WhenApollo 13 rocketed into theaters 25 years ago, it left an indelible impact on filmmaking. Now director Ron Howard looks back at the acclaimed film in celebration of its milestone anniversary and reflects on his particularly personal connection to the cast.
In the film, Howard cast his own mother, Jean Speegle Howard, to play the mom of astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks). However, the filmmaker was worried about casting her until he was encouraged by his father to give her a shot.
“I’m so happy my dad twisted my arm,” Howard told ET’s Nischelle Turner during a recent video chat interview. “I really didn’t think Mom was old enough to do it, and I was also just frankly nervous about it because I knew what a pivotal role it was. But she really knocked it out of the park.”
Howard’s mother had been an actress for some time, but stepped back from the career to focus on raising her children. Then when her kids were grown, she returned to the profession, and ended up delivering one of the film’s most iconic lines: “If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.”
At the time of the film’s release, Howard, then 41, said at the film’s premiere that he would like to be the first filmmaker to ever direct a picture on the moon.
Now, at 66, Howard admits his desire to do so has cooled, but he is still excited about the prospect of outer space filmmaking.
“I think I’ve lived a few too many years and have a little too much going on here on Earth to want to take that risk,” Howard said. “But somebody will, and it will be really, really exciting when it happens.”
“The television world, filmmaking world, storytelling world, it’s made up of a lot of really bold and and ambitious individuals. And somebody’s going to do that sooner than we think,” Howard added. “I think that’ll be thrilling. I’ll be cheering them on.”
Apollo 13 was also a monumental collaboration between Howard and his star, Hanks, who’d previously worked together in the 1984 romantic fantasy comedy Splash. Hanks has continued to work with Howard, even starring three times as Professor Robert Langdon — in The Da Vinci Code (2006) and its sequels, Angels & Demons (2009) and Inferno (2016).
Howard says he’s remained in contact with Hanks, particularly after the actor returned from Australia after his hospitalization and subsequent quarantine following his battle with COVID-19 back in March.
“I’ve talked to him a couple times since he got back. Once while he was ill just to check in on him and I guess once or twice since then,” Howard shared. “He’s in great spirits.”
Howard also reconnected with Hanks during a recent installment in the Josh Gad–hosted webseries Reunited Apart, in which Gad brought together the cast and creators of Splash — including Hanks’ co-star Daryl Hannah.
While Howard and Hanks have spoken in recent months, the director said they haven’t spent as much time reminiscing together as they have talking about new projects they are excited to be working on and looking forward to releasing.
For Howard, that includes his upcoming National Geographic documentary Rebuilding Paradise, which chronicles the devastating wildfires that tore through Paradise, California, in 2018 and the efforts that have been put into fixing and revitalizing the damaged community.
Howard explained that the fires showed the world that “nobody’s immune” to natural disasters, no matter where you live, what kind of person you are, or how much you plan ahead.
“These things hit human beings in ways that you kinda can’t comprehend until it happens to you,” Howard shared. “I hope the film… sort of reminds us what [it means] to be a society member, you know? ‘How can we help?'”
“Paradise, California, is a place I know. My mother in law lived there for five years, I’ve been there,” Howard explained, adding that his connection made helming the documentary even more personal.
Rebuilding Paradise comes out in select theaters July 31. Check here for more information on how to see the film.
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