Director David Lowery’s reimagining of the much-loved and cherished Disney family film Pete’s Dragon tells the tale of an adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his best friend Elliott, who happens to be a dragon. When a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) comes across a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home, who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon, she turns to her father (Robert Redford) for help in determining where Pete came from and the truth about this dragon.
After a presentation of scenes at the El Capitan that gave a first look at the beautiful friendship between Pete and Elliott, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Bryce Dallas Howard for this exclusive interview about what made her want to be a part of this film, her connection to the original Pete’s Dragon, working with a dragon that isn’t there vs. working with dinosaurs that aren’t there, the most fun moments of the shoot, the biggest challenge on set, and how amazing it was to work with Robert Redford. She also talked about why she’s exciting to reprise her Jurassic World role for the sequel, and why she’s so passionate about turning The Swans of Fifth Avenue into a TV series.
Collider: What was it about Pete’s Dragon that made you want to pursue being a part of this film? Was it the connection you had to it, growing up?
BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: For sure! When my sister found out I was doing this film, she started crying. She knew nothing, but she was like, “Oh, Pete’s Dragon!” That was our family film, that we watched over and over again when we were kids. When I first read the script, it was because I called my agents and said, “Hey, I heard there’s this project. Could I read the script?” I mostly was curious. I was like, “Okay, how are they dealing with this? What are they doing?” And then, when I read it and saw that it wasn’t stepping on the toes of the original film, and it was something that was inspired by the themes of the original film and the title, but other than that, it was a departure, it was beautiful. I was like, “This is cool! This is good!” So, I just kept saying, “I really love it!” And then, six months later, I got a call, out of the blue, from Jim Whitaker, the producer. I’ve known Jim for a very long time, and he was like, “I’m doing this film called Pete’s Dragon, and we want to offer you a part. I’d love to send you the script.” I was like, “Okay, I have some questions. Where is it shooting? What dates? What areas? Okay, I just want to look into schools for the kids.” On the spot, I said, “Yes!”
Obviously, you are not inexperienced in dealing with creatures that aren’t there. How is imagining a dragon, compared to imagining a bunch of dinosaurs? Were there challenges specific to this creature?
HOWARD: Yes. I shot Jurassic World, and then, just a few months later, I shot Pete’s Dragon. I was very much in that world of reptilian fantasy characters, and I kept messing up the whole time. I’d be like, “Okay, where’s the dinosaur? Where is he? No, I mean dragon!” It was a weird thing, where I went from one to the other, except that the stark difference between the two is, when looking at dinosaurs, your expression is mostly fear. When looking at the friendliest, sweetest, most adorable dragon on the planet, your expression is largely one of love, excitement and fun. It was just the first moment of seeing Elliot that my character is frightened. Other than that, she’s enamored. Eventually, by the time I was ending the shoot, I was very clear on the dragon situation.
And now, you get to return to the dinosaurs for a Jurassic sequel.
HOWARD: Right, and then I go back to the dinosaurs and I’m probably going to be like, “Where’s the dragon?” Seriously, it was a real problem!
What are you looking forward to, with returning to the world of Jurassic and that character?
HOWARD: I’m so excited. I’ve never had that experience before, getting to play a character twice. I did with Rosalind in As You Like It. I did a play version, and then I did a film version, but they weren’t related to one another. I’ve been in films in quite a few franchise, and my husband (Seth Gabel) is on a serialized TV show (Salem), so I’ve always been like, “It’s like summer camp. You get to go back and be with your friends. It’s not over!” That’s magical. It’s amazing to get to have a chance like that. I’ve heard nothing of sequels for Pete’s Dragon, but I really, really badly want that to happen, too, ‘cause it was just so wonderful. You don’t want those kinds of experiences to end.
What was the most fun day on set for Pete’s Dragon, and what was the most challenging day?
HOWARD: It was a really fun shoot, especially because there were awesome kids there. We couldn’t help ourselves but have fun. But whenever I got to fly on the dragon, it was really fun because I kept being like, “I’m in my mid-30s and I’m riding a dragon!” I really enjoyed the irony of that. It’s really fun. It’s a wish fulfillment. There were strong days that were important days of work, but there was this area that we were shooting where these little bugs would surround you and go into your eyeballs. There’s two bug carcasses currently behind my eyeball. They would go in your eye and you couldn’t get them out, and then they would just disappear. There’s are two bug skeletons that will never leave my eye sockets. There are times when you’re in nature where it’s not an air conditioned, sterile room, and you need to go along with what’s in nature. Sometimes when there’s a ton of flies or mosquitos or bugs, it can be tricky. I basically spent the whole day swatting. But, that was it. There really were only three days at that location, and it was really important stuff that we were shooting there, so no one really thought about it. But, since you asked . . . If I can avoid bug skeletons behind my eyeballs, I’m going to.
Was it awesome to have Robert Redford for a human co-star?
HOWARD: That was crazy! He’s amazing! He’s just the coolest guy in the world, who is also a bad-ass. He created Sundance. He changed the industry, forever. He has mastered producing, he has mastered directing and he has mastered acting, and yet he walks around like he’s just a chill, curious, relaxed guy. It’s really cool. I didn’t refer to him as anything, for the first few days, because I didn’t know what I should call him. So then, on the third day, when everyone was relaxed around him, I was just like, “What do I call you?” He went, “Bob. I can’t stand it when people call me Mr. Redford.” It was awesome!
You have a passion project going with The Swans of Fifth Avenue. What is the appeal of that story for you, and when do you hope to get that going, as a TV show?
HOWARD: Hopefully sooner rather than later. I had a book called The Art of Style and it had the story of the Swans in the book. I got that for Christmas when I was 16, and I’ve taken that book everywhere. If I relocate, that book is with me. If I’m on set, that book is with me. I don’t know what it is. I would get so absorbed in these women’s stories because they had everything, and they had nothing. And then, I was on a plane coming back from Sundance and I saw in a magazine a wonderful review for a book called The Swans of Fifth Avenue. I read the summary, and I had been, for a very long time, trying to develop something on my own, just playing around, that would be centered around them. So, when I saw the book, I instantly took a picture and I texted it to my reps and I said, “Could you guys check into the rights for it?” They said the rights were available, so I went to Rat Pack, Brett Ratner’s company, because we’d been talking about doing something together. And then, the next day, we put in the offer for the option. That all came together before the book actually got released. And then, when it got released, it did quite well. We’re in the putting everything together phase right now. I would love to do it sooner rather than later, definitely.
Pete’s Dragon opens in theaters on August 12th.