It’s hard to imagine Opie Taylor’s daughter in an unnerving sex scene. Almost as hard as it was for Bryce Dallas Howard to imagine herself doing it.
The 24-year-old actress — whose father, director Ron Howard, played two of TV’s most wholesome characters, Opie in “The Andy Griffith Show” and Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days” — bares it all in Lars von Trier’s Cannes Film Festival entry “Manderlay.”
“I’m a bit of a prude,” Howard said, describing her reticence over the scene, a strange combination of violent passion and detached lovelessness between her character and a former slave played by Isaach De Bankole.
“I coped with doing it because I trusted and continue to trust what Lars does,” Howard said in an interview at the luxurious Hotel du Cap near Cannes. “I felt like it was a really important scene, and this film is bigger than who I am and my own kind of ego and my own prudishness.”
The film is the second in von Trier’s trilogy about America, with Howard taking over the role originated by Nicole Kidman in “Dogville.”
In “Manderlay,” Grace, her gangster-father and their entourage discover an Alabama plantation where whites still own black slaves, 70 years after the Civil War. Grace plays emancipator in a well-intentioned though naive attempt to build a democratic community.
Sex scene trepidationIn terror over her sex scene, Howard said she went through it in a hypnotic state. After the first take, “I was kind of curled up in a fetal position, and Lars said, ‘Well, I got Grace’s pain in that take,”’ Howard said, laughing.
She excused herself and went to the bathroom to collect her thoughts.
“I said, ‘All right, you have to do this. It’s ridiculous for you to have issues with this,”’ Howard said. “Just view it as if you’re doing a sketch on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and this is funny, because I’ll do anything to be funny, and most people will. They’ll do ridiculous things that they can’t be held accountable for.
“So that’s what happened. I just started to look at it as some sort of comedic scene. Just in my head. And interestingly enough, Lars kind of felt that. The scene wasn’t written funny at all, but there are some really eccentric and absurd moments in that scene that people tend to chuckle at.”
An unknown when von Trier cast her to replace Kidman, whose schedule prohibited her from continuing the trilogy, Howard later shot to leading lady status with M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller “The Village.”
“She was kind of glowing and very charming,” von Trier said of Howard about their first meeting. “She mastered all these different things needed for the role. She could kind of be quite tough and also she had that sentimental side.”
More than Ron’s daughterBefore her film career took off, Howard had focused on stage work after studying acting at New York University.
“Not that I wasn’t interested in film,” Howard said. “I just didn’t have access to it.”
How can Ron Howard’s daughter not have access to Hollywood?
“In my opinion, there’s no room for nepotism, because there are so many talented people. I just didn’t have the opportunities,” Howard said. “A couple of the film auditions I did go on were for very, very, very small roles, I’m talking like one line, and I was not extraordinary. So why would they have any reason to bring me back for bigger roles?”
Then one night after a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” in New York, in which she played Rosalind, Howard found Shyamalan waiting. He told her how much he enjoyed the performance, and three weeks after the play closed, Shyamalan cast her in “The Village” as Ivy, a spirited blind youth who faces down the monsters of her imagination on a journey from her isolated community to the cruel world outside.
Howard did not even have to audition.
“He’s crazy, obviously to do that, but I can get why,” Howard said. “Because what he was looking for in Ivy was something I was randomly focusing on for my Rosalind. … That’s what he would have been looking for in an audition, and I guess he felt because I was trying to do that every night, he didn’t need me to replicate that again.
“I think he was looking for an innocence and simultaneously someone with a strength and humor. The Rosalind I created, she was very young and very innocent and not easily wounded. Very determined and very strong, but also there was a lightness, a bubbliness to her.”
Howard is playing Rosalind again in Kenneth Branagh’s film version of “As You Like It,” now shooting in London. After that, she reteams with Shyamalan for “Lady in the Water,” which she calls a combination fantasy, romantic comedy and thriller, playing a water nymph discovered in a swimming pool by a building super (Paul Giamatti).
For “Wasington,” the final part of his U.S. trilogy, von Trier said he is interested in featuring both Kidman and Howard, one as Grace, one as her sister.
“That would be amazing,” Howard said. “I’m so glad he’s actually been talking about that, because the more the talks about it, the more it might actually happen.”