Rather than watch the Luvabulls perform during a break in the action at Saturday’s Bulls-Boston Celtics game, one twenty-something Celtics fan sitting front row at the United Center turned around and pointed his camera at Ron Howard, who was sitting two rows behind him.
“The guy looks away from the girls to take a picture of me?” joked Howard after obliging the fan with a smile. “Not sure what to make of that.”
It would be one of many times Howard, in Chicago promoting his upcoming comedy, “The Dilemma,” would have a camera pointed at him that night. That’s what happens when you’ve made your name as the star of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days,” and as an Oscar-winning director. Well, that, and you appear on the JumboTron at sporting events.
Howard gave a thumbs-up and smiled again for the United Center big screen — or maybe he was already smiling. It’s hard to tell with Howard, whom actor Channing Tatum said might be “the No. 1 nicest person on the planet” in an interview with WGN. When Howard appeared in Jamie Foxx’s star-studded music video for “Blame It,” director Hype Williams had to ask him to stop smiling.
“(Hype) wanted us to walk into the club with our party face on, but my party face is usually ‘Hey guys! How’s it going?’” said Howard, adding an exaggerated grin. “Forest Whitaker had to help me with my party face. Right before the scene, Hype was screaming ‘Don’t smile, Ron. Ron, don’t smile.’”
Besides a cameo here and there, Howard hasn’t done much acting in recent years, devoting most of his time to work behind the camera, usually in the drama genre. “The Dilemma,” in theaters Friday, is Howard’s first comedy since 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
The film stars Vince Vaughn — who, along with writer and Highland Park native Allan Loeb, was instrumental in bringing the film shoot to Chicago — and revolves around his character’s predicament when he finds out his best friend’s wife is cheating on him. Howard was quick to point out the film is not your typical Vaughn comedy.
“It’s really a fantastic vehicle that delivers what fans want from a Vince Vaughn movie but also something unexpected,” Howard said. “It’s edgier than you’d expect and thought-provoking. Almost like a comedy psychological thriller.”
The movie filmed over the summer at the United Center and restaurants Sepia and Smith & Wollensky, the latter appearing in the opening scene. Because Howard would take hour-long walks to make business calls, often around the Gold Coast, the baseball cap-wearing director was frequently spotted around town.
Still, “The Dilemma” — as A-list as it may be with Vaughn, Tatum, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder — was overshadowed by a big budget action sequel shooting in the city at the same time.
“I had relatives in town and one night we were out walking by the ‘Transformers’ set,” Howard said. “One of the production assistants at the gate worked on our film and let us on the set. That was more exciting to my relatives than my movie. I told (director Michael) Bay, ‘Hate to admit it, but the only way I can impress people is to sneak onto your set.’”
Howard cheered on the Celtics’ Paul Pierce and Ray Allen during Saturday’s game (they’re on his fantasy basketball team), but pulled for the Bulls to win (and they did) because he hasn’t forgotten the times his Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
Speaking of basketball memories he probably could do without, Howard said he was taunted when he was a child actor-turned-high school basketball player in Burbank, Calif.
“When I would walk to the line to shoot free throws, the opposing band would play the ‘Andy Griffith’ theme song and people would yell, ‘Miss it, Opie,’” Howard said, “which I pretty often did.”
Like Howard, the Bears’ Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, sitting first row next to the Celtics bench, got their turn on the JumboTron. But the two wide receivers took the opposite approach from Howard and kept a straight face, as if they weren’t being watched by more than 22,000 fans.
“Why don’t they smile?” asked Howard, before realizing: “Oh, that’s their party face.”