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Playboy Interview: Ron Howard on Lovers, Haters and Getting Hazed by Bette Davis

Playboy Interview: Ron Howard on Lovers, Haters and Getting Hazed by Bette Davis: Photography by Gavin Bond

Photography by Gavin Bond

Funny how everybody thinks they really know Ron Howard. Even in the impersonal hustle of the Tribeca, New York City complex where Howard is editing one new movie while overseeing the 3-D conversion of another, strangers do smiling double-takes, shoot him a thumbs-up or shout something nice about his work. That’s the kind of response a guy is likely to elicit if he first gained fame as a child actor on a 1960s TV series as beloved as The Andy Griffith Show, on which Howard played Opie, the spunky, red-haired, gap-toothed young son of a small-town Southern sheriff, for eight years. Between TV seasons Howard earned even more goodwill for his roles in high-profile movies including the big-screen version of the Broadway blockbuster The Music Man and the family comedy The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

In 1968, when Opie caught his last fish, Howard bucked the grim career odds faced by most childhood stars. He successfully transitioned to teenage roles and found his footing in director George Lucas’s 1973 box-office hit, American Graffiti, set in the 1950s. The following year he landed another iconic gig, as Richie Cunningham on the long-running series Happy Days, a role he played until 1980. Somehow he accomplished all this without becoming, like other, less-canny child actors, a burnout, a statistic or a punch line.


Acting roles kept finding him (including in the melancholy 1976 John Wayne Western The Shootist, for which Howard earned a Golden Globe nomination), but he then managed an even more unlikely career turn: In 1977, after writing and shooting a number of short films, Howard convinced legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman to finance his directing debut, Grand Theft Auto, a low-budget, high-octane chase film. That experience led to Howard directing several successful TV movies, paving the way to his 1982 breakthrough, Night Shift, starring Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler, the latter Howard’s co-star and close friend from Happy Days. From there, he helmed sometimes prestigious, often award-winning but almost always popular movies including Parenthood, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code and Frost/Nixon. He is also co-chair, with -Brian Grazer, of Imagine Entertainment.

Howard was born Ronald William Howard in Duncan, Oklahoma on March 1, 1954 to actress Jean Speegle Howard and actor-director-writer Rance Howard. In 1958 the family relocated to Hollywood and, the year after, welcomed Howard’s only sibling and fellow actor-to-be, Clint Howard. Billed as “Ronny Howard,” the young actor first appeared, along with his dad, in 1956’s Frontier Woman. At five, he co-starred with Andy Griffith on a 1960 episode of The Danny Thomas Show that led to the launch of I The Andy Griffith Show that same year. Howard worked so steadily that much of his early education came from tutors at Desilu Studios. He married Cheryl Alley in 1975 and raised four kids, now grown: actress Bryce Dallas, twins Paige Carlyle (also an actress) and Jocelyn Carlyle, and Reed Cross.

Playboy sent Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello, who last interviewed Christoph Waltz, to track down Howard in New York City. Reports Rebello: “What a kick, and a relief, to discover the cold steel and humor under Ron Howard’s famed affability. Sure, he displays that guarded, held-in-check quality that marks many former child actors, but he also has a generosity of spirit and a willingness to show vulnerability that reveal a real talent—and a guy you’d invite to your poker game.”


The 22 films you’ve directed since 1976, including Splash, Cocoon, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Cinderella Man, have grossed more than $3.5 billion internationally. Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Oscars, including for best picture, in 1996. You won a best directing Oscar in 2002 for A Beautiful Mind, which also won for best picture. You were nominated again for best director in 2008, for Frost/Nixon. Actors including Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, Dianne Wiest, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Don Ameche and Jennifer Connelly have received Oscar nominations for their performances in your movies, the latter two going on to win in the best supporting category. That’s major success by anyone’s standards. How do you react when some knock you for directing expertly crafted crowd-pleasers in which it’s tough to detect a personal signature or style?
For 17 out of 20 years, from the age of six to 26, I was an actor on one of three television series. Our entire job was to do the same story, same tone, over and over. That didn’t appeal to me anymore. Early in my career as a director I realized I didn’t want to brand myself for the sake of marketability or commerciality. The directors I loved, like Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks, made all kinds of movies. I wanted to throw myself into projects that I connected with personally but did not want to put a stamp on those movies. Fans, though, and in particular reviewers and interviewers, are always dying to find a thread, always searching for a brand.

