We had a chance to catch up with Bryce Dallas Howard and talk to her about playing Gwen Stacy in Spiderman 3. She most recently starred in the M. Night Shyamalan film Lady in the Water opposite Paul Giamatti, followed by Kenneth Branagh’s forthcoming adaptation of the Shakespeare classic “As You Like It” for HBO Films, in which she stars as Rosalind opposite Kevin Kline and Alfred Molina. Prior to that, she appeared opposite Willem Dafoe and Danny Glover in the Lars von Trier film Manderlay, the filmmaker’s follow-up to Dogville. Manderlay premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
Howard made her feature film debut starring in the M. Night Shyamalan film The Village opposite Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix, and Sigourney Weaver. After leaving the Tisch School of the Arts program at New York University, Howard immediately began working on the New York stage. Her stage work includes the role of Marianne in the Roundabout’s Broadway production of “Tartuffe;” Rosalind in the Public Theatre’s “As You Like It;” Sally Platt in the Manhattan Theater Club’s production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “House/Garden;” and as Emily in the Bay Street Theater Festival production of “Our Town.”. Here is what she had to say:
Q: You looked great as a blonde.
Bryce: Oh, thank you. They worked very hard in the make-up trailer.
Q: Do blondes have more fun?
Bryce: Is blonde more fun? I don’t know. I was only a blonde for six months and the entire time I was working, but I had a great time working.
Q: You had to read the comic books and take the character from the pages. How hard is that with a comic book character?
Bryce: Not difficult because, primarily, this character was created in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s so there’s been so much analysis done since and so many, almost like thesis papers written about her, so I wasn’t only reading the comic books. I was also reading what everyone thought about her and their beliefs about her. So, I got to have a lot of information from that; their interpretations of her. What was a little tricky to navigate was, in the comic book, what she’s known as is Peter Parker’s first love and, in this franchise, she’s coming in while Peter Parker in still in a very intense, important relationship with Mary Jane. So, I wanted to make sure that, when I came in, I wasn’t acting like some kind of man-stealing tart [laughs]. I was a woman that really, potentially could have that kind of future relationship with Peter Parker. Who knows what will ultimately happen? But, that was the kind of tone that I wanted to create.
Q: Are you signed on for the fourth and fifth films that they’re talking about?
Bryce: Well, I don’t know it it’s happening but, if it is, I absolutely want to do it. I’ll do everything in my power to force them to put me in it. No, seriously, this was an unbelievable experience. In many ways, a life-altering experience. I want to work with these people as much as possible and I hope that it’s on another Spider-Man film. That would be great.
Q: Was having a baby a life-altering experience just like this movie was?
Bryce: After I did this film, I found out that I was pregnant. I had my wedding three days after shooting the film. So, I was definitely thinking a lot about family and creating my life and surrounding myself with great people and, in a way, setting up my future during this film. And, I think the way that the universe works, typically, is that, if you are asking for something like that, it will hopefully provide it. I was astonished by the friendships that came out of doing this film. It wasn’t one, it wasn’t two, it was numerous friendships, very, very important friendships [that last] until today. So, I realized while doing this film, that making movies, even if they’re these huge, potentially very stressful movies, can be a lot of fun and that’s the most important thing in life; that the process is incredible.
Q: How is being a mom? How has that changed your life?
Bryce: It is awesome. It’s still very, very new so I can’t talk like I’m some seasoned mother or anything like that.
Q: What has been the hardest thing and the best thing about it?
Bryce: I’m one of those people that, if there’s something that’s even slightly challenging, I put a positive slant on it because, I’m just so happy right now. What’s been the most fun is literally the feeling of.. [starts to tear up] every single… oh my God, I’m going to get emotional. Like I said, I just had a baby so forgive me. Just every day falling deeper and deeper in love. Today he’s nine weeks old. So, you meet your soul mate and you’re like ‘well, this is it. This is the feeling of falling in love and this is the most intense that it can ever be’. Then you have a child and it’s just like…it’s huge.
Q: Does your husband [actor Seth Gabel] feel excluded now?
Bryce: No, no. I think he’s feeling those same feelings for our son and it’s another thing that joins us even closer together if that’s even possible.
Q: Do you ever just sit there and look at your offspring? Like looking at a little Buddha or something?
