Grace is a quality that cannot be fabricated. Beauty can be doctored, good humor can be affected, but true grace is only born of nature, and it has a profound effect on those who encounter it.
Bryce Dallas Howard is blessed with natural grace. Quick to smile, with a face that is vaguely reminiscent of her father’s, and quick to laugh, with an infectious optimism, Bryce possesses that rare one-two punch: inner and outer beauty. Because no one can deny that this woman is gorgeous. Yet when she speaks of photo shoots and filming, her preoccupation is not with her own visage, but rather with the underlying artistry. “One of the major joys of being an actress is to be the subject of various artists’ ways of expressing themselves.
It’s exciting… it’s something I celebrate and love.” We’re not dealing with your run-of-the-mill starlet, chasing dreams and bright lights. “It’s wild that I’ve actually been able to have a career and sustain my income for nine consecutive years as an actress. Emotionally, I was fully prepared to not make a living. My parents drilled it into me just not to have those expectations.” Perhaps she has her parents to thank for her practicality. They certainly managed to raise a woman who is extremely conscientious, intuitive, and intelligent.
Those qualities are most apparent when Bryce starts to talk about things that excite her interest outside the film studio. “There are different organizations that I have been involved in that I am so moved by, but I also have recently discovered some remarkable philanthropies.”
She first mentions FINCA, a micro-financing organization that provides small business loans for start-up business owners, particularly women, in third-world countries. A group of women with separate businesses forms a collective and takes out a group loan from FINCA. Then they hold each other accountable to pay off the loan. “It allows them to start their businesses, which actually begins to solve a lot of various problems.” Children are more likely to be educated, quality of life improves, and even powerful local terrorists’ fear-mongering begins to be undermined when a woman and her family are empowered. “FINCA enables women to support their families. This also marks a decline in abuse within the families. Typically what happens is that the husband begins to work for the wife, because the business is flourishing so significantly. It causes a shift in the dynamic of the relationship; a mutual respect is formed.” And since many of the fledgeling businesses are based in the domestic arts, local culture is fostered as well. “Traditions are passed on from mother to daughter, be it cooking or an art form or husbandry – all these traditions are staying alive.”
Bryce also has an interest in biodynamic farming, a multivalent sustainable method of producing farm goods, based on the writings of the turn-of-the-century philosopher Rudolf Steiner. “I’m like a baby – like a fetus – in my understanding of biodynamic farming, but it’s viewing farming as a living organism that must have a symbiotic relationship with every aspect of itself.
Anything grown on this land must be made in relationship to everything else that is being grown.” The complexity of the system enables year-round farming, solving multiple problems faced in agrarian America. “I’m obsessed with the notion of biodynamic farming.
This is so fantastic for the farmers. It will keep their soil sustainable for multiple seasons, keeping these families afloat financially. And environmentally, it doesn’t destroy the topsoil.” Bryce is just as interested in the man behind this philosophy. “I went to a bookstore run by Rudolf Steiner scholars. He was a prolific writer.” She speaks of the bookstore visit with a certain amount of awe in her voice, something like a kid in an intellectual candy shop. “There were books about the human heart, architecture, biodynamic farming, raising children conscientiously, even the Old Testament. He was so, so profoundly prolific. It’s incredibly inspiring when you start to look into a subject and you go to the root of it and you see a cannon of work that various. To see someone that brilliant and that invested in manifesting their brilliance in specific and measurable ways – it inspired me to up my level of productivity.
“What’s so brilliant about these ideas and the philosophies behind them is that they’re solutions for multiple different problems.” Powerful movements that teach a new order and make big change. But Bryce wasn’t always quite so inspired by the world’s political possibilities.
When she was in her early 20s, she took note of a marked apathy, cynicism, and resignation, both in herself and in her peers, when it came to politics and the country. And then her optimism kicked in. “What’s so extraordinary about this country is that you can really fight for your beliefs. I felt like people were rolling their eyes at that.” So she wrote a manifesto and emailed it to everyone she knew. “I wrote of my hope that a leader would emerge that would galvanize my generation into feeling like they have a voice, and they can be heard, and they can make a difference.”
Recognizing the wide range of political views and impressions in the nation, Bryce makes a beautifully open-minded, accepting statement: “No matter where peoples beliefs lie, it’s important that they feel empowered.” That manifesto was almost prescient, and she recognizes the more long-term ramifications of America’s most recent presidential race. “People were less apathetic and more proactive. So I think this is an exciting time; revolutionary things are happening, and people are just passionate right now. I think I’m proud to be an American in the 21st century because I feel like Americans are taking a stand for what they believe in. Whether they are liberals or conservatives.”