Most of your movies are seen as fundamentally optimistic and even sentimental. Are you ever drawn to darker material?
Let me tell you about a test screening of Apollo 13. The audience scores were great across the board, but one person out of 350 scored the movie “poor.” Of course that was the card I wanted to go to first. This 22-year-old guy who hated the movie didn’t realize it was a true story. He wrote about the ending, “Terrible. More Hollywood bullshit. The astronauts would never survive.” That’s the beauty of doing a true story: Facts are stranger than fiction. By God, in real life those chutes did open and the people in mission control wept. But if I’d created that same ending for Apollo 13, they’d say, “Oh, there goes Ron Howard being sentimental again.”

I had the chance to buy Gone Girl, and my agent really pressed me on it. I have to say I was intrigued, yet I didn’t quite get it. But I thought the director, David Fincher, completely nailed it.

So Gone Girl fell into the category of material you didn’t connect with personally?
It was a fun, cool book, but I worried that audiences would see the big turn, the revelation, coming. I watched the movie and said, “Damn, that’s exactly what I didn’t trust would work, and yet it did.” Put it this way: Do I want to see Quentin Tarantino, whom I adore, make a straight thriller like Marathon Man, a movie I adore? I enjoy going to a movie to hear Quentin’s voice loud and clear. Wes Anderson, the same kind of thing. I’m not Kubrick. I’m not an auteur with a single vision. I decided to go this other way in my career. Some actors are known for being chameleons, and that’s kind of what I am as a director. I take pride in that.

You must have noticed when your name gets mentioned alongside a big project, as it did years ago with Stephen King’s fantasy-sci-fi-horror-Western series The Dark Tower, anonymous internet pundits will sometimes post things like “Ron Howard was the best you could do?”
I’m not past noticing that. I know the naysayers are out there. I’ll occasionally indulge in checking out that stuff in print or on the internet. I’m not sure this is healthy, but I once read in a Sports Illustrated article that during Michael Jordan’s string of championships, almost every time he’d go to an away game he’d pick some negative quote about him from a player or a journalist, copy it and stick it on his locker. Just before the game, he’d glance at it. It was like fuel to him. That’s probably the way I feel about the naysayers.


Even with all your awards, accolades, industry clout and financial success, critics get to you?
When people question if I’m too soft or not edgy enough, yeah, that sort of bugs me. Maybe they’re not looking at movies I’ve made like The Missing or moments in Ransom. I’m as intense as the story needs to be. If I get a hurtful review, my wife and my daughter Bryce, who is so emotionally tough and very much like me, will say, “Why do you even acknowledge that? Look what you’ve achieved. Look what you’re in the middle of achieving.” I’ve had director friends tell me, “Have people filter just the glowing reviews.” I tried that for one movie but thought, this is bullshit. I don’t need to delude or baby myself. I do edgy material if I connect with the story. I wouldn’t do it as an exercise to prove anything to those bastards—because I probably wouldn’t prove anything except maybe prove them right. It’s thrilling and gratifying to do something like Frost/Nixon, which isn’t for everybody, but to do a big, popular entertainment that’s supposed to be for everybody? That’s a particular kind of high-wire act.

You don’t have a reputation for being a tyrant on the set, but few people attain your level of success by being pussycats. What sets you off?
Even when I get angry it’s pretty quiet. What angers me is disrespect for the medium and the process. Or taking my good nature for granted—that stirs resentment. I don’t like arrogance. If arrogance, lack of commitment, lack of preparation or lack of respect go hand in hand, then I’m going to have a conversation with that person and they’re not going to be happy with my point of view. The beauty of directing a movie is that I don’t have to live with these people forever and they don’t have to live with me. It’d be nice if we had affection for each other when the project is over, but it’s the least important thing.

It’s probably inevitable that certain segments of the public still want to think of you as Opie or as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. Does a good-guy screen image hurt you in the entertainment business?
There was a time when I felt threatened by that. I didn’t want potential collaborators to have a reductive view of what I could bring to a movie project. I remember having a quiet lunch with Robert De Niro when I was trying to recruit him for Backdraft. Somebody came up and said, “Hey, Richie, I just love it when you go on the show with Laverne and Shirley,” then walked away. De Niro sort of smirked and said, “Well, what are you going to do?” He did the movie. I only wanted to earn the respect of the best and the brightest, the collaborators I wanted to work with. Everything else, I can’t control.

