LOS ANGELES — Midway through an aside about her grandparents' traveling vaudeville days, Bryce Dallas Howard's eyes light up. A scoop of gelato has arrived during a break in a jet-setting press tour: "Sustenance!" she exclaims. Alas, it is more than she bargained for. Now an array of way too much ice cream sits before her, destined for a melty fate.
Her brow furrows slightly as she goes into problem-solving mode.
"Does anyone want any of this?" she asks, looking around the room. She frets for a second at the waste of perfectly good gelato, then snaps back to the topic at hand, one of the reasons she's been trekking all over the world of late: her big-screen return as Claire Dearing, co-protagonist of the last three "Jurassic World" blockbusters, in the finale installment "Jurassic World Dominion."
Co-written (with Emily Carmichael) and directed by "Jurassic World" helmer Colin Trevorrow, "Dominion" finds Isla Nublar destroyed and dinosaurs tentatively coexisting with humans when a cataclysmic event endangers all life on Earth.
Finding new dimensions in her once high-strung former theme park exec, Howard brings Claire full circle as she wrestles with her responsibility to the world, to dino-kind and to the ones she loves most: her raptor trainer beau Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and cloned youngster Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), whom the pair are raising as their own after the events of 2018's "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom."
The film gave Howard a chance to ditch Claire's high heels for good and ramp up her action heroine muscles, driven by a maternal instinct to protect Maisie from a shady biotech company. For Howard, who once dreamed of becoming a pro athlete, leaning into the action was a new thrill. "It was great to get to have this experience for Claire where she's fierce and she's a mama bear," says Howard.
It also found her sharing the screen with Laura Dern, who reprises her "Jurassic Park" role as paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler alongside fellow original trilogy stars Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum. Both hailing from showbiz families, Dern and Howard first met nearly a decade prior as directors while editing their respective shorts for the 2013 Lifetime anthology film "Call Me Crazy."
Reunited on the set of "Dominion," which was shot in 2020 in Canada, the U.K. and Malta in the early days of the pandemic, Howard was "the most meticulous team player you could ask for," said Dern.
"She was such an advocate for me, and as a fellow actress that's a beautiful thing to see. She's always going the extra mile, making sure the crew is safe," said Dern, who was touched when Howard would show up on her days off to offer support and feedback as she filmed scenes. "That is, sadly, radically singular. But man, it's who I'd want to be the leader of the group if I was on a movie."
Even on 2015's "Jurassic World," Howard would join director Trevorrow at the monitors — something she's loved to do for decades, having grown up in and around the sets of her father, director Ron Howard.
"She's a director at heart," said Trevorrow. "She has an eye for any given moment, not just on an emotional level but from a place of craft. She'll often frame it as if she's asking a question and is curious, but I'll always be like, 'Come on, you know you actually have an opinion. What do you think we should do?'"
That's why, in 2017, he encouraged her to double down on her burgeoning directing career. "He was quite firm with me and said, 'Bryce, there are a lot of female actors. There are not nearly enough female directors working,'" Howard remembers. After filming the second "Jurassic World," she made her feature directing debut with the 2019 Apple+ documentary "Dads," then helmed critically lauded episodes of Disney's "The Mandalorian" and "The Book of Boba Fett."
Now, after spending time away from family to close out the "Jurassic World" series and filming a role in Matthew Vaughn's upcoming Apple spy pic "Argylle," Howard is shifting her attention to producing and directing projects with her own company, Nine Muses Entertainment. As she keeps building her multi-hyphenate career on both sides of the camera, Howard, 41, gives herself the same advice she tells the film students she teaches at her alma mater, NYU. "Now," she says, "it is time to own it."
Q: When you originated the character of Claire Dearing in the first "Jurassic World," did you have an idea of where you hoped she would end up, two films later?
A: Something that Colin and I relate over is hair. He's like, "Once I understand the hairstyle, then I understand the character." We landed on that haircut for the first movie and I had this image in my head which never came to fruition, of Claire having an undercut. [Laughs] I think that was more about me just wanting it. My daughter is now 10 and she's had an undercut like three times. So who knows if I was projecting to Claire my own hopes and dreams?
Q: But what you wanted for her was change.
A: I wanted radical change and a shedding of what existed prior, so that she really feels like she's living in a new paradigm in terms of her perspective.
Q: You wanted Claire to undergo ... a hair-adigm shift?
A: Yes! Wow. [Laughs] I just needed to do it internally. But what is interesting about the hair journey for Claire in "'Jurassic World Dominion" — and we had no idea that we did this, we figured this out in the last two weeks of shooting — is that we copied Laura [Dern]'s hair journey. We have a side-by-side comparison. So even though there wasn't as radical an external hair journey, it's one that's full of intentional and nonintentional layers. It's Dr. Sattler's influence all over the place.
