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Film career runs in the family

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As a Mission Control technician in Apollo 13, Clint Howard, director Ron’s younger brother, delivers one of his more understated performances — or maybe the proper term is less frightening. Tensely calculating formulas to bring the astronauts home, he goes against the expectations of direct-to-video mavens, who are used to seeing the bare-pated actor in a bug-eyed, manic state, whether screaming ”I’ve been infested!” in Ticks, playing dinosaur food in Carnosaur, or serving up a severed head on a sugar cone in Ice Cream Man.

In fact, the 36-year-old Howard delights in alternating between big-budget extravaganzas and the excursions into what he calls ”guerrilla moviemaking” that led to his recent position as the guest of honor at a Clint Howard Film Festival in Chicago. His résumé bulges almost as much as his peepers and shows him well represented on both ends of the spectrum; he’s been in almost all of brother Ron’s movies, recently appeared as an exterminator in Billy Crystal’s Forget Paris, and is set to play a deejay in Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do.

Like his brother, who became a star as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, the affable Howard says, ”I began acting before I even knew how to read or write. It was like being born into a circus family.” Though he’s been an actor since the age of 2, it was the 1967 movie Gentle Giant and its TV spin-off Gentle Ben, (in which he played opposite a huge bear), that brought him his earliest fame.

Howard claims that Ron, who got his directorial start working for penny-pinching producer Roger Corman, ”envies the freedom of [low-budget] moviemaking. And everybody I know is sure that one of these days I’m gonna go off and make one of these things myself without telling anybody. And I just might.” He might want to tell that to his wife of two months, Melanie, a phone company customer-service rep. Musing on the challenges of his newfound domesticity, he allows something that his following may have suspected all along: ”My brain is a funny, funny place to be.”

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