When you were working steadily as a kid on late-1950s TV series including The Twilight Zone, Dennis the Menace and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, was that your choice?
I was blessed with superstar parents. My father, Rance, and mother, Jean Speegle Howard, were both actors. They weren’t stage parents at all, but they got me into acting, and I clearly liked it. My mom was very charming, more emotional than my dad, and someone who knew how to dream and love the dream. She was from a small town, Duncan, Oklahoma, and Dad grew up on a farm. They met and fell in love in the acting program at the University of Oklahoma. When I was a baby and we moved from Oklahoma to California, my mom couldn’t take the constant rejection of show business, but she worked, mostly on TV, until the late 1990s. She battled heart disease and died in 2000. Dad remarried—another fantastic lady—and he’s not only still a working actor but a gifted writer and teacher and a brilliant father, particularly for that era. He’s a thoughtful, pragmatic guy who always demystified the business for me and was always on the set to watch out for me.

You pretty much grew up on The Andy Griffith Show. How do you recall the star himself?
Andy was a very ambitious guy, a careerist who was serious about what was and wasn’t good. He’d fight to kill jokes, saying, “That belongs on The Beverly Hillbillies. We’re not making fun of country people; we’re letting country people be funny.” I once asked him if I should do a variety-show guest shot, and he said, “Ronny, almost every decision you make is a career decision. You’ve got to weigh that.”

Before doing your series, Griffith was a Broadway star. He also gave a lacerating performance in the Elia Kazan–directed movie A Face in the Crowd, playing an opportunistic drifter who becomes a dangerous right-wing demagogue. Did he ever give you the sense that he thought his career could have gone in other directions?
Every once in a while he would allude to having been emotionally beaten up by Kazan in that Actor’s Studio kind of way. That was not something he enjoyed. He didn’t like exposing himself in that way. A Face in the Crowd wasn’t a successful movie. He was proud of his performance, but he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar and the movie didn’t make a lot of money. Again, as a careerist, I think he wanted to be in comedy and felt his place was on television.

Some have said that Griffith and actress Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bee on the show, weren’t exactly bosom buddies. What’s the truth?
The set was raucous and playful, and Frances was a sophisticated New Yorker from the theater. Andy and the makeup guy, Lee Greenway, constantly played guitar and banjo, and Don Knotts always sang. Frances was never one of them, but she was never a bitch on wheels or anything. She was probably always sort of an introvert and a bit overwhelmed. The one time I heard her complain, we were shooting in a bus in the San Fernando Valley and it was really hot. She stood up and said to the director, “Can we please shoot this soon, before I melt?” When she retired, she went to Siler City, North Carolina and became a lady who never left her house full of antiques and cats. She did tell Andy later in her life that she regretted if she was ever distant from him.

Did you ever feel you were being heard on the show?
On rehearsal day of the second episode of the second season, when I had just turned seven, I was supposed to open the door of the sheriff’s office, come running in as Opie often did and say a line. I told the director, “I don’t think this is the way a kid would say this.” I pitched my spin on the line and the director said, “That sounds good, Ronny. Why don’t you say it that way?” I must have stood there smiling, because when Andy said, “What are you grinning for, young’un?” I said, “That’s the first suggestion of mine they’ve taken.” He said, “Well, it was the first one that was any damn good. Now let’s rehearse.” That moment shaped my whole approach. I not only felt credible but I got the sense that this was the way creative problems could be solved.


Were you prepared for the show going off the air in 1968?
Even though it was the country’s number one show in that last season, part of the reason Andy closed it down was because he got a movie contract with Universal. He was going to try to have a successful run in comedies like Don Knotts had done with The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Reluctant Astronaut. Don could go to a broad, zany place very comfortably. It didn’t work out for Andy.

Things can get rough for child actors when they hit puberty. How did you survive?
Around 15 or 16, I stopped getting hired. For the first time in my life I went about nine months without a job, a long time for someone who’d worked steadily from the age of four. I began to feel a real sense of loss and betrayal. It’s a common thing for child actors to go through. I’d seen my dad struggle without ever reaching the stardom he dreamed of, yet he was always able to grind out a good living. I realized that’s the way the real world works when you’re not Opie on the number one sitcom anymore.

