Bryce Dallas Howard is not just a good actress, she is funny and has a wonderful energy as you would imagine. Her first role was in M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller The Village, proving she had the acting ready to stay and be successful.
A couple of years later, Bryce has some leading roles and big action blockbuster movies on her list. And, this time around, she will come face-to-face with another giant reptile in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, a reimagining of the 1977 cherished family film, a adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with this talented actress, along with select reporters, at a roundtable interview last week. We discussed her work as park ranger Grace in the new Pete’s Dragon, her love of the original, what it like to act with different reptiles, and what it was like working with the remainder of the cast.
How was it about this project that got your attention? What attracted you to this project?
It’s a children’s film and this is the first I will be able to play a mother. I just saw it a couple of days ago. I had seen an older cut, but I saw the final version a couple days ago with my husband, and it was very emotional for me, seeing me in a mom role. My husband gave me this really good advice early, because I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to overcomplicate things because this is a children’s film. Whenever I was a kid and I would watch children’s films and it would get to a scene with two adults talking, I would just be like, ‘Just get to the dragon!’ Like, ‘Where’s the dragon?’ And so that was something that I was kind of aware of. I was like, ‘Who is this woman? What is she like?’ and [my husband said,] ‘It’s really simple, babe. You are with Pete the way that you are with the kids.’ Like, ‘This is her son. We don’t realize that when they first meet each other but this is her son. And she’s going to be his mother. So that’s how you should speak to him.
What is the biggest difference between Jurassic World and Pete’s Dragon?
It was hilarious, because I made this pretty soon– only a few months– after I finished ‘Jurassic World,’ and I kept messing up. Like, when I was on set, I would just be like, ‘Okay so, where’s the raptor? Where’s the dinosaur?’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh.. dragon!’ And now I’m sure we’re going to be shooting the next ‘Jurassic’ and I’ll probably be referring to them as dragons. But in my mind they were two very different films, obviously, and the tones are really different. I think for this one, the thing that I just kept thinking about or considering was Disney’s canon of work, the Disney legacy, and how Disney has been of service to children because of the kinds of stories that they tell. That was something that I was really cognizant of, whereas obviously with ‘Jurassic World,’ it’s the legacy of Michael Crichton, and of Steven Spielberg. You want to honor their legacy. You need to be aware of that because that brand represents something.
Speaking of that, I read that Pete’s Dragon was one of your favorite movie as a child.
Comparing that film to this one…
Which you can’t!
Is there anything from the original film that you see in this one that pays homage to the original?
I think there were really no throwbacks, intentionally, other than what was at the genesis of this idea, which is that it’s about a boy who’s orphaned whose family, in essence, is a dragon. It’s his best friend. And no one believes that that dragon exists, and then we come to see that magic is actually possible. It’s a story about what it takes to find your family. And I think that that, thematically, is obviously very similar to the first film, but this really was original. It’s not even like, ‘inspired by.’ It’s really an original film; it’s not meant to step on the memories of the 1977 version of ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ I think, for all of us, that’s going to be the tricky thing in introducing this movie to folks. How do we mention the original but also ensure that it doesn’t become all about that, because it’s meant to be something that’s complementary, but it is something that’s stand-alone.
Can you talk a little bit more about acting in opposite of something that is not there which you’ve done a bunch of times?
The technology is changing so rapidly. There were even different things [developed] between shooting ‘Jurassic World’ and this, that were simply different techniques and ways to create that realism on set while also making sure that everybody got what they needed in order to build this fantastical creature in post using visual effects. What we had, was– you know those jumpy castles, how it’s just plastic and then you blow them up and it something? We had the equivalent of that for a dragon. So we had a big, fifteen-foot-tall blown-up version of Elliot, that would only take like five minutes to blow up. And so in a lot of the scenes, in particular where Oakes was there, or Oona was there, we would have the dragon there, just as a reference point, so we wouldn’t have to be constantly saying, ‘Wait, is it that leaf that we’re looking at or that one over there?’ and that was enormously helpful.
Did you get to see any images of Elliot to help during the shooting process?
Yes! We shot this in New Zealand. And before we started shooting, David Lowery and Jim Whitaker the producer arranged for us to go to Peter Jackson’s screening room and see what Weta was doing with Elliot, so that we could know, like, that he was furry. He didn’t have scales. Stuff like that. And to get a sense of his playfulness, and that he kind of looked like a big puppy dog. That was important so that we had a sense of what he was going to be like. This really weird, kind of magical thing happens where obviously, when you’re on set, you’re pretending and you’re not seeing anybody, but then I saw the film a couple days ago, and now all of a sudden, all my memories of shooting [are] exactly what I saw in the movie. Anyway, that’s like my whole job. [Playing pretend is] my entire job.”
How was it working with Oakes and Oona?
They’re awesome. They’re the best. I mean, I feel like they say, ‘Don’t work with children and animals.’ Yes, maybe sometimes [with] animals it’s a little unpredictable, but every experience that I’ve had working with kids has been so calm and relaxed and focused and inspiring. And these kids in particular, they’re like not kids. Many times, I would ask Oakes and Oona for advice, like if I was trying to figure something out, I’d just be like, ‘Guys, what should I do?’ And they would always have the best suggestions. And Oakes is going to be a little filmmaker. And Oona’s going to be president, so that’s awesome.
What was the reaction of you family and friends when you were cast in this movie?
My sister cried, because we were so into the original ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ And then it was that kind of complicated moment where I’m like, ‘Well, but it’s not a remake. It’s a reimagining. Let me describe what a reimagining is and what it is not. But I really wonder what it’s going to be for my kids’ generation, because I think for us we love the original movie. And the original movie, I feel like it [has] a little bit of a cult following; it’s not like it was super mainstream. But all of us that had the ratty-tatty VHS copy, we were really into it. So I think that it will be really interesting to see the two different perceptions of it.
Do you turn to your dad for advice?
Yes and no. Sometimes. I always forget to have officials conversations with him like can you teach me about something. He thought me one thing that was very helpful that I still struggle to understand, he sat down and explained to me about ‘crossing the line’ on filmmaking. He mostly gives excellent advices with family and raising kids. He has a unique insight into that.
How was it like to be working with Robert Redford?
It’s crazy, because he’s like this regular, very cool, awesome guy, that you would want to work with every single day. And it’s a relaxing experience. It’s not intimidating. But then there’s this other side, where you’re like, ‘You’re the greatest entertainment entrepreneur of all time. You created Sundance and you’re an iconic actor and director and producer.’ He’s an exceptional human being, and so it’s this huge privilege to be in his presence, but then he’s also a cool dude to chill with, as well.
Disney’s Pete’s Dragon opens tomorrow, August 12, 2016.
For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham, played by Robert Redford, has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete, portrayed by Oakes Fegley. Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. And from Pete’s descriptions, Elliott seems remarkably similar to the dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories. With the help of Natalie , an 11-year-old girl whose father Jack owns the local lumber mill, Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon. The film also stars Oona Lawrence, Wes Bentley, karl Urban, and more.