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Interview: Bryce Dallas Howard, As You Like Her

Shakespearean actors: They grow on trees.Courtesy of HBO

Bryce Dallas Howard was 21 when she was cast as Rosalind in As You Like It at the Public Theater. "I had never even read the play," she says. "I was put in the day before production started." But when Kenneth Branagh began casting for his film adaptation — set in nineteenth-century Japan — she was eager to reprise the Shakespearean role. The daughter of director Ron Howard, she’s now 26 and best known for playing a blind girl in The Village, a narf in Lady in the Water, and Peter Parker’s second love interest in Spider-Man 3. As You Like It premieres tomorrow on HBO, and Vulture had some questions for the redheaded star.

M. Night Shyamalan famously offered you the part in The Village with no audition after attending your performance at the Public. Did he ever explain what he saw in your Rosalind?
I don’t know if it was something about Rosalind or more about me and the stage that I was at in my life. He said that if he had brought me in to audition, I wouldn’t have gotten the part. There was a quality that he saw that wouldn’t have survived an audition. I had gotten a terrible review from the New York Times — they literally singled me out. I thought, All right, well, I’m still doing the show. I’m just going to play. I’m not going to be so hard on myself. And M. Night came and saw it shortly thereafter. I think what he saw from me was like kamikaze acting.

Did you have to audition for the film version?
Oh, yes. I desperately wanted to audition because it was my only chance to meet Kenneth Branagh. I watched his Hamlet when I was in high school, and it had a big impact on me. The rest of the cast had already been put together, and I thought, Well, this is understandably impossible. They have an almost entirely British cast. They’re going to want a British Rosalind.

Once you were cast, did they help you master the accent?
I just stayed in the dialect the whole time. I don’t know, six weeks. I asked anyone to tell me if I said something wrong. So I would get pointers from my driver, from the hairdresser, from Ken.

Does Kevin Kline do that too?
I mean, Kevin Kline is an honorary Brit. [Laughs.] He doesn’t need help from anybody!

Would you ever want to work with your dad on a movie?
Oh, my God. I really want to, very badly. He’s still on a pedestal for me. The way he puts it is just like, “I don’t know, Bryce. None of my actresses have ever rolled their eyes at me.”

Do you discuss the industry with him?
Now we do. We kind of gossip. Nothing malicious, but I called him yesterday, and I was like, “So do you think there’s any female role in Star Trek?” We should start a Website about spoilers for films because we’re always trying to figure out what’s happening with what film.

I read on a few Websites that you'll be playing Emily Brontë in an upcoming film.
Possibly, yeah. As my agent always puts it, it’s not real till it’s real. If it becomes real, I would love to.

Shyamalan cited Wuthering Heights as an inspiration for The Village. Is that just a coincidence?
Yeah. You know what’s interesting? I’m always trying to figure out what my taste is, what my likes and dislikes are. I realized recently, God, I love watching romantic comedies, but I don’t know if this is where I’m meant to be at this moment in my life. Having said that, I hope I didn’t just cancel myself out of potential jobs, but like whenever I watch Kirsten Dunst, I’m just like, "Aha! Okay! That’s how naturalism is done." Right now I’m intrigued by moodish, period, darker, profound kinds of things.

There is romance in As You Like It, though. Did you base Rosalind and Orlando's courtship on your relationship with your husband, whom you met at NYU?
It’s funny because I don’t ever do that stuff because my life is so not—okay, this is a sad thing to say—worthy of being drawn upon. But right before I left to do As You Like It, I’d gotten engaged. There’s one line in the film where I remember Seth [Gabel]’s face popping up in my mind. It’s right after the courtship scene, and she says, “O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou / Didst know how many fathom deep I am in love!” So I just remember when I said “I am in love!” just being like “I do love him.” —Lori Fradkin