Bryce Dallas Howard on the pursuit of happiness
When it comes to manifesting (the idea of intentionally creating what you want), you probably fall into one of two camps: it’s either nonsense, or we’ve just reminded you to update your journal. Bryce Dallas Howard was manifesting before manifesting was even a thing, taking it up on the set of 1992 epic Far & Away, directed by her father, Ron. So, who got the Hollywood superstar into it? A spiritual teacher? An A-list family friend? The film’s stars, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman? The truth is rather more prosaic: a teamster (or, as we’d say in Britain, a driver).
Bryce, 38, reveals, “As he was driving me to set one day he started talking about making affirmations and manifestations. I always carry a journal with me and I literally wrote it down. I reference it all the time. He taught me that. I was, like, 11. Incredible, right?” It’s something that would change her life.
Fast forward to her student years at New York University and Bryce bumped into a gentleman called Seth Gabel. “He was 18, I was 19, and I broke into hives. I was with one of my best friends, who later ended up marrying us, who turned to me and said, ‘What just happened, Bryce? You are red and blotchy right now!’ I was like, ‘Look at that boy! Look at that boy!’ I found out his name, went home and wrote in my journal: this is the man I am going to marry.” You might be quite emotional right now. After all, what a perfect, beautiful story. And then Bryce punctures the moment with a one-liner: “And then I proceeded to stalk him.” And she unleashes one of the most heart-swelling laughs imaginable, a sonic boom of giddiness.
That’s because Bryce is pure joy. Our conversation is akin to basking in sunshine. And there’s no filter: she speaks from the heart and with such passion and warmth that it makes for a surprisingly emotional hour (admittedly, only Balance wept). Except we don’t talk for our allotted hour. We talk for much longer. When our hour is up, her publicist does what any good publicist does and flags the time. “We’re good!” she beams, and we carry on yapping.
Now, Bryce is obviously joking when she says “stalk”, although she did find out Seth would also be at a certain party in Brooklyn and picked an outfit for the bash. “I decided to wear my prom dress. No irony whatsoever. Totally, sincerely, this is the appropriate attire. Everyone else was in cut-off shorts.” She adds “A few weeks later, I found out that he was in a show, so I went with one of my friends who knew him. I absolutely fell in love with him while watching this show. Oh my gosh, he was so good and I went home and couldn’t get him out of my mind. So I went to a midnight showing of Hannibal (the 2001 sequel to The Silence of the Lambs) by myself, and still couldn’t get him out of my mind. Then I called one of my friends and asked for his number. She said, ‘I know you don’t drink so you’re not drunk, but do not call him right now!’ It was 2am and I instantly called him and left a message on his answering machine.”
Seth found her behaviour “weird”, but his room-mate Dane Charbeneau insisted she was “cool” and the pair remain blissfully, happily married with two children. Karma also tapped Charbeneau on the shoulder: he is Bryce’s writing partner and years later would marry her sister, Jocelyn. “Everyone fought for it,” she enthuses. “Everyone stayed in the game, tried their best; it is beautiful to step back and be like, ‘Woah, this worked! People started lives, people are in love, children were born! How exciting to participate in this thing called life.’”
Bryce also recently found a poster of Seth’s show, which revealed the date she fell in love with him is the same date as their first son’s birthday. “In sane,” she professes, and guffaws again. “We’ve been together now for 18 years and I was saying to Seth isn’t it amazing that these feelings have worked out more often than not? What beautiful confirmation to follow those clues and those feelings. It’s not exactly the way you imagine things unfolding but, when you step back almost 20 years later, you’re like ‘What?!’ It’s magnificent.”
SEARCHING FOR THE POSITIVES
Given she is as happy and positive as she is, it seems unfathomable that post-natal depression should strike the way it did once her ftrst child, Theo, was born in 2007. And, if a positive can be taken from such dark times, it’s that we can all share our experiences to help one another. Although one individual proved less than helpful at the time. “I had someone tell me – when I was super-depressed and trying my f*cking hardest with Theo, before I read books, before I looked it up online and before I began to come to terms with the fact that something giant has shifted out of my control and my life would never be the same – I had someone literally tell me: ‘No, Bryce. You’re not depressed. You’re just not a natural mother.’ At that moment in time, that was someone trying to cause harm.” And it’s a lesson to us all: if there is someone negative in your life, you need to let them go. Sorry. They’re off the list. No good. Be gone.
Bryce is a fan of the internet and sees it as a force for good because it means we can help one another. “Thank god for people sharing their experiences because it allows other people to do the same. And then also thank god for people asking others to share their experiences because that gives people permission to share, too.
