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Ron Howard On 'The Missing'

In a career that has lasted more than 40 years, Ron Howard has made a smooth transition from child actor to Academy Award-winning director and producer. His latest film is an epic western called "The Missing."

Howard visited The Early Show to discuss the film.

Howard teams up once again with Brian Grazer ("A Beautiful Mind") for the action-filled suspense thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett.

"'The Missing' features great characters, flawed men and women, who demonstrate enormous courage when they are confronted by an unspeakable horror," says Howard. "It's a story of healing and reconciliation that also has the twists and turns of a thriller. I wasn't looking to merely exercise an old genre, but rather to tell a story that was relatable on a human level and exciting and suspenseful - but that still treated the period in an authentic way."

The film is set in the lawless wilderness of the American Southwest in 1885. It tells the story of Maggie Gilkeson (Blanchett) and her estranged father (Jones) and how they are reunited by a terrifying crisis.

One of Howard's boldest gambles in film is said to be the use of Chiricahua, a dialect of the Apache language (with subtitles) against a backdrop of palpable action.

The actors went beyond the rudiments of Chiricahua to learn many of its subtleties. "One of the great joys for me was how intriguing and entertaining the culture is and how that comes across in the language," says Howard. "Much of the humor in the film comes in the interactions between Jones and Kayitah (Jay Tavare) and the Apaches talking about the white folks. They are famous for their dry sense of humor. It's quite an amazing culture."

About Ron Howard:

  • The son of actors Rance and Jean Howard and older brother of character actor Clint, he made his first professional appearance at the age of 18 months on stage with his parents in Baltimore, Md.
  • He first gained fame as Opie, the personable son of widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor, on "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68).
  • He worked in features during breaks in TV production, notably in "The Music Man" (1962) singing "Gary, Indiana" and, the following year, as the son of another widowed father (Glenn Ford) in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963).
  • He landed a major role in "American Graffiti" (1973), the George Lucas-directed landmark comedy-drama of teen life in Southern California in the early 60s. This part led to a long TV gig starring as Richie Cunningham, the all-American-boy-next-door of the popular ABC faux '50s sitcom "Happy Days." Howard essayed Richie regularly for six seasons until 1980 and then made occasional appearances over the series' remaining four years.
  • On the big screen, Howard was the son of a widowed Lauren Bacall who falls under the influence of a moribund John Wayne in "The Shootist" (1976).
  • Howard made his directing and screenwriting debut at age 23, in the latter arena with "Grand Theft Auto" (1977), a cheapie produced by Roger Corman. After further honing his filmmaking skills on several TV projects, Howard made his mark as a director with his second venture, "Night Shift" (1982), a wacky comedy about two morgue attendants who double as pimps.
  • While "Happy Days" co-star Henry Winkler starred in "Night Shift," it also marked Howard's initial collaboration with several individuals. He and producer Brian Grazer would go on to form a production company while former "Happy Days" screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel would team with him on "Splash" (1984), "Gung Ho" (1986) and "Parenthood" (1989) and actor Michael Keaton would star in both "Gung Ho" and "The Paper" (1994).
  • With his third feature, "Splash," Howard garnered a great deal of attention. A major hit for Disney's then new Touchstone division, this romantic fantasy about a man and a mermaid (Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah) proved to be the studio's most successful live-action feature up to that time.
  • Howard enjoyed another hit and directed veteran actor Don Ameche to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar with "Cocoon" (1985). On the other hand, "Willow" (1988), a lavish George Lucas-produced fantasy peopled with elves, trolls and a gallant hero, did not find its expected audience.
  • In 1985, Howard and Grazer formed Imagine Films Entertainment and took it public the following year. After a number of very successful features, the dynamic duo felt that Imagine was not paying them their street value, so in 1992, they announced plans to leave Imagine for a joint venture at Universal. This horrified stockholders, who consequently allowed Howard and Grazer to renegotiate their deal so that Imagine lent them money to buy out the company. By 1993, Imagine was a privately-owned entity with Howard and Grazer serving as co-CEOs.
  • Through Imagine, Howard served as a producer on most of his own films as well as the Michael Keaton-vehicle "Clean and Sober" (1988), the comedy "The 'Burbs" (1989), the John Grisham adaptation "The Chamber" (1996) and the period drama "Inventing the Abbots" (1997). Imagine has also made inroads in TV, with Howard and Grazer serving as producers or executive producers of series as varied as sitcoms like "Gung Ho" (ABC, 1986-87, based on the Howard-directed film) and "Hiller and Diller" (ABC, 1997-98), the acclaimed comedy-drama "Sports Night" (ABC, 1998-2000), and the popular teen drama "Felicity" (The WB,1998-2002).
  • In the 1990s, Howard solidified his reputation as a reliable Hollywood genre director, he directed "Parenthood," the rousing firefighter drama "Backdraft" (1991) and the historical romantic adventure "Far and Away" (1992). The first two were solid successes while the latter, a would-be epic starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, was Howard's first critical and commercial disappointment. He received more positive press if not better box office for "The Paper" (1994), a somewhat sentimental
    comedy-drama about tabloid journalism.
  • Howard reached new heights directing "Apollo 13" (1995), the based-on-fact drama about a NASA moon mission that encountered difficulties and the efforts of the crew and ground support to avert potential tragedy. With a strong cast that included Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan, "Apollo 13" earned critical acclaim. Academy members rewarded the film with nine Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Surprisingly, though, Howard was omitted from the Best Director category, an oversight that the Directors Guild of America rectified in part by awarding him its award as Director of the Year.
  • Howard continued on the space theme, collaborating with Hanks as a producer on the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (1998), which traced the history of the Apollo missions from their inception in 1961 through the triumphant 1969 moon landing to the end of the project in 1972.
  • For his next three big screen projects, Howard adapted previously produced material, adding his own spin to the films. "Ransom" (1996) was a remake of a 1956 thriller featuring Mel Gibson and Rene Russo as a wealthy married couple whose son is kidnapped. "EDtv" (1999), based on the French-Canadian movie "Louis XIX: Roi des Ondes", had the interesting premise of a man being followed by television cameras seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The third film, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000), earned Howard some of the worst notices of his career, yet paradoxically was his biggest hit. Competing with the classic TV cartoon that was also based on the children's book, the film was a grandly produced affair, with spectacular sets, eye-popping costumes and quirky makeup. While critics found the effort ponderous, viewers flocked to screenings, pushing its cumulative box-office gross to over $260 million. (Its DVD release netted more than $145 million in its first week of release.)
  • He turned his attention to the biopic, a genre in which he had not previously worked, opting to tell the story of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. who overcame schizophrenia and won a Nobel Prize. "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) garnered as much controversy as acclaim, though, as many objected to the liberties it took with the facts. Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman conceded that they made a fictionalized account of the man's life. It also marked another rarity in the director's canon: the film had a single leading role whereas most of his work has been of an ensemble nature. Having received eight Academy Award nominations, one of which was Howard's first as Best Director, it took home four statues, including Best Picture and Best Director.