You would expect Bryce Dallas Howard to be a garden-variety L.A.celebritot. It would be easy to imagine the daughter of Oscar-winning directorRon Howard sporting the latest Chloé bag, Juicy sweats and gargantuansunglasses. You know the type: the kind that gets into fender benders whileevading the paparazzi and shows up at Hollywood clubs with two bodyguards intow. If Bryce were that way, America would already be obsessed with how much sheweighs. She'd hang out at Koi with Kimberly Stewart, Nicole Richie and AshleeSimpson. Her life in L.A. would resemble a reality show, with fresh installmentsevery Monday in the pages of Us Weekly.
But Bryce Dallas Howard is none of the above.
She is the antithesis of the spoiled Beverly Hills brat. In fact, shegrew up on the other side of the continent from Hollywood. And at 24, despitestarring opposite Joaquin Phoenix in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village andreplacing Nicole Kidman in Lars von Trier's Dogville sequel, Manderlay, thetalented actress isn't even that famous -- yet. And while she might never becomeHilton-grade tabloid bait, Bryce is about to emerge as the silver screen's nextbig thing.
"The Hollywood scene, these parties, freak me out," she whispers, asif she's afraid she might offend someone. She's sipping a herbal tonic in thebamboo-decked garden of Elixir, a tranquil health-food spot in West Hollywood.With her milky skin, flame-red hair and almond-shaped green-blue eyes, Bryce isarresting. She has the all-American good-girl looks of Claire Danes, splicedwith the exotic, extraterrestrial beauty of Tilda Swinton. "I've never had a sipof alcohol in my life," she says. "I wasn't interested in losing control. Therewas alcoholism in my family, so I saw the negative effects and how difficult itwas to recover. When I was in high school, I would never go to parties because Iwould be embarrassed to say no. Consequently, I had almost no social group."
Bryce's parents decided to raise their four children as far away from Hollywoodas possible. Ron and Cheryl Howard, who have been together since they were 16,lived with their kids in Westchester County, New York, and Greenwich,Connecticut. Bryce is the oldest (she has a brother and twin sisters), and shegot her middle name because she was conceived in Dallas, Texas. Her twin sistershave the same middle name -- Carlyle, as in the expensive Madison Avenue hotel."It's kind of raunchy," Bryce says. She attended tony Greenwich Country Day, thesame school as George H.W. Bush. "It gave me a sense of uniqueness," sherecalls of the preppy environment. "We were the weirdos. Everyone was from oldmoney or involved in the stock market or IBM. We were the wacky artists who hada farm on their property." Bryce, who claims to have been a "total nerd,"discovered existentialism as a senior in high school and fell in love. "I waslike, 'This is it! This is my religion.' I had never felt a connection to anysort of spirituality before that. It was very basic -- you're responsible for thechoices that you make -- but it was mind-blowing at the time." In her spare hoursshe devoured books by Sartre, Beckett and Camus. She says her 10th-grade Englishteacher, Mr. Scotch, was one of her best friends.
That said, Bryce was a prettyglamorous geek. At 15 she attended Stagedoor Manor, a theater camp in theCatskills, where she acted in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Natalie Portman.She visited her dad on film sets, but hung out mostly with the crew. "I wasnever close to the actors. When I work on a film, I always tend to relate to thecrew. I struggle immensely with celebrities of all forms. I get clammy hands andturn a little purple." But movie stars were a part of Bryce's life. Hergodfather is Henry Winkler, aka "the Fonz" from television's legendary HappyDays, which also starred her father. It was only recently that Bryce firstwatched an episode of the wholesome sitcom. "My parents never showed it to us.We didn't really have access to a TV. I've seen the pilot now. I realized thatit was this truly beloved show. Why would I avoid watching something that meansso much to so many people?"
