‘Happy Days’ Star Ron Howard Reflects on Casting Mother in Classic Film ‘Cocoon’

by Josh Lanier

Cocoon was a family affair for director Ron Howard. His dad and brother both had speaking roles in the movie, but it also marked his mom’s return to acting.

Ron Howard’s parents, Clint and Jean Speegle Howard, moved from Oklahoma to Hollywood hoping to find fame. But Jean gave up that dream when her sons were born. Though, both of her sons became famous actors as children. Ron Howard moved behind the camera as he got older while Clint Howard continued to work as a character actor.

Jean Speegle Howard felt compelled to return to acting late in life. Ron was working on Cocoon at the time, and he was happy to have her join the rest of the family on the film, he explained on The Drew Barrymore Show. He was on the show to promote his new memoir with his brother, Clint.

“Mom was just beginning to show a little interest in getting back into the business,” Howard said. “And I asked her to be an extra, and she gained a lot of confidence.”

She also became friends with the stars of the movie, Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon, and Jessica Tandy. The women bonded over their struggles to balance acting and raising a family. Ron Howard said his mom left the movie energized about herself and her revitalizing her career.

“It made me feel like I actually made a very good decision,” Ron said.

Ron Howard Made His Mom Audition for Role in ‘Apollo 13’

But that doesn’t mean that he was just going to give her parts in his movies. Ron Howard worked with his mom again on Apollo 13, but this time he made her work for the role. She wanted to play the mother of Tom Hanks’ character, who had a vital scene in the movie.

Ron decided to let her audition, but since she didn’t have much recent experience acting. He worried she might not do well and didn’t want to embarrass her if it went badly. So, he held the audition in private, the Huffington Post reported.

“I didn’t want to do it at the office, so I said I’d come by the house and we’d read through the scene. So I came by, and she was nervous. She had a little house coat and was prepared to do it. And we went through it a couple of times and she made me cry just because I was proud of her as a son and also because I knew that she could do it, and this was an opportunity. And it was just one or two takes on the day of shooting, but it was a great moment.”

Ron Howard admitted later that he only allowed his mom to audition at his dad’s insistence.

“I’m so happy my dad twisted my arm,” Howard told Entertainment Tonight in 2020. “I really didn’t think mom was old enough to do it, and I was also just frankly nervous about it because I knew what a pivotal role it was. But she really knocked it out of the park.”

If you’ve seen Apollo 13, chances are you remember her scene in the movie.