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Ron Howard – actor turned director with an enviable track record – talks to PAUL FISCHER about his latest film, EdTV – and (at left) comments on the most anticipated movie of all time – Star wars Ep 1, made by the man whose influence (force?) has been the greatest.

Ron Howard is a busy man these days. What with one film out and another in preproduction, he's a man on the move, but he's also a man who has plenty of enthusiasm about his four-decade career. Of course, these days he's a high-powered filmmaker, director of a plethora of hits as diverse as Parenthood, Splash, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Ransom and now Edtv. But for millions of TV fans, he'll always be that wise and profound teenager of Happy Days.

"It held up a mirror to my own success" on EdTV

What's interesting, is that one of the reasons why Howard agreed to be on that show was to avoid heading off to Vietnam, as he now fondly recalls. "It wasn't a very scientific approach, nor legally researched. But at that time they'd done away with university deferments, and I had a terrible draft number, so I had the opportunity to do the pilot. There was this thing called the work deferment, by which your employment directly affected the employment of 30 or more people, then you get a deferment. I thought that being the lead in a TV series would affect the employment of 30 or more people. Unfortunately, the show didn't even sell at that time - it was a few years after American Graffiti came out when it finally sold."

Fortunately, though, young Ron never made it to war. However, he did achieve extraordinary success, and so it must have been easy for Howard to be attracted to Edtv, a film that comments on the pitfalls of instant celebrity. "In some ways I was attracted to it because it held up a mirror to my own success. There were certainly comedic ideas there that rang true. I thought that was a nice combination of situations that were both funny and honest, and dealt with something that I understood about celebrity, being in the public eye and this odd phenomenon of having a lot of people feel like they know you and you don't know them back."

"I owe so much to those experiences" on acting

Edtv revolves around Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), an under-motivated and underemployed 31-year-old video store clerk who auditions for a cable network's radical new broadcasting concept. True-TV's program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres) wants to turn a man's life into a live, unedited "reality" program, and good-looking Everyman Ed is her choice. Amazingly, EDtv the show becomes a hit, particularly when Ed becomes romantically involved with Shari (Jenna Elfman), the girlfriend of his brother Ray (Woody Harrelson).

Though it appears that Howard has little in common with Ed, the filmmaker could still relate to aspects of this character. "I found myself relating to certain situations he found himself in, once celebrity had found him. But one of the issues in our movie is that you make a trade when you go for public life, and I couldn't really relate to that, because I ended up growing up in it. But I definitely related to what it was like once it was a part of your life."

Though it's a very different film from Peter Weir's The Truman Show, the two movies have become inevitably compared, but if Howard was concerned, he didn't show it. "We knew that was going to happen but the reality is, the movies are so different. However, I think it's been a bit of a problem over in the States for audiences to determine that they haven’t already seen it, and just because I'm saying it, they don't necessarily believe it. But I've always believed that ultimately, Edtv was going to stand on its own and that I'd be proud of it and believe in it."

"I'd never seen anyone work that way" on George Lucas

One can imagine, that despite Howard's success behind the cameras, that he might get sick and tired of talking about his acting past, but that's not exactly the case. "It really does bring back fond memories (or interesting memories, if not always fond). They remain very relevant to my life, because I owe so much to those experiences. The other thing is, it hasn't created, for me, a limitation. Some would say that in the public's mind maybe they'd be less likely to accept me making a certain kind of a film; but I think after Ransom and Apollo 13, it was pretty clear that if there's something going on that people like and are interested in, they're going to go, whether it comes from the guy they saw in Happy Days or not." Though his career as a director didn't take off until after he left Happy Days, his interest in filmmaking was nurtured during his adolescence. "It was while I was doing that show that I realised that if I had to make a choice between acting and directing, I'd definitely choose directing. Then after I directed, there was no question in my mind that was what I wanted to do."

As an actor, though, Howard had pretty remarkable training for his upcoming directing career. On American Graffiti, Howard learnt from a true master in George Lucas, for example, with whom he has forged a close friendship. "George's way of working was pretty revolutionary in my mind; I'd never seen anyone work that way, which was very much a kind of documentary style." What he learnt from Lucas, Howard explains, "was the difference between a film and a television show, because the attention to detail was much greater on American Graffiti than any television project. I also saw the way it paid off and the impact that created when you went and experienced a movie."

"It's really for the child in me" on his next film

Howard’s next film, an adaptation of the Dr Seuss children's classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is "about this grumpy creature called the Grinch, who lives up above Hooville, where all the Hoos live. He comes down one night (he's had it with Christmas and its noise and superficiality) and steals Christmas. So it's pure fantasy. With Jim Carrey playing the Grinch." One wonders, as a father of four, whether he makes a film such as Grinch for them, or for the child in Ron Howard. "It's really for the child in me; it's an irresistible fable, something powerful, entertaining and out there."

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Ron Howard

See Scott Orlin's report

... Ed TV


... in Happy Days



When Ron Howard spoke to Paul Fischer, Howard was one of the very people who'd seen the latest Lucas opus, that movie called The Phantom Menace. Thirty years after working with the director, Howard's childlike enthusiasm for this film is in evidence. "I'm always in awe at the way an entire world can be created from the imagination. What's great about this one is that it offers a lot of insight into George's sense of what that world really is. You realise that in the first three movies, they seemed more contained, whereas here, he gives you a much greater sense of the landscape and cultures, not just based on individual characters, but on a larger look at the cultures that he's created. Also, he's not creating all new stuff, but further developing for you, the fan, and the worlds that he's already created. So it's great to see all the new stuff and all the scope, but it's also fun to see characters that you recognise from the other films pop up."

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