Ron Howard on his first comic-book film project: ‘This is new territory for me’

Sept. 24, 2009 | 2:51 p.m.

Ron Howard

EXCLUSIVE

After releasing two films this year, Ron Howard is planning his next move, and this week he sounded most excited about directing a big-budget adaptation of “The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft,” based on the Image Comics series.

“It very cleverly uses H.P. Lovecraft in a fictional way, but there’s some loose biographical elements. But it certainly has the flavor and the tone of Lovecraft,” Howard told me during an interview for an upcoming story on a different topic. “The character is a very young Lovecraft.”

I told the two-time Oscar winner that I had  already seen the comics (conceived by Mac Carter with Adam Byrne as producer and cover artist) and liked them, and he got excited. “Oh you did! Oh, good, good. I haven’t talked to that many people that have seen it so it’s good to get that feedback.”

“Look, it’s challenging, but if we get it right, it could be really original and psychologically interesting and scary in a great way. And it’s a graphic novel, this is new territory for me.”

The comics present a somewhat timid writer transformed by cosmic creepiness into a reluctant player in the machinations of ancient evil. The young action-hero vision of Lovecraft feels not that far removed from the new-look detective in the Guy Ritchie version of “Sherlock Holmes” or perhaps a not-so-distant relative to the occult-savvy characters portrayed by Johnny Depp in the period pieces “From Hell” and  “Sleepy Hollow.” As far as real-life authors being used as fictional characters in tales of the fantastic, there’s plenty of tradition there, with some close cousins to this project being the William S. Burroughs adventure in Interzone in “Naked Lunch”  or the upcoming “Drood,” Guillermo del Toro’s planned film adaptation of the novel that takes Charles Dickens into dark corners of Victorian England.

“It is kind of fun, but you know Freud has been used that way and Einstein in the past,” Howard said. “I’m very encouraged by it so far, the approach and the possibilities.”

Howard showed he could  delve into ominous antiquities and deliver crowd-pleasing films with his two  Dan Brown adaptations, and as for fantasy visions, don’t forget that he directed “Willow,” “Cocoon,” “Splash” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” all forays into the fantastic with very different textures and, he would probably admit, varying levels of success. But where exactly is “Lovecraft” on Howard’s presumably long list of things to do?

HP Lovecraft cover

“It’s a really fascinating time because I worked on three movies in basically three years,” Howard said, referring to “Frost/Nixon” (which earned a best-picture Oscar nomination) as well as “Angels & Demons”  and “The Da Vinci Code,” which stand as the two highest-grossing movies in Howard’s 27-year directing career ( $1.2 billion in combined global box office).

“During that time, I didn’t really get to attend very much to my development [of new projects] but I did initiate a lot of things. So what happened is, I didn’t have finished scripts ready to go, but I have a lot of things that are sort of two-thirds of the way through and a really wide variety of them, including this Lovecraft project. So I’ve got literally half-a-dozen projects where essentially I’m waiting for [script] drafts to come in, and there’s something I love about all of these ideas. We’ll just have to wait to see what comes to fruition. I sort of can’t bear the thought of letting any of them go. So maybe I’ve got the next five years spoken for.”

Some of those projects Howard will likely hand off to other directors as some point after a chat with his producing partner, Brian Grazer. “Here at Imagine, I develop a lot of things full-throttle for me to direct and then, occasionally, my schedule doesn’t cooperate or circumstances shift, and Brian will come to me and say, ‘Hey there’s this other director and he wants to do this,’ and I usually take a producing credit then.” 

It didn’t sound like “Lovecraft” would be slipping into that category, and, just based on Howard’s enthusiam, I’m guessing the comic-book adaptation will be the next movie set for the 55-year-old Oklahoma native. “You just never know,” Howard said, “development is a minefield or a high-wire act or whatever you want to call it, but yeah, hopefully that it moves along and I will be directing that one.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Images: Ron Howard. Credit: Jay Clendenin/Los Angeles Times.
“Lovecraft” art by Adam Byrne. Credit: Byrne and Image Comics.

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