Based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, "A Dog’s Way Home" hits theaters Jan. 11. At its center is a pit bull-type dog named Bella, whose bond with her owner compels her to travel 400 miles to reunite with him. In these edited interviews, actress Bryce Dallas Howard, who voices Bella, and seven-time Emmy-nominated producer Gavin Polone chat with senior editor Bethany Wynn Adams. (Spoiler alert: They love animals.)
Bryce Dallas Howard
A Dog’s Way Home is very different from The Help or Jurassic World. What inspired you to join this movie?
One of my best friends on the planet, Josh Gad [Beauty and the Beast], voiced the dog in the movie adaptation of one of Cameron’s other books, A Dog’s Purpose. Earlier this year, our 17-year-old cat passed away, and right before she passed—I have two kids, an almost 12-year-old and an almost 7-year-old—we showed the kids that movie, and that was like our way of preparing them for this loss. Of course, it was especially comforting given that it was the voice of the kids’ godfather, Josh.
And then Charles Martin Smith, who directed A Dog’s Way Home, did several movies with my dad [filmmaker and actor Ron Howard] when they were really young. He’s still really close friends with my dad and my mom [author Cheryl Howard Crew]. So, it was like this one-two.
I know you’ve always been an animal lover, and your family has two golden retrievers, who are trained therapy dogs. But I have to ask: Is it true that you once worked on a goat farm?
Oh my gosh! My dad’s originally from Oklahoma, my mom was raised in a family where they just had a ridiculous number of animals, so they just basically had a zillion, zillion, zillion animals between them.
So growing up—I was raised in Connecticut—we referred to ourselves as the Beverly Hillbillies. We had a farm, I guess the sophisticated term would be “a gentleman’s farm,” but we took it deadly seriously. We had 20 chickens, all named Jennifer, and yes, a lot of goats. Goats and alpacas and miniature horses and donkeys. It was just the best way to grow up. But yes, my job on the weekends was to muck out the goat barn, which was no joke.
You’ve never voiced a non-human like Bella before. Was there any particular dog you had in mind?
My sister Paige is the most enthusiastic person I know and so genuine and incredibly adorable and earnest and just so heart-centered—and she has a dog who is her life partner. This dog—his name is Beau—is her life. We don’t really know what he is, but he’s small and kind of white and adorable.
So when I think about Bella, I just think of my sister Paige and that very, very deep bond between her and Beau. She has a wonderful boyfriend, but the first question all of us asked was, “What does Beau think?” If Beau doesn’t like him, then he is gone. [laugh] A relationship with a dog or any animal kind of transcends what you would typically assume one of those relationships would be like and becomes almost like a soulmate.
You’ve told me that producing movies can be particularly taxing. What persuaded you to sign on as producer of A Dog’s Way Home?
You’re not only a dog lover, though. Your family took in a stray cat when you were very young, which you describe as a key relationship growing up, and you’ve been a vegan since 1992.
I’m a sensitive person when it comes to animals, very insensitive when it comes to humans. [laugh] Growing up, one of my favorite movies was The Bear—I’m sure it was made in a way I would be revolted by today; I don’t believe in using wild animals in movies [the mountain lion in A Dog’s Way Home is CGI]—you’re experiencing the bear’s dreams. He’s being pursued by hunters, and you can’t help but be on the side of the bear.