“My sister and I grew up on the original Pete’s Dragon,” says Bryce Dallas Howard, describing how the 1977 partially-animated Disney movie played “on a loop” during her childhood.

Wrapping her head around the fact that this new Elliot would be unlike the typical scaly-skinned dragons, Howard swiftly caught on.

“David [Lowery, director] told me from the start that this would be a really friendly dinosaur, so I imagined Elliot like my childhood dog, Littlefoot, a golden retriever named after Littlefoot in Land Before Time, who was just my best friend! She actually saved my brother, pulling him out of a snowdrift,” she says.

When Lowery outlined his new take on Pete’s Dragon, a film that talks about loneliness, friendship and the meaning of family, he had Howard at Elliot’s first fiery breath.
“Family means everything to me. I am fiercely protective of my own children,” says the actress, who has two kids with actor husband Seth Gabel.

Filming Pete’s Dragon in New Zealand for six months, she recalls, “I realised this would be a wonderful experience to share with my family, and they went to school in New Zealand and we lived in a tiny house, all of us on top of each other.”

Pete's Dragon with the kids

Of co-starring with Kiwi national treasure Karl Urban, who plays the villain of the piece, she says, “We all fell in love with New Zealand and were like, ‘We want to move here!’ And Karl was a great example of how to live in a place that is, on the map, so isolated, and yet he’s still able to function in this industry and have a family and all that. For all of us, it was always twenty questions for Karl, like ‘Soooo… Where do you live here? How do you do it?’”

Although Howard, 35, grew up around Hollywood royalty, she admits to being nervous about meeting Robert Redford, who plays her father in the film.

“The first time we met was while we were shooting, doing a scene where we’re running towards each other on a long empty road in an emotional reunion. But I hadn’t actually met him yet. I knew he was at the other end, and I was very far away from set. And when David yelled ‘action’, and we were running towards each other, I picked up speed because I was really excited, and I totally barreled into him! And he’s a really sturdy, strong guy, so he took the hit, like the man he is, and then David yelled ‘cut ‘and Robert says to me, ‘You came at me like a cannonball!’ And I was like, ‘Sorry! Nice to meet you!’”

Howard has endless Redford anecdotes and how the Horse Whisperer star actually rescued an abused horse wandering in the forest near the Pete’s Dragon set. However, no meeting with the actress would be complete with asking her about Jurassic World 2, set to begin shooting next year.

“I think the safest, most professional thing to do is to not say anything unless it is said before I say it,” she laughs, only revealing that she will abandon her high heels in the sequel, and zipping her lips when quizzed about the rumours of “pet” dinosaurs.
“We probably shouldn’t go further than this! Because you’re leaning up against some things that I’m like, ‘aaahhh don’t make an expression!’”

Pete’s Dragon is in cinemas on September 15