Howard—the Golden Globe–nominated star whose roles include the vicious Hilly Holbrook in The Help and the virtuous Ivy Walker in The Village—recently sat down with NYU Alumni Magazine inside the Cantor Film Center. She was here to screen a short film she created for Canon’s Project Imaginat10n—a directorial contest she’s judging along with her dad, and which includes submissions from celebrity filmmakers such as Eva Longoria and Jamie Foxx.
Everything kind of started for you right here, didn’t it?
Oh, big time. It really is all connected back to NYU. I met my husband [actor Seth Gabel] here. Dane Charbeneau, who wrote When You Find Me [a short that Howard directed in 2011], I met here. And Jason Lew (TSOA ’03), who wrote the Gus Van Sant movie [Restless] that I produced, I met here. They were actually all roommates at one time.
And your acting career just blossomed one night.
Yes. I did this show called Hamletmachine my sophomore year and Meredith Wechter, who was an assistant at a boutique agency, saw it and then came up to me and said, “I would like to be your agent.” I was 19 years old and was like, “Oh, that’s cool!” So she became my agent, and she still is today.
What would you say to that 19-year-old now?
I would probably say: Chill! You’re working hard enough [laughs].
Were you nervous about transitioning into directing?
I think that so much about being creative is being able to tolerate your own frustrations, and embarrassment, and sadness, and grief. I mean my dad says that every single movie will break your heart. Like, literally break your heart. So failure is not the thing that’s scariest for me because I know you have to go through that. It’s only going to inform everything else.
So, what does scare you in this new role?
I think the thing to be afraid of is not being realistic. Are you thinking that someone is capable of doing something that maybe they’re not? Are you vetting everything properly? Are you creating an environment where you’re empowering others to challenge you? Truly. Which is a scary thing to do. But if you don’t do that, then the movie comes out and you think it’s amazing and other people think it sucks. And it’s because, well, you made everyone afraid to tell you the truth.