Disney’s Pete’s Dragon is not your ordinary reimagining of a Disney classic. Director David Lowery brings a new sense of wonder and imagination to the Disney classic, while still maintaining the themes about a 10-year-old boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) who has lived in the forest with his best friend Elliot, who just so happens to be a dragon. In the film we are introduced to Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger who forges a maternal relationship with the young boy and helps him adjust to living with his fellow humans while also coming to terms with the fact that there has been a dragon living in a forest she regularly patrols.
We were invited to sit down with a group of journalists to talk about the new vision of Pete’s Dragon with Howard, where she shared her experience working on the film with her fellow co-stars. Also talked about below is what you can expect to see in Jurassic World 2 and more.
Geeks Of Doom: Can you talk about how you got involved? I mean it’s a meaty role. You’re a ranger and a mother, so talk about what got you excited for the role.
Bryce Dallas Howard: I first encountered this because I heard that it was happening. I loved the 1977 version, which is so different from this. I mean it’s not even related. I was just curious like how were they doing this. When I got the script, I was really surprised actually how different it was and yet how also moved I was by this story. It felt very sentimental and very emotional, and I was like I want to be a part of this. And eventually, I got to be a part of this, which was fantastic.
So being a ranger. The thing that was my primary focus was that I did not want to over complicate things. I’m an adult character. When I was a kid watching children’s films, even now when I am watching children’s films and it’s a scene between two adults, I’m like “c’mon, get to the dragon!” You know. It was sort of this balance of wanting to be of service to the primary story about a boy and his dragon, and also like I’m an actor and I want to think about my character and I want to figure everything out. So I was kind of twisting myself up and my husband said “Bryce, I think it’s simple. I think you speak to Pete the way you talk to our kids.” The moment that he said that, it was such an obvious thing and the moment I spoke to Oakes [Fegley] with that frame of mind I was like “Oh, okay, she is his mother.” I mean we don’t know that in the beginning.
Geeks Of Doom: You even look like Pete’s mom. While it’s great for Oakes, it’s actually great for Pete because when he looks at you, it’s like he remembers his mom.
Bryce Dallas Howard: It’s really emotional. It’s my first time I’m playing a mother, and for me, the film really isn’t for Grace, it’s about becoming a mother and her kind of stepping into this role. Not in a way where she is resisting, she is a complete character and something else is fulfilled within this story. The ranger stuff is really cool because I love going into the forest. I lived my entire childhood in Connecticut outdoors, except the beauty of New Zealand is that there are absolutely no predators. I was just like “I don’t need to look down. There’re no snakes. There’re no mosquitoes. It was really lovely.”
Geeks Of Doom: When you look at a script, do you look at it with a producer’s eye?
Bryce Dallas Howard: I’ve been told it’s more like a director, a little bit. Even when I’m in a scene as an actor, I guess it’s kind of weird, I refer to characters in the third person. “When she goes over there, and she says this,” or I watch the playback a little bit and I’ll be like “Yeah, you see that, and there I’m kind of losing her,” I think just growing up on set and reading his scripts from that respective as well, I read things objectively. It takes a little while to pull out a character and think who this person is. I’m sort of an outside person looking in.
Geeks Of Doom: During an early preview of the film, you spoke about how Oakes has the potential to become a director. Could you please elaborate on that?
Bryce Dallas Howard: I think that Oakes and Oona both have an intuitive sense both in storytelling but moviemaking specifically. Just having gone through acting school, I am going to over simplify this, let’s say there are two different kinds of actors. There’s the kind of actor who falls in love with the technical part of making a movie and the joy of finding all the pieces and put them all together. Then there is the actor who makes movies from a kind of personal, intuitive, emotional place. They’re there existing and being the character, and the filmmaker is really thinking about the technical things and whatnot. I would say there’s an actor that is obsessed with the technicalities and joys of putting it all together, that person will most likely direct at some point, and that’s what I really saw with Oakes. We shot digital promos with him, and Oakes was asking what lens they were shooting on. No joke. And I was like, you better tell, we’re shooting on a 50.
Geeks of Doom: So do you see yourself directing then? From not only a technical point of view, but from a storytelling point of view.