As a bright and insightful woman, Bryce has begun amassing an impressive oeuvre, playing role after role in films that boast intense underlying messages, from the timeless anxieties of love in As You Like It to navigating the complexities of classism or racism in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond or Manderlay. “I have to say I’m very lucky to have been in the films I’ve been in, because I feel like they typically reflect subjects I’m interested in or characters I want to investigate, or something that I feel connected to that is meaningful to me.” But she also prefers roles in pieces that aren’t too preachy or moralistic. “Because cinema is a fine art, a powerful medium, I’m not interested in being a part of anything that’s too didactic. I would prefer my films not to be selfrighteous.” This sentiment is a reflection of her opinions outside her work, as well. “I don’t have a lot of respect for self-righteous points of view, but I like it when people make an effort to say something. I don’t choose ambiguity, rather specificity.”
As with her photo shoots, she approaches her stage and film roles with the same deference to the gods of art. “What I aspire to is to just be a part of good stories well told. That’s it. I think that’s what’s important. Because if it’s a good story well told then the audience will be empathetic to the circumstances and they’ll feel.
I want to create an opportunity for people to feel.” Bryce was cast as Rosalind in an off-Broadway stage production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It while she was still in school at NYU-Tisch, and had just two weeks to prepare before opening night. Despite the anxieties of an abbreviated rehearsal and being a new member in a re-boot cast, she achieved impressive characterization, which led to her first major feature film role. Director M. Night Shyamalan was in the audience one night, and immediately cast her in his film, The Village, and, later, in his fevered fable of a movie, Lady in the Water.
Bryce will be in the imminent Twilight: Eclipse film, replacing Rachelle Lefevre in the role of Victoria. But she is no stranger to inheriting sequel roles, building on the characterization that was established and first executed by someone else. She had similar experiences with her roles in Manderlay and
Terminator Salvation. “With Twilight, all I wanted was continuity with the character. Stephenie [Meyer] created an incredible character, and Rachelle brought that character to life with a performance that was successful and exquisite. I hope to achieve continuity.”
She’s keeping an incredibly level head, considering the intense following of the Twilight series, and isn’t dwelling on how the cult classic will affect her career.
“I’m excited to see Eclipse as a fan, but my head hasn’t gone there in terms of what it means for me. I stay at home; I do my mom thing. I do some writing and producing. I wouldn’t notice if there was an amp up in publicity.”
It’s a little unexpected that such a pop culture accomplishment doesn’t even seem to rank when compared with being a mom. Bryce is absolutely adamant about one thing: she loves her family.
The daughter of director Ron Howard and his wife of 35 years, Cheryl (“She’s a hard-core matriarch,” says Bryce of her mother), her words regarding her family paint a somewhat Rockwellian picture. “I feel very lucky because that’s a rarity. To have that example in my life, and in the larger context of this business, which is typically a minefield for loyalty and honesty… I have the example of seeing relationships thrive under this industry, which is such a gift. “My heart is with my family, 100%, but I love the movies. I love my job. Producing and writing – it’s extraordinary. I love film. I love storytelling.” So what lies ahead for Bryce, beyond the horizon of Eclipse? Family. Despite finding success in her own sphere, separate from the influences of her father’s success, she says, “my greatest agenda is to work with my dad. In life, I just want to be his apprentice. I’ve wanted that for as long as I can remember. That’s one of my main objectives.” And yet she wants to earn her way to that opportunity.
“Simultaneously, I’m allergic to and horrified by nepotism. I want to work for my dad, with my dad, alongside him, but not because he’s my dad. That’s an interesting duel dynamic.” With eloquence, honesty, and characteristic grace, Bryce shares what she calls “a bit of an epiphany” that she had a few years ago. While pregnant with her son, she had signed on for a role in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, a recently discovered Tennessee Williams screenplay. At the time, Bryce’s thought was, “I can do it all.” But what she came to think was, “I can maybe do it all, but definitely not all at once.”
In a beautiful and serendipitous moment on the last day of filming, after weeks of suffering from doubts and postpartum depression, Bryce had her epiphany. “I was driving into a painted sunset in this 1920’s car, and I was thinking, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ And I swear I heard this voice in my head, and it said, ‘The purpose of the human experience on earth is to move through obstacles with grace.’”
Bryce was deeply affected by this moment, this realization that shifted her self- and world-view. “Life is not meant to be sunny and rosy and perfect. For whatever reason, I’m given obstacles. The question is: can I move through them gracefully.” Here’s where that natural grace will certainly come in handy.