Q: This installment sees Claire become more active in the action, and she goes through a lot of it on her own. Why was it important to you that she be challenged in this way?
A: I'm a very physical person. [After high school] I needed to decide between, did I want to pursue acting and theater or did I want to continue with my basketball career? Because basketball was really important to me. I went to public school for 10th, 11th and 12th grade, and you had to choose between the two extracurricular activities. It was such a big deal. I went and toured UConn, because that's where I would have wanted to go as as a player. I was tormented by that decision.
Q: So in a sliding doors situation, had you not become a professional actor we might have seen Bryce Dallas Howard playing in the WNBA?
A: Those would have been my aspirations! But I really, really doubt that that ever would have happened in terms of talent. I was just really passionate. It's also something that my dad and I really bonded over. He is super into basketball and the whole family is quite athletic. Getting to do movies early gave me a chance to do something physical. It was always something that I leaned into.
Q: As "Dominion" brings the "Jurassic" franchise full circle, there's a nice moment between you and Laura Dern when the two female leads of this universe unite.
A: And pass the Bechdel Test!
Q: What did sharing that onscreen moment with Laura mean to you?
A: Getting to watch Laura Dern work, and find the honesty and the essence of what was most important to be communicated between these two characters — in terms of regret, in terms of trauma, in terms of second chances — was something I treasure. Because she was so in it with her sleeves rolled up, and it wasn't pretentious. And when an actor is like that, especially when it's an actor like Laura Dern who had just won an Oscar before working [on "Jurassic World Dominion"], it gives you permission to be that way as well.
There is a moment where we have an ax and she has a line where she's like, "Oh, that felt good." All of that existed because Laura, Colin and Emily [Carmichael] made space for that. Laura just kept nurturing it.
Q: On set you would show up even on your days off to watch filming. Why was it important to you to do that?
A: When I became a parent I realized that you want to learn what your kid cares most about, a little superficially, so you can take it away in a pinch. [Laughs] "If you don't do X, Y or Z, then we're going to take away your device." My parents figured out by the time I was 7 that the thing I cared about the most was being on set. I remember one time during "Far and Away" when it happened and I wasn't allowed to go to set for three days. I cried so much, I was so devastated. I remember saying to my parents, "You're ruining my life! How can you do this?"
I think as a byproduct of my dad having been a child actor, he felt like if a kid is on set and if they can behave themselves, they can have little jobs; they can be on set and that's OK. When I started acting professionally and did "The Village" ... when they would wrap me I would beg to stay. Sometimes if they were like, "No, we're doing something with an actor that needs to be private," I would go to the hair and makeup trailer and start prepping the wigs because I knew all those little jobs. Because [as a child] I would spend time in every department. I didn't want to go because I equated leaving set with being punished.
Q: At what point in your life, both watching and participating in storytelling, did you say to yourself, "I am an actor, and also a director?"
A: I remember watching my mom [Cheryl Howard Crew] in her career. She's the most educated person in our family and she focused on being a parent and really devoted herself to that. When I was in high school she went back to writing and wrote a novel. She's real wild and real bright and I remember she was filling out her passport form, and you need to write your occupation. She wrote "mother and wife," and I remember being very triggered by that.
She was someone who was that, most certainly. But she was and is such an interesting person, with so many layers, and is so accomplished. She's done so much. Has an accounting degree. Does all of my parents' financials. Soloed an airplane when she was 16 years old. Managed a gun range when she was 18 years old. Got her master's in screenwriting from AFI. She just lives a very full life. And I remember thinking, "You're not just that."
Q: She could have written "Renaissance woman" on her passport!
A: Exactly. I think seeing a person who is many things, even though the world may not define them as such, has given me permission to explore many things. Now, being someone who's a spouse and a parent, I have a slightly different perspective of it, because, oh my gosh, that's the hardest thing that I do and the most important. But my mom encouraged me to be very front-footed with my career. I only really recently started identifying more as a multi-hyphenate, more as a director, and I think it was when I was started teaching at NYU. Because I realized if I didn't own it, my students wouldn't. And we're only that if we declare it ourselves.
Q: You've directed short films and television. Is directing a narrative feature something that is a priority to you in the near future?
A: It's really, really, really important to me because there's more to learn. I'm attached to "Flight of the Navigator," but there's not a script yet.
Q: There's also what many people on the internet want, which is for you to direct a "Star Wars" movie...
A: I honestly have no idea! The support is incredibly moving. I was on a work session with Jon Favreau when this was announced — I'm like, "Oh, I could say yes, I did another episode!" I'll get choked up, he's just the most wonderful man. He was like, "Bryce, we were at Celebration and people were so supportive." He got choked up talking about how people were so embracing of me. Papa Jon! I feel so lucky the way folks have been, because I love getting to do this.