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Happy Days

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

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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.
WWD: How did you feel about the graphic sexuality/love scenes in the film?

B.D.H.: (sighs) It is what it is. If I felt uncomfortable, which I did, that's because of my own ego and my own inhibitions and I'm trying to get over that because it gets in the way of my work.

WWD: How did your father feel about it?

B.D.H.: My parents get it; they are incredibly liberal and they know that things Lars stands for are bigger than my own inhibitions with my body.

WWD: What effect did having a director dad have on you?

B.D.H.: It was great growing up as Ron Howard's daughter because he's a great man. But as far as him being a director, we were raised in Connecticut so we were separated from that world. In the beginning of my career, I used a stage name Bryce Dallas [her middle name and the city where she was conceived] because I didn't want anyone to know who my dad was. Then one day my dad said, 'I get why you do that, but are you not proud of where you come from?' So now it's Bryce Dallas Howard.

I just started watching "Happy Days." It's a toss-up between Fonzie and Richie Cunningham. One's my godfather and one's my father.

WWD: What's next for you?

B.D.H.: I'm flying to London in 30 minutes, where I'm playing Rosalind in Kenneth Branagh's [film version of] "As You Like It." Then I'm going to do another M. Night Shyamalan film called "Lady in the Water," a family film where I play a water nymph. Paul Giamatti plays an apartment superintendent who discovers me in the swimming pool.

WWD: I was actually referring to the huge rock on your finger.

B.D.H.: (blushing) Yeah ... It's a nice addition that I've wanted for about four-and-a-half years and now it's mine. I'll be incredibly boring like most actresses because I don't talk about it. But it's pretty, isn't it?
WWD: Any plans to work with your dad soon?

B.D.H.: I don't know, ask him. And ask in a way that's like, "When are you going to get around to working with Bryce?"
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