Bryce Dallas Howard: I’ve never directed a feature. I’ve been directing kind of short films and various incarnations for the last ten years. I love both the technical side and storytelling side, for sure. I didn’t think I understood the technical side until I started working with Canon Camera, and I got the chance for the last four years, I’ve been testing out the prototypes of the emerging technology. So I got to be the first filmmaker to test out the C300, the C500, you know, it’s really cool. Getting to lend my little very, very short film, I shot it on a 5D with Canon Prime lenses. In the ten years that I have been directing, my first short film I shot on film and then my last one on a 5D, there has been so much that has changed and evolved in the last ten years, it is exciting. Our business is still very, very, very young, but the business of storytelling is ancient. It’s kind of merging, and that’s what’s exciting me about filmmaking, it’s that it’s merging these very new tools with this old ancient tried and true storytelling.
Geeks Of Doom: Since you do direct shorts, do you ever get the urge to direct some scenes in the bigger movies that you are in?
Bryce Dallas Howard: No. As an actor, you’re really there to be a vessel for the filmmaker and be a service to the filmmaker’s vision. It’s more a mindset of “am I doing what you’re envisioning.” Like a lot of questions for the director. Obviously, you want to bring ideas to the table so that you can be collaborative. But it’s entirely my job as an actor to come close to the interpretation that the director has. My own kind of private thing, since I fetishize directors, is to just learn what they are doing, what do they know, kind of absorb their particular genius. The gift of being an actor who has an interest in directing is that you get to see a lot of different directors direct in a lot of different ways. I can’t believe the people that I have had the chance to work with and that I have had to learn from.
Geeks Of Doom: So who has been the most influential director you have worked with?
Bryce Dallas Howard: This is going to sound like a cop-out answer, but there are lessons from everyone, and it will change too depending on the kind of movie you are working on and depending on the kind of material you are working on, you will call upon these different memories or different lessons, and you’re like, “how did Eastwood do that,” or “how did Kenneth Branagh deal with this” or “what’s M. Night Shyamalan’s process like?” Because they are so different, there are these different tools that you learn and absorb.
Geeks Of Doom: With Pete’s Dragon and Jurassic World both being very big CGI movies, was one more complicated than the other?
Bryce Dallas Howard: No. Kind of comparable I think. In a weird way I never really thought about this, but they are intimate ensemble pieces in a way, and yet there is this heavy visual effects component to those worlds. Interestingly enough, both Colin [Trevorrow] and David [Lowery] come from a background as independent filmmakers, who still, in the scheme of things, are still very early in their careers. Both sets felt like we are making independent films. It felt so personal, for David, as the filmmaker. Disney was really supporting this. I was like “I love that we are not all in primary colors.” There was a very mature sophisticated sensibility that David lent to this story, and I think it was very beautiful. I feel very similarly that Colin [Trevorrow] brought the same energy to Jurassic World.
Geeks Of Doom: So are you going to have any input in the sequel, because there was some silly controversy about the high heels, where you said you would do the sequel if you could run in sneakers?
Bryce Dallas Howard: That happened before I could ask. The way that Colin told me that there was going to be a sequel is that he texted me, “#NoHeels2018” and I was like “YAY!”
Geeks Of Doom: So could you tell us what it was like working with Robert Redford then?
Bryce Dallas Howard: It’s like the duality of Robert Redford. He’s like this cool guy you are chilling with, and then it’s like this rarified demi-god, this titan. So on set, it was like this cool, relaxed, collaborative, fun, amazing experience. When I went to Sundance, and we had our official directors gathering, and we are all sitting in this very special lodge where no one knows where it is really. It’s like somewhere in the mountains. And then Robert Redford comes out, and I’m like (in a whispering tone) “That’s Robert Redford.” And everyone was lining up to see him. I want to say hi, but I’m nervous, and there was like security guards. I’m like, “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me but…” and he was like “Bryce!.” Sometimes when you do a movie with someone – I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with anyone who is as iconic as Robert Redford, it’s like you have this experience with them that’s a very human, regular experience. But when you see them in the context of everyone else, it’s like suddenly very intimidating. For instance, for the first three days, I didn’t know what to call him, because he was Robert Redford, and it felt really weird calling him Bob. Finally, I was able to say, “what do I call you?” and he went, “Bob.” It’s still, even in this, I have to say Robert Redford because it feels weird for me to say Bob. He’s these two people at all times. It’s crazy.
Pete’s Dragon opens in theaters on August 12.