Bryce Dallas Howard thought she was making a comedy. She quickly learned, however, that when men talk about their fathers and fathers talk about their children, they cry. A lot.
In Dads, the documentary that the actress, whose career has traveled from The Village to Jurassic World, directed about modern fathering around the globe, Judd Apatow cries. Will Smith cries. Jimmy Fallon cries. The men from around the world she interviews about their own experience raising children cry. Her own father, Academy Award-winning legend Ron Howard, sheds a few tears, too.
“We joked many times that we could call this movie Dads Cry,” she laughs in an interview with The Daily Beast. “It’s a phenomenon indeed.”
The film, which premiered Friday on the Apple TV+ streaming service—timed to Father’s Day, naturally—is Howard’s exploration of what it means to be a father today, featuring profiles of dads from all over the world who exemplify how the role has changed.
Celebrity fathers share their own words of wisdom and experiences, including Howard’s own famous director dad as well as her grandfather, Rance. When she decided that an expecting father would be a great addition to the project, it just so happened that her own brother, Reed, and his wife found out they were going to be first-time parents.
“So my brother really came through,” she laughs, “and the movie suddenly became wildly personal.”
Beyond celebrating the myriad ways in which fathers parent in today’s world, it’s an examination of her own relationship with her father. Their conversations in the film reveal how Ron Howard’s own relationship with his dad, Rance, shaped how writers on The Andy Griffith Show scripted the bond between Opie and Andy—possibly pop culture’s quintessential and most formative father-son relationship. (On the subject of tears, try not to cry when Ron and Rance discuss their emotions surrounding that.)
She also realized all the ways in which a project like this was going to make her vulnerable to the questions that, though she never really shied away from, aren’t always comfortable to be grilled about: Questions about the privilege of growing up with a famous father; the challenges that arise when dad’s career has him constantly traveling; what it’s like when your father’s brand is being the consummate great guy; and, of course, what role nepotism may have played in her career.
They’re questions that aren’t always easy because of how much she adores her father and values the way he brought her up. But if she was going to make a movie about dads, she knew there was no way she could not open up about her own.
“Being a kid of someone who's known, there's a bit more self-awareness about keeping things private,” she says. “Don’t just share a bunch of stuff, because you may or may not be shown in a way that feels good. So I've always been more private and protective of my family.”
She starts laughing: “But when I was making the movie, I felt really comfortable and didn't think about it much at all. My dad was super concerned, and no joke 24 hours before the premiere at the Toronto Film Festival [where Dads debuted], it finally dawned on me that I made a movie that an audience is going to see that opens with my birth.”
Yes, among Ron Howard’s extensive filmography are home videos of family life during each of his wife Cheryl’s four pregnancies. Each video culminates with footage of the birth, which each Howard child has been implored to watch at some point in their childhoods—just to give a sense of the kind of intimacy at play in Dads.
It’s not that Howard was ever one of those celebrities who built a fortress of privacy around herself, for whom any public statement is massaged, filtered, and sanitized by a receiving line of handlers before making its way outside the palace walls. Her candor is as an identifiable part of her celebrity as her red hair and her frequent bubbly, staccato-like cackle-laughs—employed often during our conversation.
That applies to everything from her charming, pragmatic defense of the Jurassic World pseudo-controversy over her character wearing high heels while running through the jungle to her frank discussion of unrealistic Hollywood beauty standards, talking about how she would purchase her own red carpet and press tour looks rather than rely on stylists after the frustrations with a system that made life hell for an actress who is not a sample size.
Then there’s her recent statement after The Help, a film she starred in, became the most popular movie streamed on Netflix in response to the nationwide race awakening following George Floyd’s death. “The Help is a fictional story told through the perspective of a white character and was created by predominantly white storytellers. We can all go further,” she wrote on social media, encouraging followers to instead views films and series that “center Black lives, creators, and/or performers.”
But it’s different sharing something as personal as her relationship with her father and opening herself up to scrutiny because of it, as a woman who has risen the ranks in the same industry where her father was already such a success.
Howard first began acting in uncredited roles in her father’s movies, including Parenthood, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind. Growing up, she loved being with her father when he was directing so much that her parents’ threat of punishment would be to ground her from the set. “I remember, one time I was like, 'You're ruining my life! How could you do this to me?'" she recently told CBS News.
Enamored by set life as she might have been, her parents were careful to raise her far away from the spoils of Hollywood—as in the other side of the country, in Greenwich, Conn. She attended the tony Greenwich Country Day School (among its famous alumni are George H.W. Bush and the Winklevoss twins), but told Paper magazine in 2006 that having those people around her only made her feel more unique and settled.
“We were the weirdos,” she said. “Everyone was from old money or involved in the stock market or IBM. We were the wacky artists who had a farm on their property."
That’s not to say that her childhood wasn’t dripping with A-list lore. Her godfather is her father’s Happy Days co-star Henry Winkler, after all. She revealed once on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live that Tom Cruise would occasionally babysit her. (Sort of...he would do acrobatics for her and her siblings to keep them occupied at gatherings.) And then there’s her time at the Stagedoor Manor theater camp when she was 15, where she acted alongside Natalie Portman in a Shakespeare production.
It’s the kind of on-paper vs. in-person dissonance that spawns media fawning like, “How did Bryce Dallas Howard, born to Hollywood aristocracy, become the nicest, sweetest, most down-to-earth young woman you’re likely to ever meet?” which is how that Paper magazine profile began. But ask Howard how this happened, and her answer always comes back to her father.
She studied acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and quickly started working off-Broadway. After seeing her in a 2003 production of As You Like It at the Public Theater, M. Night Shyamalan cast her as the lead in his thriller The Village, without asking her to audition.
She’s since starred in numerous blockbusters and franchises (Spider-Man 3, the Twilight saga, Jurassic World), critically acclaimed indies (50/50), beloved family films (Pete’s Dragon), Oscar-nominated dramas (The Help), biographical musical fantasias about Elton John (Rocketman), and dystopian cautionary tales, as in her SAG-nominated turn in Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” entry.
Through all of it, fairly or not, she’s faced those aforementioned questions about what effect growing up around the industry had on her career, and of course about nepotism. When asked if working on Dads and interviewing her father for it has made her think about those talking points in a different way, she says, “The movie is sort of the answer to those questions.”
“It's just footage of my family, and it's the truth of how I grew up,” she says. “It is an amazing privilege to be a child of someone who works in an industry that you are interested in and eventually work in. It's a privilege for that person to have success in their own right. But there was no greater privilege than the fact that my dad was supportive of me, empowered me, and showed me respect real respect from day one.”
The question of whether being the daughter of Ron Howard has helped or hurt her career is one she says she’s received often. In many ways, she understands the curiosity. But it’s never been her experience to even consider it in those terms.
“I'm always like, In what world is it harmful?” she says. “I mean, now I'm 39, and I’ve met a lot more people. There are a lot of kids of recognizable people, kids of celebrities, who have more of a relationship to the public version of their parents than to the private version of their parents. And it’s the opposite for me.”
There’s no delusion here. She knows she got to do things growing up that many kids could only dream of. But it was a fulfilling childhood, and her version of normal.
“So sometimes insecurities can creep up, or you’ll hear somebody say, like, ‘Oh, she only got that because of X, Y, or Z,’” she says. “But that's very small. That's a very, very, very tiny, tiny, tiny downside in comparison to all the encouragement and support and inevitable opportunities that are very, very real. So it certainly is not lost on me that it is a best-case scenario.”