But you showed up on Gentle Ben, Gunsmoke, Lassie and other series, which made you luckier than many other child actors transitioning to teen roles. Then you played two memorable high school good guys, in American Graffiti and on Happy Days. What was your own high school experience like?
By that age I was in public school in Burbank. I was a freak, the butt of a lot of jokes, bullying and all kinds of shit. I’m basically an introvert and not very ambitious socially. Even so, my dad was very conservative and held me on a tight leash. He was very controlling about where I went, to a frustrating degree. Although I never really rebelled, there was a lot of tension.

How bad did the bullying get?
Nobody ever punched me in the mouth or anything, but there was a lot of posturing, name calling and laughing, particularly when I’d come back to school after working on a show or movie. I was on the basketball team, and when we’d go to an away game and I was at the foul line shooting a free throw, it wasn’t unusual for the opposing band to strike up the Andy Griffith Show theme song and for them to scream, “Miss it, Opie!” I always played better away, so maybe something about that was fueling me. Maybe that’s why today I’m willing to go on the internet and read what’s being said about me. Maybe that’s some masochistic tendency or bad pattern that goes back to those days.

Were you ever tempted to go full badass big-time TV and movie star on those people who gave you grief?
Fuck them and their sense of what I was supposed to be. Those assholes would come up to me and say stuff like “Hey, movie star, where’s your car?” When it came time for me to buy a car, I bought a VW because the cliché would have been for me to drive a Camaro. My natural personality and the example set for me by my dad—and by anybody I’d ever been around professionally—made me never want to play into the cliché.

In the 1970s, lots of people, including many young TV and movie actors, drank and experimented with drugs. Did you partake?
I was pretty scared of drugs, and my dad wouldn’t let me go to “those” parties—which chafed at me. My younger brother, Clint, fell into a whole partying thing, though he’s many decades sober now. I’m lucky I wasn’t drawn toward rebellion in that form or to complying with a social group I felt I needed to be part of. I was blessed to have met my wife-to-be, Cheryl, in high school when we were 16.

Do you ever feel lucky that you were a young actor before the days of social media and tabloid TV?
Very much so. I won’t give you any specific examples of what I’m glad nobody photographed, but there would have been some explaining to do. And when that explanation has to be public, it can endure in very hurtful ways.

How’d you lose your virginity?
I’d literally been on only three or four dates before I met Cheryl, so it was with her, as you would expect. And it was in a fantastic, exploratory way.

How old were you?
We were teens. We probably hadn’t talked about marriage, but we were in love and committed to each other. It wasn’t gawky, goofy exploratory stuff—though it was gawky and goofy. Once my dad saw that we were in a long-term relationship he gave me Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask. We had a lot of fun exploring that, and it was one hell of an education, like, Hmmm, how would this work?


Are you a romantic?
I just kind of blurted out my marriage proposal on a freeway off-ramp. I did no romantic preparation. I had no ring tucked away in a cupcake. Cheryl was studying at Cal State Northridge, and when I’d asked her a couple of times before, she’d turned me down, saying she’d be open to it when she was about to graduate. When I finally had the nerve, I just asked, and she said yes. She also said, “God, my hair isn’t even washed.” We married at 21 and continue to have a rich romantic life and a rewarding, gratifying relationship. If you’re in love and committed to each other, you have to be ready to weather some turbulence and know that’s part of navigating a long-term relationship. I don’t believe in any of that “stay together for the kids” bullshit. I never assumed our relationship would last forever, just like I never assumed Brian Grazer and I would be business partners for 30-some years. But I’d be shocked if anything went wrong now.

How happy were the seven years you starred on Happy Days, which debuted in 1974?
I did the pilot because I had a horrible draft lottery number and I was afraid there were no more deferments. I thought if I was on a television series the parent company or the network would try to protect me. The pilot didn’t sell immediately, but Nixon did away with the draft, so I was okay. I had just started studying film at USC when Happy Days got picked up, and I had to drop out. The show became a smash, but I never really understood it, its tone or its success. I thought it was a good job for me, but you never think a show is going to go and go and go.

