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The Dilemma - Ron Howard interview

Ron Howard directs The Dilemma

Interview by Rob Carnevale

RON Howard talks about the appeal of working alongside Vince Vaughn on ‘what if’ comedy-drama The Dilemma as well as working with Winona Ryder.

He also talks about his career to date and why he never wants to look back with any regrets, so keeps seeking to maximise the opportunities he’s given.

Q. So, I gather The Dilemma started life as a dinner party conversation?
Ron Howard: Well, that’s kind of the simple anecdote. I think it’s an idea that [producer] Brian Grazer had for a while. It kind of jumped into his head as almost a personal joke. I think he was wondering what would happen if he saw my wife with another guy. What would it do to our friendship? What would it do to our business that we share? He mentioned it at a dinner party and it really grew. Initially, it just got chuckles.

People started talking about it and it got laughs. People started imagining absurd situations and then you get kind of serious about it, so it occurred to us that it was a really interesting question to posit and a jumping off place for a comedy. Once Vince Vaughn heard about it and wanted to put his stamp on it I think it made sense to both of us.

Q. It’s kind of a perfect fit for him as well because he almost now specialises in comedies that derive humour from the imperfections that beset most relationships…
Ron Howard: Yeah, and those uncomfortable moments that get somehow slightly mis-handled… usually by him and sometimes by others! So, that was the core of our comedy. But Vince is a very smart guy and there was nothing formulaic about this. It really was an exploration of the predicament.

Q. So, what was it like working with Vince?
Ron Howard: He’s very creative, he’s very smart and he’s a very unique personality. He sees the world in a particular way… sometimes you kind of wonder where his logic is leading him and then it comes round to a place where it winds up adding up but it’s logic, but it’s his particular logic. So, you sort of want to share it and say: “Yeah, I see the point he’s driving at and it makes sense.”

Q. How much is the free take a gift to a director? Or can it be a curse?
Ron Howard: Oh, it’s only a gift… in a movie like this especially. If Vince was doing Frost/Nixon he wouldn’t have wanted to do the improvising. He’s a very disciplined guy and he’s a good actor. But this is a case where I think the more honest the performance is the better. I expected the comedy to get hotter, edgier and funnier in those improv moments and it did. But also the personal moments become a little more keenly observed and maybe a little more emotional. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

Q. You didn’t have any dilemmas about which take to use?
Ron Howard: Usually the take kind of popped out. But I also shoot enough coverage and I had the advantage of sharing it with the audience… you know, the best of two or three of those free takes. My editors are really great at editing performances as well. So, they had a field day with Vince. But the other actors also took to this and brought a lot of themselves to the roles in ways that I think really benefited our story.

Q. What was it like working with Winona Ryder?
Ron Howard: She’s fun… I didn’t realise what a film historian she is. It’s practically like talking to Scorsese! She’s much more of a cinephile than I’ll ever be. But she also knows an awful lot about certain TV shows that she loves… and music. She’s very well read. She loves storytelling, she loves communication and she seems very happy with her place in all of it. It was great to see her in a role as complicated, interesting and unexpected as this. I think that if you’re a fan of hers, it’ll surprise you but won’t disappoint you.

Q. What was it like for you going back to something more light-hearted like your earlier films?
Ron Howard: That was fun. It was playful but it wasn’t mindless. It’s a comedy drama. And so the scenes were interesting because they remained relatable. But life itself gets pretty outrageous at times. And now you run it through the filter that Vince created and you can imagine it going to all kinds of places. It’s fun as a director to watch the audience with the movie because it really becomes kind of alive and I think they’re genuinely surprised by a number of the terms and the nature of some of the comedy moments too. They get pretty out there.

Q. As one of the biggest directors in Hollywood at the moment, how do you pick your projects because you’re not genre specific?
Ron Howard: No, I’m not. And I wouldn’t want to sort of narrow that. I’m really enjoying being able to experiment. I try to find movies that I think will resonate with audiences. I try to look for situations that seem fresh and a little different. It’s kind of risky because it’s the furthest thing from manufacturing entertainment for people. But I like it that way and I try to find characters that, whatever the tone, and whether it’s even a fantasy… characters and situations that I think I understand how to comment on or work through. And that’s in addition, of course, to whatever the actors are going to bring.

Q. You mentioned that you’re not as much of a cinephile as Winona Ryder, yet your career is amazing. It began as a child actor alongside John Wayne [in The Shootist], included Happy Days, you’ve directed some classics, won Oscars… you must have some great anecdotes…
Ron Howard: You know, I bridge a few generations of high profile film and television people, and there’s a real common thread there, which is a kind of respect for the medium and the audience, and a passion to fulfil the possibilities. You know, the best people never phone it in. And one of the things that I liked about getting back to a comedy was not so much to get to the familiar territory, but to find a story that would yield laughs, but make its point and ask its questions that you couldn’t make on auto-pilot. So, it was a fun challenge.

Q. But do you still have pinch me moments? I mean, I imagine that people like Clint Eastwood are on speed dial? What’s it like being Ron Howard, I guess?
Ron Howard: [Smiles] I’m really gratified. Not to be corny but when you address a question like that I’m very grateful and I recognise that my life could have gone in all kinds of ways. It’s gone this way. I’m trying to maximise that as much as possible so that I don’t ever look back and say: “I wish I would have worked a little harder.” Or: “I wish I would have dug a little deeper.” And I’m also trying to remind myself, too, that I don’t want to get to a point where I might say: “I wish I would have taken a break and enjoyed the world a bit.”

So, I’m trying to find that equilibrium and I use movies to do that. So, that’s another thing that I like about working in the different genres… is that I get to do the Dan Brown movies [The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons] and I find myself in The Louvre and stealing shots on the edge of The Vatican and all kinds of things. On Apollo 13 virtually took me into space; Frost/Nixon into the mind of a President of the United States and this incredibly brilliant journalist.

You know, these are all worlds and situations that I wouldn’t have necessarily considered and, hey, even on The Dilemma I’ve definitely learned some things about truth, about the kind of soul searching of how far you need to go to stand up and what risks you want to take to discuss with people you care about, even if it’s really touchy subjects. It was also creatively incredibly inspiring to work with Vince and see what that sort of improv energy could bring to an entire movie.

Read our review of The Dilemma

Read our interview with Jennifer Connelly