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Director's Reel: Ron Howard Talks 'Splash,' 'Cocoon,' 'Apollo 13,' and More

It’s hard to say which is more impressive: how many great films Ron Howard has directed over the past three-plus decades, or how eclectic his filmography has been. He’s dabbled in the supernatural (Splash, Cocoon, Willow) and the historical (Far and Away, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon). He’s directed a Best Picture-winning biopic (A Beautiful Mind) and a box office-reigning kiddie flick (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). He’s captured the American family in its everyday quirks (Parenthoood) and during extreme duress (Ransom). He’s staged battles in burning buildings (Backdraft) and in the boxing ring (Cinderella Man).

And then of course, there’s his work alongside the actor he calls “the greatest collaborator of all time,” Tom Hanks, in five movies, including the page-to-screen series following the exploits of globetrotting symbologist Robert Langdon that began with 2006’s The Da Vinci Code. After adapting a second Dan Brown-penned adventure, Angels & Demons, in 2009, Howard and Hanks return this week with Inferno. The latest thriller finds Langdon coming out of unconsciousness just in time to team with a resourceful ER nurse (Felicity Jones) to try and stop a manmade plague.

Our new episode of Director’s Reel (watch above), with Howard, 62, is appropriately bookended with talk of his muse Hanks, from casting the then-sitcom actor in Splash to reuniting with him for Inferno. Some highlights:

(Editor’s Note: There are simply too many good Ron Howard movies to get through in one video.)

Splash (1984)
Nothing came easy for Howard in making his third film (after 1977’s Grand Theft Auto and 1982’s Night Shift), a comedy about a man who falls for a mermaid. He was afraid Disney would insist he direct a G-rated version, and “actors didn’t trust me that much,” he said. Stars like Chevy Chase and John Travolta passed on the lead before Howard was able to cast Hanks, who had just wrapped Bosom Buddies.

Then there was the famous lobster scene, which presented the filmmaker with a major challenge: His mermaid, Daryl Hannah, was a strict vegetarian. Howard was able to convince the actress to bite into the shell and then spit it out as soon as they cut. “And she did it, and it’s the shot that’s in the movie,” he recalled. “But the minute she did it, she burst into tears.”

Related: How a ‘Splash’ Joke Lead to the ‘Madison’ Baby Boom

Cocoon (1985)
Howard said he felt like he hit the big leagues a year later when he was brought in to direct this sci-fi comedy about a group of aliens who crash a retirement community. It was the first time he dabbled in advanced special effects. “I was very intimidated by the visual effects world,” he said. “But I began to realize that you don’t have to know everything. You have to be able to talk about story.” Cocoon won the Oscar that year for Best Visual Effects.

Apollo 13 (1995)
The biggest challenge awaiting Howard in crafting this real-life space tale was achieving weightlessness for his actors in a pre-digital world. Howard ran into Steven Spielberg on a studio lot (as one does when you’re Ron Howard), and the E.T. director advised him to use NASA’s zero-gravity airplanes to simulate the effect. With the help of real-life Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, Howard was able to pull it off. “Later I bumped into Steven and he said, ‘How’d you do the weightlessness?’ And I explained it to him and he said, ‘I didn’t think you’d really do it!'”

Inferno is now in theaters. Watch the trailer: