Bryce Dallas Howard is having quite a year. Currently starring in 50/50, Howard is fresh off the phenomenal success of The Help (don't miss our The Help review) and has a film that she produced, Restless, also out in theaters. Oh, and did we mention she’s currently expecting her second child? As she strolls into our interview room, Howard is beaming and one could expect nothing less.
Howard speaks about everything from producing to the power of 50/50 (don't miss the 50/50 trailer) and the power of The Help. From when her career first began through her incredible 2011, I’m reminded of a famous saying in Hollywood, “The kid stays in the picture.” That is never truer than it is in 2011 for Bryce Dallas Howard.
Movie Fanatic: How are you doing with this whirlwind of promoting Restless, 50/50 and being pregnant at the same time here at the Toronto Film Fest?
Bryce Dallas Howard: Well, I was feeling incredibly sick up until about two weeks ago. That’s the same time with my first son that I was really ill from exactly six weeks to exactly five-and-a-half months. With this baby, it was the exact same timeline. When I was feeling so sick and throwing up ten times a day, I was having a bit of a tough time with that. But just two weeks ago it was like a light went off and I just feel fantastic. So I feel like my old self right now, maybe a little slower. Things are a little more cumbersome, but I’m very happy so it’s great to be at the festival -- plus the fact there’s two movies here I’m getting to promote.
Movie Fanatic: When you read the script for 50/50, how did you envision playing your character, Rachael? And did that change at all during filming?
Bryce Dallas Howard: What’s interesting about a movie like this is the script was very complete before shooting but because of the style in which Jonathan (Levine, director) shoots, they were very open to improvisation. So in seeing the movie, you’re not quite sure which version of the character is going to be cut together. We always knew we wanted to play her as someone who was not maniacal -- she was genuinely a misguided person. They’d been in a relationship for probably three months and were definitely not well-suited for each other. They’re definitely not supposed to be together and probably wouldn’t be together for another seven days. And then he comes to her and tells her he has cancer. I got that she’s a very immature girl and this brings out the worst in her. But she’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to go and ruin his life.” They just shouldn’t be together.
Movie Fanatic: It seemed your character started with good intentions, like she genuinely believed she could handle her boyfriend’s cancer.
Bryce Dallas Howard: She probably was thinking to herself when she found out, “Oh, I was already telling my girlfriends I was going to break up with him.” He got me a drawer in his room and that was sort of uncomfortable. So I think she already had her exit strategy and then this was a curveball with him getting ill. She didn’t have the maturity to deal with it. The thing that she should have done was to say to him, “I don’t think that we are appropriately matched romantically, but I would love to support you through this.”
Movie Fanatic: Being put in that position, you don’t want to just walk out on someone…
Bryce Dallas Howard: Even though it’s a three month relationship, walking out on somebody I don’t think is the right solution -- being honest with your feelings and being able to be vulnerable with another person as opposed to being, “I’m going to pretend to be the world’s best girlfriend and then cheat on you.” It’s ridiculous.
Movie Fanatic: What is the best thing, in your mind, about the 50/50 experience?
Bryce Dallas Howard: I would say the best thing in this movie is the friendship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character (Adam) and Seth Rogen’s Kyle (Don't miss our Seth Rogen interview). When I read the script, that was the thing that I really took away from it. This is a guy who’s in his mid-20s and he’s still defining who he is and the people he can rely upon. He probably never would have thought to himself, “Yes, the most reliable person in this circumstance is going to be my friend Kyle from work.” It’s just an amazing story.
Movie Fanatic: What can you tell us about your film Restless, another movie concerning cancer and showing here in Toronto? What did you learn as a producer?
Bryce Dallas Howard: I learned a lot absolutely. It was a very particular circumstance because I developed it for a long time with Jason Lew, the writer. Then when people started getting involved in it, the people who were involved were like 800 pound gorillas. Once it was not just Jason and I, the movie quickly became a movie. Gus (Van Sant, director) came aboard and we only had five weeks of pre-production and then we were shooting. Normally you’re working with the director for like a year, a couple years. It’s not normally like that where it happens so fast. So the things that I took from my experience from Restless are -- I don’t know if you can apply them to every single circumstance because it was a unique thing -- but I would say the biggest thing that I learned was really how to navigate compromise. Because there are compromises that you must make in order for your movie to move forward. But you have to be discerning enough to know whether or not those compromises will undermine the creatives, the filmmaker, the actors, the writer, in a way that they will not be able to deliver the product that you are promising everyone. And that’s kind of the balance you always need to navigate as a producer -- because if you make no compromises your movie can’t move forward. But if you make too many compromises, then at the end of the day, it becomes something different than everyone intended it to be. That’s sort of your job.
Movie Fanatic: In 50/50, the casting switched last minute from James McAvoy to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Did you have to adjust anything because of that?
Bryce Dallas Howard: We were very early in the process so of course that was definitely a surprise. But like I said we were very early in the process so that was something that could shift at that point.
Movie Fanatic: Through this role, have you learned how to treat someone who is seriously ill?
Bryce Dallas Howard: There was a great article in the New York Times about someone who had a very aggressive form of cancer. The article was basically the do’s and don’ts of how to support someone who is going through an illness. Even now in talking to people ever since reading that article I catch myself saying things, “Oh, I shouldn’t be saying something like that.” It was a really, really interesting article. A lot of it said it’s really important to provide the opportunity for someone to have a sense of humor about it, instead of just sitting in the hospital and saying, “How do you feel? I’m sorry.” They’re dealing with this every minute of every day. Come in and say, “Omigosh, do you wanna hear some gossip?” They’re people and that’s just not something they want to dwell on is their illness. So that article was really interesting to me. And when I read it and applied it to this movie, I thought, “Wow, the Seth Rogen character really was a huge relief for the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character.” The way in which he dealt with it was not always perfect but he was a true friend to him.
Movie Fanatic: Now that The Help is such a big hit, what are you hearing from people?
Bryce Dallas Howard: People are happy and supportive and celebrating it. It’s mostly my mom’s book group friends [laughs] and stuff like that, emailing me, saying, “Oh, I’m so happy. I’m so proud of you.” But it’s fantastic. We all hoped because we thought it was a solid film and we all put our hearts into it. But you never really know how it’s going to resonate. And we hoped that maybe it would resonate or at least meet the expectations of people who had read the book, which was already a very high bar. But the fact that it’s had the success it’s had is fantastic -- and rare.
Movie Fanatic: It’s especially nice that a supposed “chick flick” has done so well.
Bryce Dallas Howard: Right. And I think too between The Help and Bridesmaids, it’s been a good summer for these female ensemble films. That’s nice for me in the business because I’m a woman. It’s great that maybe some more of these movies are possibly going to get the green light because of that.