In the early 1980s I started to get jobs as a director, and of course I was thought of for comedies like Night Shift. I was so grateful for those years at the [Happy Days creator] Garry Marshall school of comedy, getting great lessons in how to do go-for-the-jokes, middle-of-the-road, number-one hit comedies.

How did you make the jump to directing?
It was all Happy Days. Roger Corman wouldn’t have let me direct Grand Theft Auto if I wasn’t on a number one show. I had already begun to feel I was hitting a ceiling as an actor. I wanted to be a director, not an actor-director. I hadn’t done any writing or made any short films for about a year after I was married. Cheryl and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. I bought a 16-millimeter Moviola and set it in the spare bedroom with the door open. I told Cheryl, “Every time I walk by that room I want to look at that Moviola and see that there’s no film in it.” That got me writing and making short films on the weekends again. Within a year I was directing Grand Theft Auto, which—as Roger Corman has theorized—was just young people on the run in a car and car-crash stuff inspired by It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

In 1980 you directed 10-time nominee and two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis in the TV movie Skyward. Five years later, you directed Don Ameche, another legend, in the sci-fi film Cocoon. Did they haze you?
When I’d talk about the glory days of Hollywood, Don—the Gentleman, as I called him—would put his hand on my shoulder and say, “Don’t long for that.” He told me how he would get incredible reviews for a movie and then, for the next three years, they’d put him in only romantic comedies and he couldn’t do anything about it. It seemed to really eat him up. One of the thrills of my career was seeing Don win the Academy Award for Cocoon. With Bette Davis, I had seen all the films she’d made with her favorite director, William Wyler—The Little Foxes, Jezebel—and knew that Wyler wore suits and ties to the set. The first day of shooting it was 100 degrees on a tarmac in Plano, Texas and I was wearing a suit and tie. I had to go over and show Bette Davis how to fake a scene in an airplane cockpit where she’s pretending to be flying upside down. She sees me walking up to her and, loud enough for the whole crew to hear, says, “Oh my God, I saw this child walking up to me and wondered what could this child possibly have to say to me of any consequence? Ha-ha-ha!” She’d already told me she would call me Mr. Howard until she decided whether or not she liked me. Meanwhile, I’m popping Tums and tossing and turning.

Did she ever decide?
Toward the end of that first day, she had some trouble with a scene that had tricky dialogue and staging. I gave her a suggestion, and she said, “Oh no, I don’t think so, but I’ll try it. Ha-ha-ha!” She put out her unfiltered Camel, did the scene, and it flowed nicely. Fifteen minutes later, I went up and said, “Thank you for a great day, Miss Davis. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And she said, “Okay, Ron, see you tomorrow,” and patted me on the ass. That didn’t mean I was out of the woods, but when the shooting was over, she said, “I had my doubts about you, but you could be another Wyler.” I’ve never lived up to that, but I’ve tried.

When you’re doing a movie, do you still pop Tums and toss and turn?
Especially as I get older and have to get up to take a leak in the middle of the night. When I’m shooting, that three A.M. journey to the toilet is pretty much about it for me sleepwise. I get butterflies almost every day. There’s a finite amount of time to achieve things. You never know when you’ll have a chance to make a horrible oversight or capture something within those frame lines that people will want to use on their retrospective reels. I’m rabid about trying to carry my end of the bargain, because I’m going to expect a lot from people. I want to create an environment where there’s an opportunity for them to feel as though they’ve excelled.


Because some of your earliest movies such as Splash, Cocoon and Apollo 13 were financially and critically acclaimed, there’s a perception that you’re most attracted to making movies for the widest possible audience. But how easy was it getting those movies made?
[Laughs] They were anything but low-hanging fruit. Splash took me four years to get off the ground. So many actors turned down those roles. Cocoon, a movie featuring a cast of senior citizens—or as I used to call it, Close Encounters on Golden Pond—didn’t seem like a particularly commercial idea to anyone. Apollo 13 terrified me on a commercial level. You couldn’t make a better movie about the space program than The Right Stuff, and no one had gone to see that. When Brian Grazer and I cast Tom Hanks, director friends asked, “Are you putting a comedy spin on it?” The studio would have liked Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford or Michael Douglas. By the time Apollo 13 came out, Tom had won two Academy Awards for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump and could not have been a cooler, stronger choice.

