Ron Howard – the feelgood kid
All-round nice guy Ron Howard – whose new movie, Rush, a souped-up treatment of Formula One’s 1976 season, is on our screens now – explains the secret of his five decades of success
It would require a spectacular effort, one feels, to fall out with Ron Howard. Long after he played winsome against Henry Winkler’s Fonzie and John Wayne’s The Shootist, he still retains enough residual onscreen niceness to get away with jerked-up versions of himself in The Simpsons and Arrested Development. He’s been married to his high-school sweetheart Cheryl, a psychiatrist, since 1975. As a director, his films are defined by big Hollywood riffs and punch-the-air denouements: check out the feelgood beats on Cocoon, Parenthood, Willow, Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man.
He laughs and smiles about everything, including, as fans of Arrested Development can attest, himself. When Jessica Chastain’s resemblance to Bryce Dallas Howard, Howard’s award-winning actress daughter, prompted a spate of speculative supermarket tabloid headlines, Howard Sr, who essays a nasty version of himself on Development, dutifully played along. A self-deprecating storyline featuring Isla Fisher as Ron Howard’s Secret Love Child included Howard’s habit of naming his kids after the locations where they were conceived: the show’s illegitimate Chastain-alike was called ‘Alley’. Which happens to be his wife’s maiden name. Ha.
“That’s right,” he grins. “My other daughter. Mitch [Hurwitz, Arrested Development’s creator] loves gently tormenting me.”
Howard seems genuinely thrilled to learn that the show featuring the ‘other’ Ron Howard has a following in the UK and Ireland: “Oh wow. I love that. Really? I’m so happy. We appreciated it even more after that seven-year break. We always knew it was a great show and a great opportunity but it was always a struggle. It was always hanging on by a thread. It’s so great the fans kept it alive. Netflix are not a network. They weren’t sitting with their arms folded. The numbers told them this would be doing a service for their customers. So it was a really joyous experience and Mitch – who is one of those brilliant hypersensitive Woody Allen or Albert Brooks kind of guys – just flourished doing it. You haven’t heard the last of the Booths.”
Aside from Mitch, who had changed the most over the extended hiatus?
“I had. I forgot how to act. I was so rusty. I couldn’t even do jokey Ron Howard. Thank God most of my scenes were with Jason Bateman. He’s one of those guys like Tom Hanks who can carry everyone else along.”
Today, in London on promotional duties for the thrilling racing drama Rush, Howard isn’t quite as carrot-topped as he was during his Richie Cunningham period. He has, however, with the assistance of Cheryl, his flame-haired wife of almost 40 years, managed to produce four more redheads for the cause.
“There just aren’t that many redheads in the business,” he says. “But between Cheryl and me, my kids never had a chance. They’re all red. It’s great. It’s a shame there aren’t more of us around. Because we’re all wired a little differently, right? We’re a fun group.”
Fun is precisely where Rush is at. A pimped-out, souped-up condensation of Formula One’s 1976 season, this Peter Morgan-scripted drama – the men worked together on Frost/Nixon – pitches Chris Hemsworth’s beery, leery, rapscallion James Hunt against Daniel Brühl’s Mittel-European control freak Niki Lauda.