Never has there been a more opportune time for a remake of the 1977 Disney movie Pete’s Dragon. Not only are remakes in high demand these days, dragons aren’t doing too bad for themselves, either. Star Bryce Dallas Howard seems aware of this, but she mostly seems drawn to other opportunities offered by her latest gig. After starring in another gigantic reptilian creature-laden remake just last year, Jurassic World, Howard seems excited to live out her lifelong passion for make believe in the new film from writer/director David Lowery.
Pete’s Dragon is not only playing to a current fascination with dragons, but to Howard’s lifelong interest in the same. She’s a dragon person, through and through, and is so enchanted by the invention of fantastical worlds that she finds herself enrapt in conversations on the subject with just about anyone — Uber drivers included.
Below, Howard gives us the skinny on her penchant for the fire breathers of legend and on her affinity for projects like Pete’s Dragon and Jurassic World.
Dragons seem to have, more than any other mythical creature, really stayed consistent in pop culture. They’re everywhere. Everyone is into dragons. Were you into dragons as a kid — or now?
There is so much mythology around dragons. I remember, it must have been… I’m wondering if I had done Jurassic [World] or I had done Pete’s Dragon yet. I don’t think I had. And I saw something on the Discovery Channel that was like, “Dragons were actually real!” And I remember I got totally immersed in this series. Just wondering, “Were dragons actually real?” And, of course, it was a little bit of a mislead.
I think it’s the idea of a mythical creature like this that — unlike dinosaurs, which were obviously real — with this idea of the fantastical. These dragons have powers, or are imbued with these supernatural abilities. It covers the spectrum going from absolutely terrifying creatures not to be trifled with to, in this case, a little boy’s best friend and family. I think that’s what’s also amazing when it comes to dragons. The interpretation of what a dragon is is so varied. When they told me that Elliot was going to have fur as opposed to scales, I remember thinking, “That’s so interesting!” That’s kind of an indication of, “Friendly dragon!” [Laughs.] This is a dragon you want to cuddle with. And yet it is still a dragon. We’re definitely having a dragon moment, with, you know, Mothers of Dragons and Pete’s Dragon.
I was going to ask if you were a Game of Thrones person. I knew this conversation would get there at one moment or another.
Oh my gosh, yeah. Absolutely. But I do need to say my Game of Thrones disclaimer: I think it’s incredible, I think it’s extraordinary. I got a few seasons in and I just started having the most intense nightmares. And I was like, “I think I’m too sensitive for this.”
What kind of nightmares?
Let’s not get into it. Let’s stay on the Disney bus. [Laughs.]
There’s a moment in this film when you first meet Elliot the dragon and you’re staring at him in awe. Obviously, outside of the movie, I know you were looking at nothing. But what did you invent in your mind to create the kind of awe we saw in your face there?
Sanford Meisner, this iconic, old-school acting teacher, had this great quote: “Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” I was actually saying this to an Uber driver yesterday. He was asking some questions. And I told him that it’s really weird, because when you see the movie — obviously, when you’re shooting it, you’re not actually seeing before your eyes what you’re imagining in your mind’s eye — but when you see the movie, there’s kind of that novelty of like, “Oh, this is what it is!” And it’s so much fun to see that for the first time, but it’s often not very different from what you’ve imagined. It’s kind of this strange, magical thing that happens. And I had this on Jurassic World as well, where suddenly my memories of the experience of shooting had what ultimately was onscreen in my mind. Does that make sense?
Now, when I remember those scenes and I remember those moments, because I’ve seen Pete’s Dragon, I kind of remember it as if Elliot was there, because that’s what I was imagining. It’s this very tricky thing, what it does to your memory. What I kind of remember was imagining what I ultimately saw. So that’s it. It’s like playing pretend as a kid in your backyard. If you think back on those memories as a child, of course you know that you’re not actually seeing those things, but the way you remember it, you feel like you were seeing them. And if someone now gave you a picture and was like, “Yep, this is what was going on in your backyard,” and it was pretty much exactly what you were imagining, you would probably think back on that time with those memories more full and more vibrant and more reflective of what was in your mind’s eye versus what was in reality. That was the most confusing answer that I’ve ever given anybody in my entire life. Did that make sense?
I appreciate how cerebral it was, and that there were Uber drivers involved.
Yeah! We were talking about this yesterday: “Once I see the movie, it goes in there, and it changes all my memories, like it was really there!”
You brought up Jurassic World, which I think was the most recent movie you were in before this…
Yeah. Before that it was The Help. There was a big gap.
Following Jurassic World, there were a lot of cracks on the internet about your character running in heels — “Why didn’t they give her real shoes?” — and discussions about sexism and feminism. Here, your character is really leading the adventure. You’re a park ranger, and the chief authority on everything going on. I was wondering if this was something that you were conscious of, or hoping to get more of out of this particular, if all that was something that had gotten back to you.
Oh, no! Not necessarily. Not at all, actually. I wasn’t aware of that at all. But I do feel that playing characters that are experts or that are in a position of authority, or whatever… It’s just who they are as human beings, and who they are as characters. It was definitely fun playing a park ranger. It was great getting to spend basically all of my time outdoors. In a way where that’s where the character seemed at home, as opposed to what you were explaining as an example, what we really needed to demonstrate in Jurassic World was that the character was not at home in nature. This is someone who was in her element when she was in a corporate environment, and not outdoors, where it’s obviously great and completely the opposite.
The Help is probably the first movie I think about when I think about your acting, but after hearing you talk so much about this kind of imagination, I’m wondering if Pete’s Dragon and Jurassic World were the kind of movies that made you want to get into acting in the first place.
I would say it’s all of the above. It’s kind of like with writing or with journalism, in your case. You want to explore it all. You discover where your heart lies based on what you’re doing. I’ve always kind of stayed open, because I’ve seen my dad and my grandparents and my uncles go through this, where some project comes up and the first response is, “Oh, phooey.” And then, by chance, or however things unfold, they end up doing the project and it ends up being one of their favorite things that they’ve ever done.
For me, you kind of just follow what in the moment feels right to you, or feels exciting, or you feel charged by. Sometimes it’s things that you would never really be a part of, or think that you would endeavor upon. And it ends up being incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to some very important, central desire that you’ve had since you were a child. Going back to that example of being a kid running around in my backyard, imagining dragons or dinosaurs or superheroes or future worlds — any of these things, of course — the ethic was always explored in my backyard. As an adult as well, there are more thematic issues that you want to explore. Deeper things that make us reflect upon our own humanity or our history or anything like that, and it might be something really different than what I thought I’d want to do as a kid but is actually exactly what I want to do as an adult. So, basically the answer to your question is, I like it all!