Hi Ron Howard! Let's talk about Made in America, your documentary about Jay Z's annual music festival. People don't really associate Ron Howard with hip-hop – how did you get involved?
Hahaha! I certainly don't associate myself with hip-hop either. I met Jay Z through my partner at Imagine films, Brian Grazer, who has always loved hip-hop. I went in and spoke to Jay Z and said: "I don't know much about music, I know very little about hip-hop, and I've never made a documentary." And he said: "You've told a lot of stories in a lot of different ways and I'd be curious to find what story you'd find in the festival." But I probably hadn't heard of, um, 70% of the artists at the festival beforehand.
Skrillex seems a little surprised in the movie when you compare his mixing to Fred Astaire's dancing.
Ha ha, yeah! I thought the work that he did was dazzling! The only thing Jay Z had warned me about beforehand was maybe stay away from the Odd Future guys. He said: "I'm not sure how they'll respond to you, Ron." I think he thought they might pants me or spray shaving cream all over my bald head! But they were really great. (1)
Did you and Jay Z swap baseball-cap tips (2)?
That's a good point! I should have asked for one of his baseball caps!
How long do you think it took for audiences to stop seeing you as Opie (3) or Richie Cunningham (4)?
Some of them still haven't. I noticed a huge change when I won an Academy Award (5), which was probably about 25 years into my directing career, and I honestly felt a lot of people watching that night were saying: "Oh that's what he's doing now – he's directing." Being connected with the television shows used to be a source of frustration. Maybe I felt like I was trapped by them in a way, and I don't feel that way at all now. I have the career that I want.
Can you still do the songs from The Music Man (6)?
Yes, I can. But I won't do it for you for free on the phone! I was actually playing the guitar and singing Gary, Indiana with my lisp for my son the other day on his birthday and he said: "That would be a YouTube gem!"
As a former child star yourself, did that give you a different perspective when working with the kids, such as Joaquin – known then as Leaf – Phoenix in Parenthood, or Michael Cera in Arrested Development?
I tried to deal with them the way I was dealt with. I was taught by my father from an early age to really understand what the story was, what the scene was – and out of that comes a kind of honesty, and maybe that was what made me seem a little different from other child actors. I wasn't just performing, I really was involved with the story. I try to teach that to the kids I'm working with, but sometimes I need quick results and have to resort to those child-actor tricks, and I'm always regretful.
I always look forward to seeing your brother, Clint, in your films. What are the hardest parts about directing your family?
The hardest thing which I've experienced is calling up my father, Rance Howard, who's a wonderful actor, and telling him I've had to cut him out of the movie, which I've had to do twice. That's a lump-in-the-throat phone call. But he's always taken it with good grace and humour. My brother's a blast to direct, he's one of those great characters who brings so much to every scene he's in and we're pals. I haven't directed my daughter Bryce since she became a leading lady because I've worked with all kinds of remarkable talents but I've never had an actor roll their eyes at me, I don't think I can take that on set. I tell her that and she rolls her eyes at me!
You've had Tom Hanks make out with a fish (7), nearly die in space (8) and sport the ugliest hairstyle ever committed to screen (9). Why do you hate Tom Hanks so much, Ron Howard?
Oh no! Hahahahaha! You know, I liked his hair in that movie! We both did! It wasn't until we released the movie that we heard anything about the hair, and we did change it for Angels and Demons. He's great, I always look forward to the next opportunity to work with Tom.
Do you think the two of you work so well together because it is universally accepted that you're the nicest guys in Hollywood?
Ha! Well, I think Tom gets along with everyone he works with, and I'd like to say the same for me, too, so when the two of us get together it ought to go well. And we have a common perspective in our enjoyment of the work and a belief that doing good work might be challenging but it doesn't have to be miserable – you can have laughs.
In your Oscar acceptance speech that you said your mom said you'd win the Oscar for every film you worked on. Did she have a favourite movie of yours that she thought should have won?
She loved Cocoon the most, and she appeared in that film, too. But I think she thought I should have won for Apollo 13 – like a mom, she was angry about that.
You've had a lot of impressive accents in your films. Whose accent do you think was better: Tom Cruise's Irish accent in Far and Away or Chris Hemsworth's English accent in Rush?
I thought Tom was much maligned at the time but we were shooting in Ireland, and all the Irish extras said how good it was, so I thought he did a great job. As did Chris, people who knew James Hunt said how much he sounded like him, including Nikki Lauda. I thought both of those guys tackled the challenge well.
You've been working since you were five. Any plans to take a break?
Well, no. In fact, making a movie doesn't make me tired, it vitalises me. Usually after four days off after wrapping up a movie, I'm good to go.
Are we going to get more Arrested Developments?
I hope so, but there's nothing formally planned now. Mitch Hurwitz has worked out the story – he has those 2x5 cards locked away in a vault somewhere so nobody knows but him. All the actors want to be part of it, and so does Netflix.
Would you ever come to Scotland to march in the Proud Redheads March?
Absolutely! We redheads get teased in America a lot, perhaps deservedly! A lot of those cliches about redheads, they tend to be true! But if invited, I would proudly march.
Made in America is released on Vod and DVD on 19 May
(1) Tyler the Creator does make funny faces at the camera every time Ron Howard speaks to him, though.
(2) Ron and Jay Z are both big fans of the cap, although the Hova tends to wear his in a hip-hop way and Ron wears his in a covering-up-the-baldness way.
(3) Opie Taylor was Ron Howard's long-running character in The Andy Griffith Show, which he started playing when he was six years old.
(4) From Happy Days. Obviously.
(5) For A Beautiful Mind.
(6) At the age of eight, Howard played Winthrop, the boy with the lisp, in The Music Man. YouTube clips are highly recommended viewing.
(7) In Splash.
(8) In Apollo 13.
(9) In The Da Vinci Code.