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Bryce Dallas Howard on Acting, Mothering, and Staying Healthy

With two highly anticipated movies and baby No. 2 on the way, the young actress claims her place in the A-list spotlight.

Bryce Dallas Howard's New Roles continued...

The "despicable human being" is nasty Hilly Holbrook, the meanest creature of fiction to appear since race-baiting Bob Ewell ruined lives in To Kill a Mockingbird. Sweet-as-a-snake Hilly is a society princess and stalwart segregationist in 1960s Jackson, Miss. For her, the issue of civil rights isn't to be debated or advanced; it's to be halted altogether. And she's more than willing to do her part.

It's Howard's other new film, 50/50, that wrestles with 21st-century issues -- examining how dizzying it can be to navigate our at-times unwieldy health care system.

Powerful and authentic, the film was written by TV producer Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer six years ago at age 25 and was given a 50/50 chance of surviving. Gordon-Levitt plays a character who finds himself in a similar situation, with Rogen going for laughs and getting them as the best friend who’s enraged by Howard’s character, the girlfriend who’s rather lukewarm about becoming the caretaker of a chemotherapy patient.

Asked what drew her to the part, Howard says: "First and foremost, I wanted to work with those boys [Rogen's team]. And I wanted the experience of being part of this incredible story."

Caretaking for Those With Serious Illness

The film explores how falling into the rabbit hole of illness redefines not just life expectancy, but relationships. Tough questions drive the plot: Who takes you to and from treatments when you're in no shape to do it yourself? Pushes for the best treatment? And is unquestionably there for you when the going gets tough?

"I don't respect her choices, but I can empathize with her," says Howard of her character, who cheats on Gordon-Levitt's character, eventually dumping him to face his fate alone. "Can you imagine being in a relationship, dating casually, and suddenly something like this happens? It encapsulates how life-and-death circumstances leave a person so very vulnerable, not only to the illness, but also to the people all around him."

In real life, newly diagnosed patients need a team of supporters, says Karen Mercereau, RN, founder and executive director of RN Patient Advocates in Tucson, Ariz. This team should include family members, a social network, and top doctors -- and if possible an independent advocate who understands how hospitals work and where to find the most relevant information regarding insurance, support groups, and leading-edge research.

"When a person is first diagnosed, he hears very little," explains Mercereau, a scene played out in 50/50 when Gordon-Levitt's character suddenly turns oblivious to all around him as his doctor's voice drones into gibberish the moment he utters the word cancer. "The patient is having his own internal dialogue and is fighting fear. That's why it's so important to have someone who can explain procedures not just once, but six times if necessary. New patients don't have that kind of head space to take it all in."

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