By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif.—It’s early Saturday morning and Bryce Dallas Howard is sitting inside a near-empty dressing trailer adjacent to Stage 5 on the Universal Studios lot. She’s dressed impeccably in a cream-colored blouse and black skirt. Her reddish-blond hair falls loose about her shoulders. But what’s most distinctive about her appearance for this particular interview is her bare feet.
You see, in her new movie—the first feature film-acting role since 2011’s “The Help”—she spends a lot of time dodging dinosaurs in a Central America jungle, all the while wearing high heels. Any woman who has ever run in heels knows just how uncomfortable and possibly hazardous that attempt can be, so imagine trying that feat without twisting an ankle or breaking a heel. Even Howard’s mom expressed concern over the choice of footwear while watching an early screening with her daughter.
Howard, 34, who’s already been asked this question a few times, laughs and assures that “it all worked out.”
Having started in show business at a young age—her father is Academy Award winning actor-director Ron Howard who cast her in supporting roles in some of his films before she broke out as a star in her own right in M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 suspense thriller “The Village”—Howard knows that sometimes you just have to go for it as an actor, no matter what wardrobe you’re given. She said wearing heels was appropriate for her character, a buttoned-down operations manager of a major theme park, where tourists can see prehistoric dinosaurs resurrected from extinction through scientific experimentation.
Unbeknownst to Claire, scientists on the Costa Rican island property are working on a top secret creation that pushes the bounds of ethical science with a genetically modified creature that has never walked the Earth before and whose abilities are unknown. When the Indominus rex, as the mysterious creature is called, breaks out of her containment cage, all heck breaks loose in the otherwise peaceful park crowded with thousands of unsuspecting visitors. It’s up to Claire and Velociraptor trainer Owen (“Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Chris Pratt) to track down the deadly creature and kill it before it reaches the theme park.
The action adventure is directed by Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”), based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly. The characters are based on Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park,” which inspired the original film and its sequels.
Having previously starred in other major studio films including “Spider-Man 3” and the “Twilight” saga, Howard is no stranger to big budget, effects-laden movie-making. But “Jurassic World,” the fourth installment of a franchise that began with 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” holds special meaning to the actress, who was a fan of the original. She spoke about joining the franchise after taking a sabbatical from acting to challenge herself in other creative areas and to spend time with her two young children with her husband, actor Seth Gabel, and what’s ahead.
Q: How did this project come about for you and why did you want to do it?
Howard: I found out about it in March of 2013. I had a Skype call with Colin. At that point in my career I was kind of out of the flow of things. I’d had my daughter in 2012. I was directing (short films), but I hadn’t returned to acting yet. So I had this Skype call and Colin shared the premise of the film with me, which I thought was inspired. This notion that the park is now open but the visitors are not as impressed anymore. In the corporations need for profit they decide to create a dinosaur that will hopefully draw more visitors in and, obviously, chaos ensues.
When he told me that premise, I thought it was so self-aware and exactly what I wanted to see, as someone who loved the original film. Just the idea of seeing the park was so exciting. And just a few weeks later, maybe a month later, he called me and asked me to do the movie. We hadn’t even met in person. So that was kind of wild. We were a year out until we began shooting, so for a while it was just this secret that I held onto, and walked around with and couldn’t tell anyone. So that was my journey into getting to do this film.
Q: The film really stacks up to the three previous ones in terms of the dinosaur action.
Howard: Thanks. That’s really owed to Colin (Trevorrow, the director). He just knew what he was doing and had a vision. He had so much confidence and passion. I’m just enormously impressed by him.
Q: Did you meet with Steven Spielberg, who serves as an executive producer on this?
Howard: No. Steven was really a champion of Colin. They worked very closely together, particularly in the development phase. But Steven really trusted him. What was so funny and ironic is that you’d think there would be on a big budget film like this so many cooks in the kitchen and it would be this immense political endeavor, and the truth was it felt like an indie movie when we were making it, except with much better catering. That was attributed to the fact that everyone felt so confident in Colin, which obviously they were not misguided in that assumption. So there weren’t a million people that were on the set. It was Colin and a couple of producers, who are fantastically supportive, and the cast and crew.
Q: I was reading the production notes, and it describes your character as a “careerist,” which if Claire were a man, I’m not sure they’d use that same label.
Howard: That’s interesting.
Q: Of course, this is a dilemma for a lot of women: how much time do you devote to your career and how much time to family. Also, she considers the dinosaurs “assets” until she …
Howard: Interacts with it. That scene definitely got me. And, by the way, the way I think she should be described is “workaholic,” because there is a difference. (She takes the production notes and reads her character’s description.) Do you mind if I just circle that? What I like about the character is that she’s someone who represents the corporate world. She is someone, who in her quest for profit, she has disconnected from her own humanity. That’s the person we meet at the beginning of this story. She’s not a bad human being, but her actions are not in alignment with what her values really are.