Bryce: And stare, yeah. When he was born, we didn’t have his name yet and we named him when he was three days old. We wanted to just kind of look at him and see ‘who is this person?’ Of course, I was very emotional. You just have a child and I kept crying ‘oh, he’s a gift from God, a gift from God’. And I was looking through a name book and I saw the meaning of one of the names and it was ‘gift of God’ and that’s the name Theo and so that’s what we named him.
Q: What is the baby’s full name?
Bryce: Theodore Norman Howard Gabel but we call him Theo.
Q: You get to do quite a lot of stunts in this film. We read that you wanted to do more. Had you always wanted to do an action film?
Bryce: Yeah. With every single film, you have a chance to learn about different things and have different kinds of experiences and I just wanted to take as much out of this as possible and one of those things was the stunts, the physicality of this film. It’s safe. It’s totally safe. The stunt team is not going to let you do anything that’s going to injure you so I really just got to enjoy myself.
Q: What about being the other woman?
Bryce: Yeah, like I said, it was tricky. I didn’t want to come in and not be an accurate representation of the Gwen Stacy character that was created in the comic books where she wasn’t the other woman, so I just wanted to establish that she had a very strong friendship with Peter Parker where she really relied on him in their friendship and then there were some misinterpretations made by Mary Jane that led to some tension in Mary Jane and Peter Parker’s relationship.
Q: Did you film As You Like It before Spider-Man?
Bryce: I filmed As You Like It I think two years ago. I filmed it before I did Lady in the Water.
Q: Is that going to be theatrical or TV?
Bryce: It’s being released, I believe, on HBO which I’m really excited about.
Q: Shakespeare’s one of those challenges you’re talking about.
Bryce: Oh yes, absolutely. Yeah, that was an awesome experience. I can’t wait for that to come out and we’ll get to talk about it.
Q: With motherhood now, do you look at what you want to do professionally a little differently?
Bryce: Yeah, of course. And this is actually advice that my parents gave to me. They said ‘with children’, they have four kids, ‘you really have to be adaptable’, especially if you’re going to have more than one child which, hopefully, I do, I have to see, kid by kid, what their needs are and what kind of a parent I need to be for them. So, of course, I’m re-assessing everything right now. I want to work and, simply put, I need to work and so I will. I’ll be a working mother but what kind of a working mother I am will be dictated by him as he grows.
Q: Are you going to go back to work soon?
Bryce: Well, hopefully I’m going to do a movie in August. So, I’m really grateful that I have a bit of time here to just be with him.
Q: How are your parents with their first grandchild?
Bryce: Oh, [laughs a lot]. My mom has literally referred to him as ‘my son’. She said ‘my son’. I’m like ‘no, no, [laughs]. I didn’t go through this for him to be your son. But, they’re just so happy, so so happy. Because, my brother also just left the house. I’m the eldest of four kids and he just left and it’s been a year and they were at first really excited about it and now they’re just kind of like ‘oooooh, where are the kids?’ So, now is the perfect time.
Q: How is your dad reacting?
Bryce: He’s just so happy. It’s really cute too, to see him walking around the house holding Theo and doing, kind of like these weird, goofy raps for him and stuff like that. It’s so sweet.
Q: What is the movie you are doing in August?
Bryce: It’s a movie called The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. It’s a Tennessee Williams’ screenplay that had never been made before.
Q: Do you have to get in any kind of shape? Is there a deadline?
Bryce: Well, honestly, yeah but this is very brand new right now and my primary responsibility is Theo, feeding him and making sure that he’s growing and that he’s healthy. My focus is not my physique right now. Although, in terms of my health, it will be. And, I’ll know when it’s the right time to start focusing on that more.
Q: When you were a little girl, did you have a comic book heroine or hero?
Bryce: Nobody’s ever asked me that question. I didn’t’ really read comic books with I was a little kid. They weren’t really around at all. And, I didn’t really watch television. Mostly, it was books. There were a lot of heroines in books that my parents read to me.
Q: Like Nancy Drew?
Bryce: Yeah. I loved Nancy Drew, absolutely, yeah.
Q: Did you watch “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Happy Days” when you were a kid?
Bryce: [laughs] Actually, I didn’t watch “Happy Days” when I was a kid but I did watch a few Andy Griffith Shows because my mom thought it was really moral and that we should see it. She also had us watch like “Leave It to Beaver” and things like that.
Q: Did you even recognize your dad?
Bryce: Oh sure, yeah. I think it’s so lucky for myself that I got to see my dad as a little kid. Also, for Theo because my dad is older, I mean, he’s not very old now, but, as Theo grows, he’ll get older and older and for him to be able to see my dad at the same age that he is, is going to be very cool.
