If there's one thing that can be relied upon when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters being made in New Zealand, it's that every big star who spends time here comes away singing our country's praises. But Bryce Dallas Howard takes this phenomenon to the next level. She
loves New Zealand.
In a resting state, sunshine radiates from the effervescent Howard, but mention the Land of the Long White Cloud and she gets positively giddy.
"I still toy with the idea of potentially living there," Howard tells TimeOut in Los Angeles. "It was a really special time being there. The world is a very intense place and when we went to New Zealand we just felt safe in a way that we hadn't felt safe before."
Howard's impressions were made during the making of her new film,
, a live-action reboot of the beloved 1977 Disney classic. But this wasn't her first visit - she'd previously come down as a child when her father, director Ron Howard, chose New Zealand as a location for the 1988 fantasy film
"Being back, it was a perfect extension of all of my memories from Willow," says Howard. "It was so beautiful. You would think, since that was 30 years ago, coming back, that it would be totally different, but it wasn't! It still had that raw nature and then on top of it, it was just idyllic for my family, my kids were so happy there. I mean, it's basically like a utopian society."
Pete's Dragon is the first film Dallas has made that her two children will be able to watch - it's a big-budget adventure aimed squarely at a family audience.
"They were definitely aware of
, they didn't see it, and they will and I want them to and they desperately want to, but they're just still a little young for it, so this will be the first film with me in that they will see."
Was that a key deciding factor in taking the role?
"My decision-making process happened instantaneously because I really wanted to do this film, but one of the reasons I wanted to do it is, yeah, I've got kids and it's a beautiful children's film, a film for families, and that's the world that I'm living in now, those are my waters."
It was her children's response to living in New Zealand that now has Howard so enamoured with our nation.
"We lived in Mt Maunganui and went to a school nearby. I loved the school that they went to in New Zealand. And so that was all really fun and we got our beach experience. And then we went down to Tapanui, and it was a totally different topography and we lived [on] a farm. I saw them have more peace than I've ever seen them have. Just a desire to play outside and not be around the iPad. It was really, really beautiful."
In Pete's Dragon, Howard plays a park ranger who discovers a small boy living in the woods with a giant dragon. It's the second film in a row (after Jurassic World) in which the actress has found herself evading/pursuing large creatures in the wild, something she has always been comfortable with.
"Very comfortable. Particularly in New Zealand because there's nothing dangerous. There are no predators. There are no snakes, there's like one spider that you have to be cautious of. I spent my childhood in the woods and I was really happy doing all of that."
As the film's antagonist, a greedy logger, Karl Urban (
), is the lone Kiwi among the film's core cast, which also includes Wes Bentley (
) and screen legend Robert Redford (
"For all the American actors, everyone went to Karl to answer every single question," says Howard. "I think what I talked to Karl a lot about was how he navigated living in New Zealand and also having a life in the States, because all of us just want to move there, so we all wanted answers on how to do that. I mean he's fantastic, and he's so good in this movie."
What: Pete's Dragon
Who: Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban
When: In cinemas next Thursday