Extended interview: Ron Howard on directing

Director Ron Howard on the set of "Rush."
Universal Pictures

(CBS News) Ron Howard's life story is a Hollywood fairy tale in itself: beginning as a toddler with bit parts in movies and TV, he became familiar to a generation of TV viewers as Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show." That was followed by his starring role on "Happy Days," and the George Lucas film "American Graffiti." He was able to parlay his star profile to directing features, including "Night Shift," Splash," "Cocoon," "Willow," "Parenthood," "Backdraft," "Far and Away," "Apollo 13," "Ransom," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Missing," "Cinderella Man," "The Da Vinci Code" and its sequel, "Angels & Demons," and "Frost/Nixon." It was the 2001 drama "A Beautiful Mind" which won Howard Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture. His latest film, "Rush," recreates the word of Formula One racing in the 1970s.

In this web-exclusive extended transcript of his interview with CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips, Howard discusses the transition from acting to the director's chair; his fascination with Formula One racing; and the influence of Mike Nichols' "The Graduate" on his career.


Mark Phillips: Was there a reason why you stopped the acting completely?

Ron Howard: I just loved directing. I loved it. And the first one I directed, I had to be in [to help finance it]. I didn't enjoy that. I didn't feel I was quite a strong enough actor. I felt in a lot of ways [directing] was a more complete reflection of who I am, what I like to do.

I acted as a kid. I always liked it, but I don't really have a performer's personality. I like being responsible, by the way. When you're an actor, you often feel victimized -- you see the end result, 'Oh, they didn't use this take, they didn't use that take, how come?' There's no 'how come?' with the director. There's only one person to look at. Walk over to the mirror if you want to know why. But I prefer that.

That's a process of discovery. I didn't know much about boxing before 'Cinderella Man,' and yet I got the late, great Angelo Dundee to come in and be our technical advisor and start talking about the science, the psychology of it, and finding ways to convey that cinematically, get it across to the audience, whether it's music, side effects, camera speeds.

Filming a race scene from the Ron Howard film, "Rush." Universal Pictures

Phillips: Is that part of what attracts you to do these movies, is to get into something about which you knew almost nothing before?

Howard: It satisfies my curiosity. And then it's really, really thrilling when you can find a way to convey something cinematically for audiences that maybe hasn't been ever dealt with in that kind of detail before. Or you can combine something that technically has been cool and exciting but has never been combined with a rich drama or humor or heart in the same way.

Phillips: People wouldn't necessarily say that the shot of a suspension part would be a riveting bit in the movie.

Howard: But it is if you link it to the character and their psyche and their relationship to the car and this moment in this track. Everything's always about page-turning, right? What's next? So, if you create questions for audiences, then they'll want to know the answer. Or they begin to formulate possible outcomes. That's the game we play when we're hearing a story unfold. That's part of what sucks us into a movie.

Phillips: One of the criticisms of Formula One racing is it's become too much of a parade -- nobody passes anybody, or it's too technologically-driven, all that kind of thing. Whereas you had to turn it into this almost Greek-like drama, two antagonists in this arena.

Howard: Well, of course, that's what you do when you're making a movie: you take the highlights, even in a true story things that happened, and you collapse them down into moments and scenes. So, things that may have taken laps become a lap. Relationship issues that might have unfolded over weeks, you do it in one big, powerful scene.

Some people say that motorsports are just not as thrilling today. But what they're really saying is nobody dies -- it's not as gladiatorial. People still do, as we know in the U.S. from last year, and continues to happen. [But] there are people that like to say, 'Formula One in the '70s, that's when sex was safe and driving was dangerous.' But I don't think you could say to these Formula One drivers or their families today that what they're doing is exactly safe.