While some celebrities spent lockdown in their Malibu beach houses or Beverly Hills compounds, Ron Howard – one of the most powerful and prolific men in Hollywood – spent the first two weeks sleeping in his editing office near his home in Connecticut. The image of Howard living in his workplace fits so well with his public image that it sounds almost storyboarded: the hardworking, humble guy who happens to be an Oscar-winning director (of 2001’s A Beautiful Mind; he was also nominated for Frost/Nixon in 2009. His mother thought, rightly, that he should also have been nominated for 1995’s Apollo 13). Yet Howard’s work-based isolation was not just for professional purposes, but personal ones, too: his wife of 45 years, Cheryl, was sick with Covid-19. He needed to isolate from her, but he wanted to stay close by.
“She had it only mildly, thank God, and so did my daughter Paige, but they were real cases. So I lived in the editing room. When Cheryl felt better, the two of us would go on what I called Victorian courting strolls, staying 10ft away from each other and no touching,” Howard says with a chuckle.
We are talking over video chat. Howard, 66, is back in the family home, which, from the little I can see, looks lovely; impressive, but not showy. “Yes, as gilded hamster cages with velvet wheels go, this one’s not bad,” he says. He is wearing one of his signature baseball caps; peeking out is his even more signature red hair, now a little paler than it was when he played Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. Does he mind that annoying people (ie me) still bring up the show, 45 years after it first screened?
Anson Williams, Don Most, Henry Winkler and Ron Howard in Happy Days, which Howard starred in from 1974 to 1980. Photograph: Alamy
“Not any more!” he replies in his affable chatty way. “There was a time when I felt a little threatened by that. But, in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate my unique place in pop culture.”
He has carved out this place at least partly through his workaholism. If Steven Spielberg is the father of modern mainstream US cinema, Howard is its beloved uncle. Between his directing career – which spans 80s comedies (Splash, Cocoon, Parenthood), 90s dramas (Backdraft, Apollo 13) and blockbusters (The Da Vinci Code, Solo: A Star Wars Story) – his production company, Imagine Entertainment (8 Mile, My Girl, Bowfinger), and his lifelong acting career (The Music Man, Happy Days, Arrested Development), Howard’s IMDb page rivals in length the works of Dickens. He has said he needs only four days’ rest after finishing a film before he is ready to start the next. So how did he cope with a six-month lockdown?