“It was so crazy for me. I was so excited to be a parent and excited to start my family. I had been a nanny, worked in daycare, was the oldest of four siblings and all my cousins and was so madly in love with Seth and married to him.
“I really had no reason to believe that it would be anything other than this euphoric experience. Yes, I knew I would be tired and that it would be hard and painful, but I did not think that I was going to struggle with mental health to the degree that I did. Never ever. I believed in being able to get yourself into a state where you could overcome that, but at that time I was not able to and it was such a struggle. The only reason I got out of it was from getting educated, getting more information and people reaching out.
“So, even now, when Beatrice was born (in 2012), an even bigger shift had happened and it’s a good time for human beings. We are able to connect and find these truths and rise above and break through any bullsh*t and false or negative things that are stopping us from being able to heal.”
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR
You might think Bryce Dallas Howard is a Hollywood star purely because of her family name: there’s Oscar-winning dad Ron, actor uncle Clint (a cult hero for film fans), grandfather Rance Howard (a brilliant character actor who passed away in 2017), and grandmother Jean Speegle Howard, who enjoyed a wonderful career renaissance in her 60s and 70s. Yet it was Jean who warned Bryce about the perils of the profession. After all, as any actor will tell you, the odds of making it are not good.
“My grandparents were very frugal; they grew up in Oklahoma during the depression and its aftermath, so they really were very careful with money.” During one family holiday, grandma said to a young Bryce “You know, the average working actor – which means they’re consistently working – is successful in one in every 64 auditions.” Rather than scare her, this inspired Bryce. Knockback after knockback came but, thanks to having that ‘one in 64’ figure at the forefront of her mind, she carried on unbowed. “When I started auditioning I was mentally keeping track and didn’t get discouraged. It took a lot of auditions, but I had context and perspective.
“There are so many privileges inherent with the way I grew up, but I would say one of the biggest was knowledge; the fact I actually knew what it looked like to work. I had this idea failure, rejection and all that stuff was not such a scary thing; it’s just the process. Every day it’s your job just to turn up and audition. My grandfather used to say ‘a day when you audition is a day you get to act’. That mindset really enabled me to stay positive, optimistic, focused and see things from a sensible perspective.”
Another positive role model is dad, Ron, a man more American than apple pie. He enjoyed child stardom through The Andy Griffith Show and super-stardom via the iconic Happy Days in the 1970s before he found his groove as a director: A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man and Apollo 13 are masterpieces. And it’s Ron who part-inspired a feature documentary, Dads, that Bryce is directing, championing good men.
“My dad is a decent human being. This sums him up: my grandfather was such a great dad and my dad revealed to me one of his greatest fears was he would never be as good a father as his own dad. Most people fear ‘what if I’m a terrible father, like my dad?’ For my dad to have truly been worried, and the fact he’s been insecurely striving for that, means he has been an outstanding father.
“I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many men who have treated me with respect and have loved me unconditionally, lifted me up and encouraged me. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve loved making this documentary, because I love good men. A lot of the guys who were considered nerdy, or dorky or shy, those are actually our heroes and the men we need to model ourselves after.”
And from one enduring male icon to another: Elton John. In new film Rocketman, Bryce plays Elton’s mum. “When I got to the UK, I went up to the border control people and they asked why I was here. I said it was for a job. They asked what kind of work I do. I say I’m an actor. They ask which movie. I say Rocketman. They ask what it’s about. I say Elton John. They ask, ‘Who are you playing?’ I’m playing his mother. Every single time, their faces would light up and they’d be like ‘Come on inside! Welcome to the UK!’ He’s a national treasure and so loved. It’s a privilege to be a part of telling his story in any way.”
Bryce also has praise for the star, Taron Egerton. “Taron was so close to him; you could see there was a real sense of responsibility and a lot of integrity. When Taron was on set, he was Elton John. It was this exciting process where we were given the blessing of an icon and it was our job to sustain the energy and build on it. Taron was just brilliant.”
Before we go, Balance vaguely remembers something from an old episode of David Letterman’s talk show, and Bryce confirms it to be true: “My middle name is Dallas because that’s where I was conceived. But I didn’t know that! Then, when I was in first grade, my dad went on David Letterman. I came into school the next day and some kid was like, ‘Your middle name is Dallas. I know why that’s your middle name: because your mommy and daddy had sex in Dallas.’ Oh my god! It was like a horror film!”
It’s oddly reassuring that any dad can embarrass their kids. Even if your dad is Ron Howard.
Rocketman is in cinemas from 22 May