When actress Bryce Dallas Howard casually mentions both her father and her son in a phone interview, it takes a minute to make the leap to – Ron Howard is a grandfather? Opie is .. Gramps?
But that’s just part of the reality for Howard, 28, who stars in “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” which opens today (12.30.09) in limited release. The film, which also stars Chris Evans, Ellen Burstyn and Ann-Margret, is the feature directing debut of actress Jodie Markell – and has a script that’s an unproduced screenplay by the late Tennessee Williams.
In “Teardrop Diamond,” Howard plays debutante Fisher Willow, who elevates working-class Jimmy (Evans) to beau status, to attend the season’s balls in Memphis during the 1920s. It’s a character easily identifiable as Williams’, yet with a difference.
Howard, who broke through in M. Night Shymalan’s “The Village” in 2004, spoke recently in a telephone interview about playing one of Tennessee Williams’ resilient blossoms, as well as about having a famous father.
Q: How did you get involved with this project?
A: (Director Jodie Markell) wanted me to be part of it. That was so incredible. When I first learned that it was a Tennessee Williams screenplay that was fully developed and unproduced, I thought, how the heck is that possible? Was it lost for a reason? But it fit so well in his canon. You don’t read characters like that these days.
Q: She’s not the prototypical Williams heroine, in that she seems much more in control of her own fate.
A: She’s an interesting character. She’s teetering the whole time but she never falls over. That’s unusual for a Williams woman. You see a lot of women in his work who have already lost themselves. She’s like Blanche, 15 years earlier, someone who’s still able to face reality courageously. What I felt about her was that she was this young woman who’s still got a chance to do something. She talks about escaping to Europe and I think she will.
Q: Had you ever played a Williams heroine before?
A: The irony for me is, when I was in school, I always wanted to be in Williams’ scenes for class and I never was.
Q: Why do you think this screenplay went unproduced all these years?
A: Williams was known for being prolific. He battled alcoholism and drug addiction. But no matter what state he was in, he was up at 8 every morning and wrote the whole day. This one was written in 1957 at the height of his fame. It was just a project that was completed that didn’t get shot. When he passed away, the estate was very protective. It took Jodie several years to convince them to let her make it.
Q: So, given your family history, was it a foregone conclusion that you’d become an actor?
A: Oh, no. I’m one of four kids. Two of us are actors and two aren’t. I have a sister who’s a social worker and a brother who’s a golfer. My interests varied when I was younger. I loved acting and writing. So I went to NYU as a double major.
Q: How old were you before you understood what your father did?
A: I definitely understood what he did when I was young. My parents always were very communicative about what was happening – that my dad was a storyteller and that this is an industry where you create entertainment.
Q: Did you realize what a big deal he was?
A: I didn’t get a sense of his level or the depth of his experience compared to the average Joe until I moved to L.A. I was in my early 20s. I’d get people telling me, ‘I feel like I grew up with your dad.’ I’d say, ‘Me, too.’ It’s this wonderful gift. He’s an incredible father who’s also a mentor. If I started right now, there isn’t enough time to learn everything he knows. I mean, he’s in his mid 50s – and he’s been working 50 years! But he never treated it as anything extraordinary.
Q: So when is he going to give you a good role in one of his films?
A: Like anyone, I have to earn it. He’s smarter than me. I try to trick him into casting me but I don’t think I’ll trick him any time soon. But I hope to win a role. I mean, my grandmother is in ‘Apollo 13’ and she’s fantastic – but she auditioned. That’s what has to happen.
Q: Did you watch his TV shows when you were little?
A: I didn’t watch ‘Happy Days’ but mom would show us ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ They’re great for kids. I caught my dad over Thanksgiving watching YouTube clips of ‘Andy Griffith’ with my son.
Q: It’s like having home movies of him as a kid – in syndication.
A: That’s exactly what it’s like: Home movies. It’s such a gift.