RESTLESS directed by Gus Van Sant, written by Jason Lew, with Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska, Ryo Kase and Schuyler Fisk. An Alliance Films release. 95 minutes. Opens Friday (September 30). See listing.
Bryce Dallas Howard doesn't appear in Restless, but the movie wouldn't exist without her.
The redheaded actor - currently enjoying a boost in visibility thanks to her role as the loathsome Hilly Holbrook in the summer sleeper The Help - has been developing her NYU pal Jason Lew's script, about two teens touched by death, for years.
"He gave it to me and a few of our friends for initial feedback," she says, "and my first conversation with him was four and a half hours long."
At TIFF earlier this month, Howard was pulling double duty, promoting Restless as a producer and 50/50 as an actor. Heavily pregnant with her second child, she wasn't complaining; she saw it as a chance to talk up projects she loves, and she clearly loves Restless.
"I was instantly very passionate about the project; I didn't say ‘I think I should produce this' or anything, because I hadn't produced anything and I felt like that would be really presumptuous. But we worked on the development very intensely and specifically for a couple of years, and when it came time to set it up and find a home for it, [Jason] said, ‘Okay, Bryce, I know you keep pushing this off, but you're the producer. You've been developing this; you've held workshops, you've held read-throughs - this is what you're doing. You should bring it out.'"
Howard finally found Restless a home at Imagine Entertainment - the production company founded in the 1980s by her father, Ron Howard, and his producer partner Brian Grazer. "I'd been so proactive about trying to avoid the potential for being critiqued for nepotism," she laughs. "[But] I met with a few executives there. They were all really interested in the script. They just connected to it in a very genuine way and really understood it."
Working on the other side of the camera gave Howard a new appreciation for the nuts and bolts of production - in particular the importance of casting. She was bowled over by the audition of Henry Hopper, the unknown who landed the lead role.
"I went into the casting process just looking for the characters," she says. "Henry played it very differently, and the scene that he read, as a result, kind of shifted on its axis. There's a heightened realism [to Restless] that I think Henry really understood. He almost seems to exist in another dimension himself a little bit."