Ron Howard on ‘Pavarotti,’ ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ and His ‘Very Emotional’ Reaction to Shia LaBeouf’s Biopic

Ron Howard is in the music documentary business again. Just two years after directing “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” about the Fab Four’s early days, he’s back with “Pavarotti,” a film chronicling the life of the late opera great Luciano Pavarotti that hits theaters June 7.

Howard admits he wasn’t an avid opera fan before his “Eight Days a Week” producer Nigel Sinclair pitched him the Pavarotti project.

“Similar to ‘The Beatles: Eight Days a Week’ movie, he said ‘Look, we found some new footage. I think the family is interested or willing to talk. We don’t know for sure, but does the character interest you at all?’” Howard says in this week’s episode of Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast “The Big Ticket.” “And I said ‘Well, it’s kind of perfect for me because I love explorations where I have an innate respect and fascination, but not necessarily all that much knowledge,’ which by the way even includes The Beatles.”

Pavarotti was one of opera’s most celebrated tenors and is his highly credited for opera’s crossover into popular music. He was 71 when he died in 2007 from pancreatic cancer.

“I understood how charismatic he was,” Howard said. “A little bit later in my life, I began to appreciate the talent but I had no idea what the journey was.”

Ron Howard photographed at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for the Variety Big Ticket Podcast.
CREDIT: Dan Doperalski for Variety

Another music project on Howard’s plate is the Aretha Franklin season of “Genius,” a Nat Geo series produced by his production company Imagine Entertainment. While casting is still underway, Howard said they’ve already cleared Franklin’s catalogue for the show. “We’re in good shape there,” he said.

At time of our chat, Howard was still prepping for his big screen adaptation of J.D. Vance’s politically charged bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close.

“I think it is a look at… a corner of our culture and population that is a large one, and has probably gone a little bit underserved,” Howard explained. “My family comes from Oklahoma and Kansas. I never lived there. J.D. Vance is also not a hillbilly, but that’s why I like the title. It’s like the echoes of that culture have certainly influenced him just as honestly I feel it from my own family.”

He added that his plan is to “tell this family story as honest and in a straightforward way as possible and again, use it as this case study for the struggle to overcome certain cycles of the problematic circumstances and behavior, but also to recognize that society plays a role in almost everything that impacts us and shapes things.”

Howard also talked about the last time he cried at the movies. His answer was unexpected — Shia LaBeouf’s self-penned biopic “Honey Boy.”

“I got very emotional watching that movie,” Howard said. “Shia LaBoeuf is basically playing his father, and I think maybe having been a child actor myself, although my circumstance is quite different — it was a very constructive experience — but I thought that movie was raw and true. So I was really empathetic with it and open to it and really admired it and I found it very moving.”

You can listen to the full episode of this week’s “The Big Ticket” below, and hear new episodes every Thursday at iHeartRadio or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

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