Interview: Icon Ron Howard

The only former child star who never robbed a 7-Eleven gets racy with his latest flick.

Your new movie, Rush, is the story of the real-life rivalry between two Formula 1 drivers in the ’70s. Why do a true story? 

The first movie I did that was inspired by true events was Apollo 13. We had a preview screening, and the audience comment cards were great. I was very excited. But suddenly I came to one that marked it “poor.” In big giant letters the guy wrote, “More Hollywood bullshit. They would never survive!” I realized then that’s the beauty of a true story.

Besides incredible race sequences, this movie also features some very hot women, like Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara.

My partner, Brian Grazer, is always teasing me that I’m very character-driven, reality-based, and into celebrations of human cooperation…but not so sexy. When he started seeing the dailies from Rush, though, he called and said, “I’m proud of you. These girls are hot!” A lot of people around F1—the guys from that era—like to say that was when “sex was safe and driving was dangerous.” 

Were there scary moments on set?

On the last day of filming, we had two unplanned spinouts. One of them was just close enough to extras and camera­-people that when we wrapped at the end of the day, I was really, really glad.

Are you a big racing buff?

The embarrassing admission is that I’m not really a car guy. I’m a drama and world-creation guy. But I really came to appreciate the sport. I get it. It’s very cutting-edge and modern the way it combines technology with athleticism. 

Do you have anything fun in your garage, or do you drive a Prius?

I had a Prius! The most fun thing I have is my first car, a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s the car I courted my wife in, so every once in a while we go out and neck in it. It’s pretty tough.

You’ve directed more classic films than we can name, from Splash, Cocoon, Willow, and Ransom toA Beautiful Mind, Cinderella ManThe Da Vinci Code, and Frost/Nixon. Do you know when a movie is going to be a hit?

No, I don’t. You never can be certain—that’s the lesson I’ve learned. It’s a medium that can’t be mastered. I just try to find something compelling, something I want to throw myself into. 

You and your frequent collaborator Tom Hanks are known as the nicest guys in Hollywood. If you two had a “nice-off,” who would win? 

The reality is, I don’t think either of us is inordinately nice. I think we’re both kind of reasonable guys, and in our particular business, that gets us to be thought of as nice.

Do you have an evil secret you keep hidden? Do you torture puppies?

Nothing that concrete. Only evil secrets of the mind, as Jimmy Carter once said. But you can probably find a few people I’ve fired over the years who would have something else to say on the subject.

You acted on TV and in movies for many years before directing. Do you ever read a script and say, “I want to do this character”?

No, I only read scripts with an eye toward directing them. That said, I’d like to act again. I think it would be interesting. I felt rusty doing my little Arrested Development turn, so I was glad Jason Bateman was there. He also has the “nice” gene.

You made an incredible transition from child actor to successful director, while so many people—from the cast of Diff’rent Strokes to Amanda Bynes—have a very hard time. How were you able to do it?

I think child stars have a leg up, actually, because they have an innate sense of what creative problem solving is all about. But to make a life out of it, you have to be ready to take on project after project. You have to like the action.

Is it true that your kids’ middle names come from the locations where they were conceived? 

David Letterman got that out of me, and my kids will never let me forget it. My daughter, Bryce, was conceived in Dallas, and our twins were conceived while we were doing a publicity tour at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. For the last one, we were on Lower Cross Road, so we decided to go with Cross. “Volvo” wouldn’t be such a good middle name. 

Photos by Columbia Pictures / Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013