After high school Bryce enrolled at NYU's TischSchool of the Arts program. She did experimental theater, appearing nude onstagein a production called Hamlet Machine. In her junior year, she dropped out ofNYU to do professional theater. During a performance of As You Like It at thePublic Theater, The Sixth Sense director Shyamalan was in the audience. Twoweeks later the director called Bryce and offered her the pivotal role of Ivy,the blind girl in The Village. She wasn't required to audition. Shyamalan justhanded her a manila envelope with the script in it. "You can't get morediscovered than that," Bryce says, shaking her head slowly in disbelief. "If Iwere a really negative person, I'd be waiting for the frying pan to drop on myhead." There was also no audition necessary for Shyamalan's new film, out inJuly, the surreal fantasy Lady in the Water, in which Bryce plays the title roleand stars opposite Paul Giamatti. In the film an apartment buildingsuperintendent (Giamatti) discovers a character (Bryce) from a bedtime storywith whom he falls in love while trying to rescue her.
Lars von Trier, theavant-garde Danish director, has earned a reputation for being difficult. Björksaid that she would never make another film with him after starring in Dancer inthe Dark, and when Nicole Kidman dropped out of Manderlay, the sequel toDogville, there were more rumors. Bryce replaced Kidman in Manderlay (part twoof a trilogy), which will be released in early February. The film exploresracial oppression in the 1930s South at a plantation where slavery still exists;Grace (Bryce) struggles to liberate the slaves. She admits to being initiallyskittish about working with von Trier. "I went into that situation reallyexpecting the worst and was so shocked and so sad that [Lars] has been made intosomething he isn't at all. He's really very sweet. When Lars talks about Björk,he talks about her really fondly. He has a company that is 70 percent womenbecause he thinks women are smarter than men." Replacing an actress like Kidmanis a daunting challenge, so Bryce wanted to make the character of Gracecompletely her own. "I saw Dogville eight times. I really tried to avoidmimicking her in any way because we were trying to create an entirely differentcharacter. I've met Nicole and she's ridiculously lovely. I've heard from otherpeople that she's been very encouraging of me in secret ways." Completing hercinematic hat trick is her role in Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It in which sheplays Rosalind -- the part she played onstage that so impressed Shyamalan.
Ron Howard always puts at least one of his family members in each of his films. Wheneach of his children turned seven, they were allowed to be extras. Bryce was inthe background of Parenthood and Apollo 13. She would love the opportunity towork with her father in the future but is cautious about the prospect. "Myfamily is more important than anything. I don't want to ever feel that [myfather] was somehow disappointing me by not putting me in one of his movies."The best acting advice Howard has given his daughter is on how to handle thedowntime. "The time in between jobs can be devastating. A lot of my friends getreally, really depressed." To occupy her free time, Bryce is writing ascreenplay called Quantum Suicide. "It's super-dark and totally perverse. Mygrandfather was a scientist. I love quantum physics."
A devout vegan sinceJoaquin Phoenix showed her the documentary about animal cruelty Earthlings,which he produced, Bryce says her biggest indulgence has been hiring her ownchef to prepare raw food. Other than that, she claims she's "really stingy withmoney." "My parents never wanted us to get used to a lifestyle that we wouldn'tbe able to maintain on our own. My mom used to buy us clothes every two yearsand make temporary alterations. My mom made a point of raising us like that."Nonetheless, Bryce is a veritable fashion whiz and logs on to Style.comfrequently. "My dream is to go to one of the fashion shows with my best friend.I like to see the collections: Zac Posen, Rochas. Francisco Costa for CalvinKlein is excellent. I love Stella McCartney because she makes vegan shoes. Ihave the most difficult time finding non-leather products."
Next year Bryce ismarrying her fiancé, an actor whom she met at NYU. "I'm excited. I've never evenhad a birthday party for myself. I'm thinking about starting a family and thecommitments and sacrifices that are required."
Bryce mentions that the women inher life -- her grandmother, mother and sisters -- tend to be psychic. "I've had someepisodes like that." And although her future seems bright and busy, what withthree movies on the horizon and an impending marriage, she says, "This isin-between time." Bryce finishes her herbal tonic and straightens the collar ofher black sweater. Her sea-foam-colored eyes gaze out into the lush garden as ifsearching for something in the trees. "You know something, I don't really knowwhat I'm going to do next."
Stylist's assistant: Wyman Chang * Makeup by Kara Yishimoto Bua/AvantGroupe.com* Hair by Creighton @ Exclusive Artists/Redken