort of like, ‘I want to spend the day with my dad!’ [Laughs] For whatever reason, that’s what I want.”

When it comes to her episode of Black Mirror, “Nosedive,” in which she plays a woman in the near-future consumed by rating technology, Howard found herself making good on a general meeting she had with director Joe Wright 10 years prior. “He reached out to me,” she says, revealing she instantly said yes to the treatment and within a couple of months found herself on set with co-stars Alice Eve and Cherry Jones. 

Bryce Dallas Howard in the Black Mirror episode, "Nosedive." Photo: Netflix

The end result saw Howard delivering one of her best onscreen performances as a character slowly undone by her own ambitions. It not only earned her a SAG Award nomination, but also some of the best reviews and attention of her career. “I was just telling my parents: More people have come up to me about Black Mirror than any of my other movies combined. [Laughs] It’s wild!” Howard says excitedly. “I am floored. I am just so proud of it.”

“It’s so interesting as an actor to see how stories can resonate on different mediums and what the impact might be in terms of your visibility,” she continues. “That I did not expect.”

And while she didn’t have to audition for Black Mirror, there was a certain amount of trust that Howard knew she could rely on. “[Joe] just knew,” Howard says about not hesitating to sign on, but also giving her all to the performance.

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Having learned from her days in the audition room with her father, she knew there had to be trust in those in charge of the creative process. “I would see that there was not only one person that could do the job, there were many people,” Howard says. “It was just the factor that’s oftentimes out of the person’s control.”

Jurassic was the first thing I did after having my second child,” Howard says, reflecting on the short hiatus she took after 2011, following the success of The Help, which at the time was her biggest film to date. Following Jurassic World, 2016 has seen Howard appear in back-to-back projects: Pete’s Dragon, Black Mirror and Gold. “It’s exciting for me to get to be a working actor and to get to work on a few different projects that are coming out in a given year.”

And when reflecting on the attention and accolades surrounding Black Mirror in particular, Howard is probably more frank than most. “Honestly, what it comes down to is that I feel acknowledged as an actor if I get the opportunity to work or if I get invited to callbacks or if I'm getting invited to be in the room,” she says. “That to me, honestly, is the satisfaction that I crave.”

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