Child star-cum-prolific director Ron Howard doubted whether he could ever shake his reputation as The Andy Griffiths Show’s Opie Taylor or Happy Days
wholesome Richie Cunningham. But typecasting was one of the reasons he
wanted to direct; to exert some control over his destiny.
Three decades later Howard has proven himself to be one of the most
prolific, versatile, consistently accomplished and acclaimed directors
of his time.
He has explored a range of genres – fantasy, epic
adventure, science fiction, romance, comedy, drama, satire – but
recently he stated that he still feels his directorial career is a work
"One of the great things about being a director as a life choice is
that it can never be mastered," he has said. "Every story is its own
kind of expedition, with its own set of challenges."
The statement reflects a curiosity and humility that belie Howard’s
status as one of Hollywood’s mega power-brokers. What is predictable is
his respect for audiences – and his craft. Like Tom Hanks,
he has a certain wholesome Americana about him and an impressive track
record: audiences trust his choices and want to go on his journeys. He
doesn’t feel the need to impose a flashy style: Howard actually
'disappears’ in(to) his movies.
Howard made his acting debut, aged 18 months alongside his parents,
both actors, who moved the family to Burbank, California when Ron was
three. Throughout his childhood and teen years he continued performing.
But directing was always on his radar.
In order to secure a directing opportunity, Howard, aged 23, struck a deal with legendary indie producer Roger Corman: he would star in a Gorman film, if Gorman would produce a movie for Howard to direct. Grand Theft Auto
(1977), written and acted by Howard, contained mostly car chases and
crashes, but made sufficient profit for Howard to continue directing.
An assortment of TV movies later (he helmed Bette Davis in Skyward) Howard directed Night Shift (1982), starring Happy Days alumnus Henry Winkler, Shelley Long and Michael Keaton,
a rowdy comedy about two entrepreneurial morgue attendants who run a
prostitution ring. The steamy romp was a commercial hit, putting Howard
firmly on the directorial map.
Fiction escapist films intrigued Howard next. Splash (1984), a romantic fantasy about a man (Tom Hanks, in the first of many Howard collaborations) and a mermaid, a popular commercial hit, further cemented his directorial cachet.
Cocoon (1985) and Parenthood (1989), gelled with audiences. Other movies like Far and Away (1992, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) failed the connection test.
Increasingly Howard focused on human realities, like Apollo 13
(1995), a dramatisation of the true story of the ill-fated lunar
mission in 1970, which earned him Best Director gong from his peers at
the DGA. Or the true story of A Beautiful Mind (2001), that
plunged audiences into the paranoia and excruciating intelligence of
schizophrenic Princeton mathematician and Nobel Prize Winner, John
Forbes Nash Jr. played so poignantly by Russell Crowe in the film that finally delivered Howard the Best Director and (as producer also) Best Picture Oscars.
He reteamed with Crowe for a true underdog story of a down-and-out boxer James J. Braddock, Cinderella Man (2005).
In 2009, the Howard buzz Oscar film was Frost/Nixon, based on Peter Morgan’s play about David Frost’s interview of Watergate president, Richard Nixon.
But just as we trace a pattern of increasing seriousness and
political engagement, he throws us off scent with his upcoming movie: Angels and Demons, the sequel/prequel to the Da Vinci Code
– which Howard directed, hauling in close to $1 billion with DVD sales.
It’s scheduled for a May 2009 release undoubtedly following a Cannes
Film festival PR outing. Howard will be in the front line again.
The secret of his success can be traced way back to his child performance days on The Andy Griffiths Show,
he claims. The spirit of collaboration was so strong, everyone was so
open to new ideas that somehow – subconsciously or consciously – he’s
– Mary Colbert