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Acclaimed filmmaker Ron Howard has taken on some of the most seminal moments from the 20th century in his movies — the Nixon presidency (Frost/Nixon), space exploration (Apollo 13) — but his latest effort, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years, channels his historical interests into a documentary.
Howard, who dipped his toes in the music documentary genre with 2013’s Made in America, about Jay Z’s nascent festival of the same name, jumped at the opportunity to compile archival footage of the Fab Four’s early years for a retrospective on the birth of their career. “I loved the idea of it, because I’m a fan,” Howard tells EW. “I knew we could tell the story of what they meant now with a new perspective: what they meant to fans at the time and that sort of interface that they had with popular culture and politics and all of it, that was thrust upon them, really, and that they wound up having a huge impact on.”
The Oscar-winning director chatted with EW about his latest film (available on Hulu now), the Beatles’ unexpected role in America’s Civil Rights Movement, and coming of age during Beatlemania.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Beatles’ story has been told countless times. How did you make it fresh?
RON HOWARD: When I began to delve into it, I began to see the makings of an ensemble survival story — where they’re all sort of trapped in this world together and all they have is each other.
What makes a film like this resonant half a century later?
I was excited by what we can offer audiences who think they know something about the Beatles but don’t really have any idea. Maybe I’m talking about millennials here, who have heard all the songs and love the music and know there was a thing called Beatlemania but have no way of grasping the context and the intensity of their impact and the fact that they were pioneering a lot of what has become standard in terms of popular culture, stadium touring, artists speaking out on political matters, social issues.
The documentary notably looks at the band’s refusal to play segregated venues in the American South. Were you familiar with that aspect of their history?
That was something I did not know about. I remember them speaking out about Vietnam and speaking out in favor of a youth culture, peace, love, and kind of a new way of looking at the world. But I didn’t know that that actually embodied segregation around the world and especially in America. So that was powerful.
Growing up in the ’60s, what was your connection to the Beatles?
I saw that first Ed Sullivan show, along with most of America. I was nine and about to be 10: That was Feb. 9, and my birthday is March 1. I was so excited about it that I decided that I wanted a Beatle wig for my 10th birthday. I also wanted Beatle boots, but my parents couldn’t find those. But I did get a Beatle wig, which I wore through my entire 10th birthday party — and then got tossed out with my invaluable Pete Rose rookie card when I went to college.
To what extent were the surviving Beatles, and George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s widows, involved in the doc?
If there was any request that was really significant in my mind, it came from Paul [McCartney] in my first phone conversation with him. He said, “So much has been talked about in terms of the conflict and so forth. All that conflict, that’s all true… But when you look at this particular period, John and I were really close. We were working together well. We loved the band and we loved each other… That is true, and if the movie could ever convey that, I’d love that.” That was his only request.