The Bryce is right for Hollywood star Howard - The Irish News
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The Bryce is right for Hollywood star Howard

Bryce Dallas Howard grew up watching the original Pete's Dragon and can't wait to show her kids the new remake. Keeley Bolger discovers why the story is just as enchanting second time round

Actress and director Bryce Dallas Howard

WHEN Jennifer Aniston recently shone the spotlight on the body-shaming female celebrities experience in an astute Huffington Post essay, the world responded with blog posts, TV discussions and a flurry of support from fellow actors.

And among those in Jen's corner was Bryce Dallas Howard.

Growing up in the business with Happy Days star and Da Vinci Code, Rush and A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard as a father, she believes the retort penned by Aniston, who has been dogged with pregnancy rumours and constant analysis of her body shape, was long overdue.

"Jen approached that essay with such grace and wisdom and courage," says Howard, known for her performances in films like Jurassic World and The Help.

"Often, people will say about celebrities, 'We don't want to hear it', but she had something to say that wasn't just about being someone who's in the public eye.

"It was about women, but also just about humans in general and how we interact with one another, and the ways in which judgement can affect a person. I felt she really took a stand for people taking a responsibility for their own words and the things they put out there. What she did was really important."

At just 35, Howard is already an old hand in the industry, fully versed in the changes going on behind and in front of the camera.

Though her parents (her mum is author Cheryl Howard) were initially reluctant for her and her three younger siblings to become actors, they eventually relented, allowing their eldest daughter to play a tiny un-credited role in her dad's 1989 comedy Parenthood.

Howard visited her father's film sets during school holidays, and as soon as she was old enough, trained at NYU's Tisch School Of The Arts, where she met her future husband Seth Gabel, later to be recognised for his roles in The Da Vinci Code and US TV series Fringe.

Being part of a famous family – her grandfather Rance Howard and late grandmother Jean Speegle Howard were both actors, while uncle Clint Howard starred in Apollo 13 and her younger sister Paige works as a TV actress – could be a hindrance, with accusations of nepotism never too far away, but she has a different view.

"Honestly, I've pretty much only experienced really positive things," says the star, who shares her famous dad's trademark friendly grin and auburn hair.

"Obviously, it's a great help when you ask your parents for advice about the work you're doing and they can give you a well-informed answer.

"Also, my parents were very supportive of me," she adds.

"They didn't say, 'Get a real job'. They did say, 'Listen, you're going to have to get real jobs to make a living but, of course, we're fully supportive of you doing this'.

"Having parents like that makes all the difference."

Now a mum herself, Howard is confident her new film, Pete's Dragon, will charm her nine-year-old son Theodore and four-year-old daughter Beatrice.

The remake of the 1977 part-animated, part-live-action Disney film starring Mickey Rooney and Shelley Winters, Howard plays forest ranger Grace, the daughter of wood carver Mr Meacham (Robert Redford).

Grace becomes acquainted with a mysterious 10-year-old called Pete (played by Oakes Fegley) who lives in the woods she works in and, in a striking resemblance to the stories her father used to tell, claims to live with a green dragon called Elliot.

It's a story Howard grew up with.

"Pete's Dragon was one of my favourite films as a child," recalls the actress, sporting a chic leopard print blouse and smart black trousers.

"One of my earliest memories of watching a movie is watching Pete's Dragon. There's something singular about that film... I don't know what it is, but it immediately touches the inner child in me."

So did she have any reservations about signing up for a remake of such a well-loved story?

"I was really curious," she states.

"I wanted to read the script. I was like, 'What are they going to do?' and when I read it, I was so moved.

"This story largely feels very original. It definitely has the same central characters as Pete and Elliot and obviously it has the same title and some of the themes, but other than that, it's a very original, magical story that I wasn't expecting."

While child stars traditionally have a reputation for being precocious, Howard insists Fegley and Oona Laurence, who plays Grace's step-daughter Natalie, were "really smart, creative, genuine young people".

Likewise, the two youngsters are full of praise for their co-star.

"She was a very motherly figure," notes Fegley. "She's always making sure your hair is in the right place and she's always keeping you safe. She's protective."

As protective and motherly as she might be, one of the draws for Howard was the way in which darker themes were explored.

"Pete's Dragon reminds me so much of the classic, great Disney films of my youth, where they're filled with innocence, wonder and adventure, but don't shy away from the realities of loss and disappointment and heartbreak.

"This movie has an emotional centre that really touched me, while I was watching it and while I was making it," adds Howard. "I can't wait to show this to my kids."

:: Pete's Dragon is out now

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