Ron Howard talks about how he refused to make anyone a villain in his vibrant new film ‘Rush’

TORONTO – The last time Ron Howard and I spoke was in a screening room after a rough-cut screening of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” and to say that it was a very different vibe than when we sat down to talk about “Rush” would be an understatement. “Rush” is one of the best things he’s done as a director, and one of the things that makes it so exciting is the way it eschews Hollywood formula in its attempt to tell the complicated story of the relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

In the film, Chris Hemsworth stars as James Hunt, and Daniel Bruhl gives a complicated performance as Lauda, a difficult man to like under the best of circumstances. In the easy Hollywood version of the film, you make Hunt the good guy, you make Lauda the bad guy, and you play the season as the story of how the Rock Star beat the Rat. Screenwriter Peter Morgan was so drawn to the story that he wrote it on spec, and he didn’t take that easy path with the characters. Instead, both men are shown to have strengths and weaknesses, and the entire season is suspenseful because there’s no one we’re rooting for in favor of someone else. It becomes a story about the way your worst enemy can drive you to be a better person because of what it ignites in you.

When we sat down, Howard asked me where we’d met before, and I told him I was the artist formerly known as Moriarty, which immediately made everything drop into place for him, and we had a great relaxed chat. I could spend way more time than this talking to him about the arc of his career and the way he has tried so many different things in so many different styles. I do think he has a knack for exploring the way people relate in extreme workplace situations, and “Rush” is a great example of that.

But more than anything, I wanted to talk to him about the adventurous approach to the way he shot the races. Remember, this is a guy whose first feature as a director was called “Grand Theft Auto.” Cars and speed are important to him, and he raised his game in a way I didn’t expect when working with Anthony Dod Mantle on “Rush.”

It was great to speak to him, and I hope sometime we get a chance to do a more significant interview. I have a feeling we could dig deep and find all sorts of great things to discuss.

“Rush” arrives in theaters September 20, 2013. You can read my review here.