Bryce Dallas Howard’s ‘Dads’ is her first feature made from behind the camera
Bryce Dallas Howard is a Hollywood movie star, with a résumé of major roles. She’s played Ivy, the blind romantic lead in “The Village,” Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen in “Spider-Man 3,” the nasty Hilly in “The Help,” and the harried, high heels-wearing Claire in the two “Jurassic World” films. Most viewers didn’t realize it, but she also played, in unrecognizable manner, Sheila, Elton John’s mom, in “Rocketman.” Yet she, like her father, Ron Howard, is not a product of Hollywood, and she’s managed to keep out of that spotlight, living on the East Coast with her husband and two kids.
But, also like her father, she’s been itching to take a step beyond acting into other areas of filmmaking. Over the past decade and a half, she directed a handful of short films, as well an episode of “The Mandalorian,” and is now - again, like her father - moving into the world of documentaries. Her first is a feature-length ode to fatherhood titled “Dads,” a collection of funny and moving interviews with both celebrity and ordinary men who open up to her about what it means to be a father. Howard, who often blurts out, “Oh, my gosh!” spoke about the film by phone from her home in Upstate New York.
Q: You’ve directed a bunch of dramatic shorts. What led to your first feature being a documentary instead of a narrative film?
A: It was purely coincidental. I was directing on “The Mandalorian,” and this opportunity presented itself. (The consumer goods company) Unilever wanted to do a documentary about modern dads, and they contacted me. They were talking about paternity leave and masculinity and the ways in which modern fathers who are committed caregivers are undermined, on a consistent basis. But there was nothing specific. My idea was, OK, if this is about shifting the culture so that they recognize modern fathers for who they are, then that’s something I find valuable. When I pitched that to them, I said I would love to interview standup comedians because they are our modern-day philosophers. And something that’s so emotionally raw needs to be framed as a comedy. When people see these recognizable fathers, people will be ready to laugh. But it will also be a cry-fest. I also wanted to get into the daddy blogger community. These are individuals that are already getting footage on their families and sharing them. So, aside from the comedians, we profiled dads all over the world.
Q: You got a great list of well-known people, from a trio of late-night TV hosts to Judd Apatow and Will Smith, and even your own dad. Was it difficult pulling this off?
A: The strategy was that Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien all have shows that myself and my dad have been interviewed on whenever we had a movie out. So, when you’re dealing with someone you’ve already been interviewed by 19 times, it’s easier to ask them. I got an email to Conan, and when he said yes, it legitimized everything significantly. Jimmy Fallon was next, and he said yes, and Jimmy Kimmel was a yes. By getting that trio, there was more comfort in reaching out to others. Dads were so eager for the opportunity to share how passionate they were as fathers. But I never would have thought that I would get to interview Will Smith!
Q: Did you go in with a page of questions for each guy, or did you wing it, or both?
A: I wasn’t winging it; I had a plan. But I didn’t know what their answers were going to be. And I tried to be uniform in asking everyone the same questions.
Q: Your dad’s 1989 film “Parenthood” had a lot to say about father-child relationships. Were you thinking about that film while making yours?
A: Oh, my gosh! All the time! “Parenthood” was so personal, and I have so many vivid memories of it. I was 7-years-old, and it was the first time I was ever on camera - in the background of one scene. I just kept going back to how hard parenting is and how it’s not for the faint of heart. And there’s the thing in that film about kids never growing up: They never actually grow up and, as a parent, you never stop worrying about them. There were a lot of scenes in that movie that must have informed me because it was such a big part of my childhood, and it relates.
Q: At what point did you decide to open “Dads” with footage of your own birth?
A: Oh, my gosh! It was a late and extremely hesitant decision. At one point I felt pretty OK about it. But 24 hours before the premier at the Toronto Film Festival, I started to panic. I had butterflies in my stomach. I was thinking, “What did I do?” But it was to myself. I wasn’t freaking out to the people around me. If I thought about it a little bit more, maybe I wouldn’t have done it. (laughs).
“Dads” premieres on Apple TV+ on June 19.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.