Q: What if he gets to be fifteen and says, ‘mom, I want to be an actor’. What are you going to say?
Bryce: [laughs] ‘You can do that when you’re eighteen.’
Q: M. Night Shyamalan has gotten some bad press lately. He kind of got your career started. What have you got to say about that?
Bryce: Well, he is a very dear friend and I owe him so much and I’m so grateful to have worked with him not once but twice and would love to work with him in the future and I think he is a remarkable filmmaker and a great storyteller. Careers, just in general, have peaks and valleys and that’s how it is. I’m used to seeing that. I’m very accustomed to seeing that because I grew up with a filmmaker as my father. So, something like that doesn’t alarm me at all. I know what Knight has up his sleeve and it’s gonna just blow everyone away.
Q: Gwen Stacy is such an iconic figure in the Spider-Man mythos. People are digging for secrets. How has that been for you?
Bryce: It’s tricky a little bit because I want to talk about it. I want to talk about everything because I’m so excited to be a part of it. I’m still even shocked a little bit, that I was in it. It’s just so tremendously cool. But, I also want to preserve the experience for audiences because there are so many expectations and I want to make sure that they go in there innocently and not jaded knowing this or that or the other having feelings or beliefs about that. The way that I’ve always thought about this, it’s almost like if a painter had a blank canvas and at the next canvas, they had a bunch of pots of paint in different colors and somebody came up to it and said ‘oh, I don’t like those colors’ or ‘I love those colors. This is going to be a great painting’. Well, you haven’t seen the painting yet. Just wait till you see the painting. Then you can make your assessment. I try to protect that as much as I can.
Q: Is there a possibility that you’ll go back to work with M. Knight in The Green Effect [also known as The Happening]?
Bryce: Well, right now, he hasn’t talked to me about it so I would say no. But, if he asked me to work with him, I’d work with him in a second, absolutely.
Q: Do you sing?
Bryce: Uh huh.
Q: Do you think you might be interested in the Broadway Musical of Spider-Man, playing Mary Jane?
Bryce: I just heard about that this morning. That is insane. That’s unbelievable. I’m so glad about that because I love these stories and I love what it represents for kids and for families. It’s great for them to be exploring this other medium.
Q: Would you like to do a Broadway show?
Bryce: Well, I’ve done a Broadway show [2003 Played “Mariane” in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of Moliere’s “Tartuffe.”]
But, I’ve never done a Broadway musical. Ooo, I don’t know if I’m that good [laughs]. I don’t know. There are some really stellar singers with some unbelievable voices. I don’t know if I’m quite at that level.
Q: Have you had a chance to compare notes with any other so-called ‘Hollywood moms’ and get advice?
Bryce: Well, one of the most important people during my pregnancy was Jennifer Meyer, Tobey’s fiancée. I practically shadowed her, her entire pregnancy and just copied every single move that she made because she’s an incredibly mindful parent. They both are. I really want to follow their example in every way so I had the same doctor as them, the same mid-wife as them, everything because I knew that they did their research.
Q: What did you like about the character of Spider-Man?
Bryce: What I like about it is there’s this seemingly ordinary character who has every kind of problem that a person could have — financial, romantic, familial problems and social problems — and he gets these extraordinary powers and he uses them solely for contribution to others. I think it’s amazing, watching the movie and seeing him be Spider-Man and going and saving people and everyone is writing these articles about him and all the headlines are about him. Then he comes back to his little, itsy-bitsy apartment. I think, in this day and age, where if someone has an ability, they’ll so quickly turn it into a commodity that can make money, it’s a very powerful message to send out to people; that, when you have something to give, give it and give it freely.
Q: Did you have fun in the comedic scene with the dark Tobey?
Bryce: [laughs] That was just wild to shoot. That was my version of a musical practically. It was so cool because there’s this heightened realism in this film that is very playful. I felt like a little kid. We were practically delirious. We shoot it over the course of four evenings, four night shoots and there’s just the clapping and laughing and music. We were just so hyper the entire time. It was just really, really fun to shoot.
Q: Did you ever think you didn’t want to enter the family business?
Bryce: Well, honestly, in the beginning, when I was in high school and I started getting interested in acting, I thought to myself, ‘oh, God, I’m really setting myself up for a lot of criticism if I actually try to pursue this and if I’m a failure, everybody will be embarrassed by me’. I was pretty insecure about it. But, then I realized ‘well, there’s really nothing else I could do. There isn’t. So I just have to give this my all and whatever the results are, are what they’re gonna be and I can’t really control that’. So, now I have a lot more peace of mind about it, honestly.