In October, audiences will see Hanks return as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon in Inferno, your third movie from the Dan Brown novels that begin with The Da Vinci Code. After five times directing Hanks, why does the combination work?
He has the great ease and all the elegance of Joe DiMaggio playing center field. Tom, like DiMaggio, makes it look like nothing much, except the play is getting made. But then you start cutting these scenes together and you realize a hell of a lot was going on. The first two Langdon movies were more classically Hitchcockian, but Inferno is very psychological, contemporary and even a bit horrific because of the psychological gauntlet the character is going through. What’s interesting for me as a director is that in this one, there’s a lot more for Tom Hanks, the world-class actor, to roll up his sleeves and dive into.

In theaters now you have the fact-based high-adventure saga In the Heart of the Sea, about an 1800s shipwreck that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
I started reading the script and said, “Oh, it’s going to be some version of Moby-Dick,” but I was shocked by how modern and complex the theme of nature versus man was, by what the crew had to endure and by the behavior of the whale. The whaling ship Essex was 88 feet long, and the whale was a few feet longer. It rammed and pushed the ship, driving the stern right back into the ocean 30 feet according to one historical account, 200 feet according to another. The real crew members of the Essex knew on some level that they were killers, and they wondered whether the whale was their punishment. They also wondered whether the whale was possessed. Our whale is King Kong. When he retaliates, it’s like, You fucked with the wrong dude.

The 20 or so men who survived the whale’s retaliation were castaways for months, stranded and starving, and eventually resorted to cannibalism. Did you have any trouble getting your cast to basically starve themselves for art?
I was careful in the interview process to be clear about my expectations. I had to crack the whip with a couple of people early on, but Chris Hemsworth, Ben Walker and Cillian Murphy were so committed that if anybody had needed disciplining, these guys would have taken care of it. I’d turned to Tom Hanks about losing a lot of weight for a movie, which he’d done for Philadelphia and Cast Away. He told me how miserable he felt having to do it alone, so I should make it a team thing for the guys. He advised us to make sure the dietitians and trainers were there and to make sure there was a good aftercare program for gaining back the lost weight. I’m a bit like In the Heart of the Sea as I was about Apollo 13 and Cocoon. It’s not an obviously commercial movie. I’m just glad I got to make it, and I hope audiences go see it.

What are your next projects?
Aside from the couple of feature projects I’m circling, I didn’t realize what a blast I’d have when Jay Z asked me to work on the Made in America documentary, but now I’m doing a Beatles documentary. I just did one of six episodes for the science series Breakthrough that National Geographic airs. Brian Grazer and I are doing a six-part series about going to Mars, which I won’t direct.

Does that schedule leave you time for actual hobbies?
I don’t have hobbies. Cheryl and I bought an apartment in Paris. Instead of going to the beach, we just go to one of the most romantic places in the world and enjoy the city. But my work, that’s my hobby.

Will there be more episodes of Arrested Development?
Netflix wants it. The fans want it. It’s really the fact that our cast has become so successful and busy that it’s a matter of [series creator] Mitch Hurwitz rallying the team. He’s at work with the writing staff right now, so we hope we can deliver.

More Arrested Development has to mean more of your now-famous narration, right?
When Mitch had the idea for a show about his dysfunctional family, I suggested a faux documentary tone a bit like Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. I had the idea that the narration should sound like someone narrating a sociological program about the aboriginal people of the Amazon basin. Just joking around, I did a little bit as an example. When they decided to go with the narration for the pilot episode, I laid in a temp track. I went off and was filming Cate Blanchett on a horse in the snow and Tommy Lee Jones with guns in his hands for The Missing. It was freezing. I got this call from Mitch: “The good news is that the show tested really well and they’re going to pick it up. The bad news is that one of the highest-testing elements was the narrator.” I wound up doing a lot of the first season’s narration in the cab of a pickup truck with Cate and Tommy Lee on horseback right outside the door.

You’ve come so far from where you started as a kid actor. If there were a Ron Howard figure in a wax museum, how do you think the tour guide would describe you?
I’m sure they’ll say, “Ron Howard played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie on Happy Days.” I think Wikipedia might say that right now. I think of myself as a director who used to act. I also think those characters are iconic. I wouldn’t want them not to be. I wouldn’t change a thing.


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