(The role) had its challenges, but for me, I was excited with the notion of playing a character that when you first meet her, you wonder, “Is this a borderline villain?” And then by the end of the film, she’s heroic.
In any movie but, in particular, in a film that has a good percentage of action sequences, I found it to be quite refreshing to find this character that was so layered, and went through such a transformation.
What I’ve noticed more and more is the work-life balance question is not a gender issue, that’s a people issue. And with the people I’ve had a chance to work with who have children, regardless of gender, that’s on the forefront of all of her minds.
Most of the conversations that Chris and I had and Colin and I had have been about parenting and being a parent and, of course, what anyone deals with who is a caregiver, who is responsible for another person, it’s the balance of the two. So the choice of that word will be corrected.
Q: Do you bring your kids on location with you?
Howard: I do. Yeah.
Q: So they have an idea of what mommy does?
Howard: Yes and no. It’s so interesting. There was a four-year gap between when I did “The Help” and “Jurassic World” in terms of acting. My daughter was born during that time, and so “Jurassic” was really her first experience in seeing me working on a set. She was 2 when we were shooting. So the kids were with me, but I wasn’t bring them to work, although my son and daughter visited the set one day. He gets what we do, I think, but my daughter hasn’t seen a lot of media. I had this really funny interaction with her on my last movie. I had to go to work, and she didn’t want me to go, and I explained to her that it’s my job like school is her job, and that I also feel really grateful that I get to do a job that I really love. That sort of thing. And then I said to her, “Honey, do you know what my job is?” And she nodded her head. And I said, “What?” And she said, “Laundry.” And I thought, “Yeah, she’s definitely seen me more doing laundry than you’ve seen me on a set.” But I think they’re still trying to sort it out. The traveling around has been awesome, and it’s also great because that was my experience growing up. That was also my childhood. So I have a point of reference. I know what felt great. Honestly, it all felt great. But I feel more relaxed bringing my kids with me (on location) because that was my childhood.
Q: Your parents (Ron and Cheryl Howard) tried to give you and your siblings a normal life. Have you kind of modified that for your own family?
Howard: That’s been a non-issue, honestly. Yeah, the kids have been exposed to the set and they’ve been exposed to the travel, but I’ve never had a paparazzi situation really other than a handful of times. But it’s nothing that has been obtrusive, which is great. As a result, (my kids) haven’t been exposed to say, a (industry) party. If my daughter asks me whom I’m working with, I’ll say, “Jack’s daddy,” if I’m talking about Chris (Pratt). Or, if I’m talking about Colin, I’ll say, “I’m working with Nolan and Lou’s daddy.” I just worked with Wes Bentley (on the remake of 1977’s “Pete’s Dragon”), and I’ll say to her, “I worked with Charlie and Brooklyn’s daddy.” That’s they’re framework for the people that I work with. So I felt really really grateful. Part of it is that I really don’t voluntarily leave the house much, except for the kids’ stuff.
Q: Too busy doing laundry, right?
Howard: Exactly! (She laughs.) I don’t wear a lot of makeup when I’m out so people don’t really recognize me. I know a lot of people that don’t solicit (publicity) at all, and for whatever reason their persona has sort of captured the curiosity of people. But that’s not me. It’s great because my experience in L.A. feels exactly how it did when I was in New York acting and performing in theater. It feels totally anonymous.
Q: You have the same outfit for the whole movie, but I’m sure you had different stages of dishevelment. Did you keep some sort of chart?
Howard: 100 percent. That was always the conversation. I’d ask Colin, “When do we lose the jacket? When do we lose the silk shirt? When does the rip happen?” It was really about mapping out all of those moments that we needed to see those transitions on camera. There’s one moment where you see me take off the silk shirt. That was purely a function of that we had shot scenes that followed that moment and didn’t have it. One of my favorite moments, which was a spontaneous decision, was when Chris and I decide to go into the jungle and I kind of like rip my shirt. That was about, “How do we see the costume?” It became this funny thing that represented how out of touch my character was.
Q: Of course, you were in “Spider-Man 3,” but after seeing you in this film, I have to wonder where is your superhero role? How about Captain Marvel, because she looks like you?
Howard: Really? Oh my gosh, well please write that because I was talking to Chris (Pratt), and told him I really want to do a Marvel film. Speaking of character development, that’s what’s so distinctive about those stories; it’s what’s endeared us to the comics are the journeys of the characters. I find the characters in Marvel films are so developed and so unique and non-cliché, and they’re flawed. They’re just fantastic characters. So I was talking to Chris and said, “I’d loooove to do a Marvel film.” So let’s start the campaign. (She laughs.)
Q: Give me three adjectives to describe your co-star Chris Pratt.
Howard: Heroic, hilarious and kind-hearted.