Happy Days

A chat with Bryce Dallas Howard, who stars in Lars von Trier's "Manderlay."

CAP D'ANTIBES — Starlets have reigned at the Cannes Film Festival so far and, among all the bright spots, Bryce Dallas Howard has shown the most promise. As the star of Lars von Trier's "Manderlay," the sequel to "Dogville," Howard steps into the controversial role of Grace (played by Nicole Kidman in the first film two years ago), a gangster's daughter who, after being enslaved in a mining town then killing off her captors, moves to a plantation where slavery still exists. After trying to right the social wrongs she perceives, she ends up enslaving herself, and must resort to dire measures to break free.

In contrast, sheltered in a seaside cabana in the middle of a pouring thunderstorm at the Hotel du Cap here, Howard took a few moments to reflect on her risky role, her famous father and what's next -— including marriage and more movies.

WWD: Was Lars von Trier as much of a nightmare as everyone thinks he is?

Bryce Dallas Howard: No, he's an amazing man and filmmaker. He's a comfort to work with — not something I expected when I was going to Sweden to audition, then make the movie for three months. I was also very surprised to see what a generous human being he is — very gentle, nice and sweet.

WWD: Many critics here have called von Trier's films anti-American.

B.D.H.: I couldn't be in an anti-American film. I am American and I'm very proud of it. I think Lars stands for the possibility of a better future and I want to participate in that any way I can.

WWD: How did you feel about stepping into a role that Nicole Kidman originated?

B.D.H.: I definitely wanted to create my own Grace because it would have been crippling to try and take over from Nicole because of the brilliance of her performance. There was a quality that Nicole had as Grace — she was repressed and quiet and she couldn't express herself fully. That was true in "Manderlay," too, but she's enslaved in "Dogville" and she's empowered in "Manderlay," so it's completely different.
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