Q: You didn’t want to be a doctor or anything like that?
Bryce: [laughs] A doctor? Talk to my biology teacher and you’ll see the answer to that. [laughs]. Uh, no. It’s actually really funny because, with Theo being born, my parents are saying ‘he’s so advanced at this. He’s so advanced at that’. And I’m like very proud and then my mom was like ‘you know, I think you were very slow as a child. You were always very sweet but you were very slow’. I was like ‘thanks, Mom’. [laughs]
Q: Do you go for the family tradition of the conception location for the name?
Bryce: Oh no, no, no. I’m very conventional compared to my parents. His middle name is after my husband’s grandfather. It’s pretty much as conventional as you can get.
Q: What’s the hardest part of being a new parent?
Bryce: At the beginning, the sleeping thing was definitely something to get used to absolutely because he was sleeping with us in our bed and I left the hospital an hour and a half after I gave birth because I had intended to do a home birth and I had to transport to the hospital. My dad actually drove me there and everything ended up being totally fine and natural and great but I didn’t want to stay there, although I have a lot of respect for them and I’m really grateful that we could use them when we needed them. So, I went home very early and it was initially my husband and I and this brand new little baby and right after the new birth you’re kind of busted. You’re just like ‘oh my God’. That was a little thing to get used to, to be like ‘okay, I have to walk over to change your diaper but do I really have to walk?’
Q: Was your dad freaking out driving you to the hospital?
Bryce: He was pretty calm. I was really surprised. He was really calm but we have a great midwife and she said, ‘this is okay. I’m just taking extra precautions’ so we felt very safe and it was. It was a wonderful birth. I also have to say it was very short. The whole birth was four hours and 45 minutes. So, I can’t judge anybody who would ever have an epidural. The entire pregnancy, I was all hippy dippy about it then the first contraction came and I was like ‘are you kidding me? Is this really what this feels like?’ So, whatever a woman needs to do to get through that and make it the best experience for her is exactly what needs to happen.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene from the movie?
Bryce: I have many wonderful memories. I loved the dance scene. I loved doing the crane sequence which was so wild to do. I don’t know. Most of my memories from the set are my interactions and friendships with Topher and with Kirsten and James and Tobey and Sam. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any scenes with Thomas which I was really bummed about because I just respect him so much as an actor. I felt like I was back at college, just like with my friends hanging out, then we’d go do our work and then we’d hang out some more. We had a really good time together.
Q: Did you take any souvenirs from the movie?
Bryce: No, I’m terrible about that. I hardly even take photographs. No, because I have my memories. Sometimes, if I keep things, I get a little bit superstitious if I lose them so I just walk away from a project just with my memories of it.
Q: Have you noticed a change in Tobey since he’s become a father?
Bryce: I wouldn’t say so much there’s been some kind of insane change because he’s always been an unbelievably compassionate person, a very committed person, committed in the sense that he’s committed to the people around him being happy, being supported and loved. Him being a father was even more of a fulfillment of his natural instincts and the natural way that he is in the world. He is incredible. I was calling them just a few days after the birth and he would stay on the phone with me for like an hour or an hour and a half talking through things with me when Jen couldn’t talk because she was nursing or something like that. Now, going through it, because they were three months ahead of me, I was just like ‘how did you have that time? I didn’t call anybody for weeks and weeks.’ I felt like that was very much of a gift for me and my husband.
Q: Was there anything shot with you that was cut out?
Bryce: This was a very big project and they had a lot of footage but everything that they took was absolutely what I would want to see in the film. I couldn’t believe the scope of this film when I saw it; just how huge it was and how ambitious they were and how, in my opinion, they really had an unbelievable result. I love this movie. I think this is a really, really great film.
Q: It seemed like James Cromwell’s character was really underused. Was there a lot more of him shot?
Bryce: I don’t know. I’m not sure about that honestly. I think the tricky thing with this film, probably for Sam and Laura and everyone, was that they brought in these characters that were really known in the comic books and at the end of the day, how long is the film? There’s two hours and twenty minutes to tell this entire story and you have three, four, five new characters. I don’t know if they brought us in with the intention of doing subsequent films or just have these characters in this film to enrich this film, we’ll see, but I think we’re all very, very satisfied with how we came off in the film.