More than half a century ago, famed playwright Tennessee Williams ('The Glass Menagerie', 'A Street Car Named Desire') wrote his first pure, non-adapted screenplay, 'The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,' then lined up legendary director Eilia Kazan and award-winning actress Julie Harris to bring it to life. That never happened ... until now.

On Dec. 30, Williams' 'Teardrop' will finally hit theaters, with Jodie Markell directing and Bryce Dallas Howard ('Lady in the Water') starring as Fisher Willow: the brash, independent, yet vulnerable daughter of Depression-era Southern aristocracy who -- much to the chagrin of her wealth aunt (Ann-Margaret) -- falls in love with the young impoverished man (Chris Evans) she hires to accompany her to a gauntlet of high-society parties in hopes of alienating upper crust-types.

We spoke with Howard, a veteran of both stage and screen, about what it was like to contend with the history of the old South, work with legends Margaret and Ellen Burstyn (who plays aging stick-in-the-mud Addie) and bring a never-before-seen Tennessee Williams heroine to life. More than half a century ago, famed playwright Tennessee Williams ('The Glass Menagerie', 'A Street Car Named Desire') wrote his first pure, non-adapted screenplay, 'The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,' then lined up legendary director Eilia Kazan and award-winning actress Julie Harris to bring it to life. That never happened ... until now.

On Dec. 30, Williams' 'Teardrop' will finally hit theaters, with Jodie Markell directing and Bryce Dallas Howard ('Lady in the Water') starring as Fisher Willow: the brash, independent, yet vulnerable daughter of Depression-era Southern aristocracy who -- much to the chagrin of her wealth aunt (Ann-Margaret) -- falls in love with the young impoverished man (Chris Evans) she hires to accompany her to a gauntlet of high-society parties in hopes of alienating upper crust-types.

We spoke with Howard, a veteran of both stage and screen, about what it was like to contend with the history of the old South, work with legends Margaret and Ellen Burstyn (who plays aging stick-in-the-mud Addie) and bring a never-before-seen Tennessee Williams heroine to life.

The project has such an interesting history. How much did you know about it when the role was brought to you?
I knew quite a bit. It's a fully completed, fully developed screenplay by Tennessee Williams that never got realized, and that's just a gem. It's so ironic that the film is called 'The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,' because that's exactly what it is. And now it's been found again by such an extraordinary filmmaker, which is so exciting. The idea of originating a Tennessee Williams heroine is something I never thought would come into the realm of possibilities for my career.

What was it like to inhabit that character, knowing that you would be the first?
It felt like a huge responsibility. It's one thing to do an incredible Shakespearean role, or a new character in a current film by a great writer or director. It's quite a different thing to bring to life the writing of perhaps one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century that has never been seen before. I think we all felt very reverent of what Williams had created, and a responsibility to do it justice. I can say we did our absolute best, and hopefully it's worthy.

Your character is definitely of the Tennessee Williams tradition of heroines. Were there any previous Williams characters you were able to draw from to create her?
Yes. The way in which I always thought of Fisher Willow was that she was like Blanche DuBois [from 'A Streetcar Named Desire'], except 15 years earlier, when she still had a chance. It was really interesting to play a character where you knew: If she was to become insane, that's what it would look like. The stakes of what Fisher was fighting against were really quite palpable. Insanity is such a strong theme in Williams' work, because of his sister, Rose [who was a schizophrenic], so that was something that was really important to pay attention to.

Watch the trailer for 'The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond'


The invisible character throughout the film seems to be class.
Definitely. In many ways this film is about the old South meeting the new South, which thematically resonates today because we're living in a time of change. The paradigms are shifting. So its interesting to have these characters who feel like outsiders, but they're actually the promise of what's to come. The South is a character, and class is what defines the history of the South. It was even better that the film was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, because we would go to these places that were genuinely historical, where you could really feel that. In the beginning of the film, Fisher drives past shacks that are actual preserved housing where people who were once enslaved lived. It was really intense to be there, to see that reality, or to visit huge, sweeping plantations. The stark differences in the way people lived was just so intense, and it became a huge part of this movie.

You and Chris Evans had a really great chemistry -- how did you find a center for how your characters should interact?
Chris comes from a theatrical background like me, so rehearsal is really important to him, and its really important to me too. I would rather do things a million and a half times if time would permit. It was really great to work with someone like Chris on this, because he really loves being prepared. There were countless nights of 4 AM rehearsals to get it right. We wanted to make sure that the relationship was honest: that you could feel the class difference, that you could feel the attraction; Jimmy's attraction to Fisher but also his hesitancy. That was just a lot of hours talking, working on the scenes. We had a great time. We knew how rare it was to take on these characters, and we took it very seriously.

Was it the same kind of experience with Ann-Margaret and Ellen Burstyn?
The way in which the characters related were entirely different. Their characters really represented the old South. They're both very collaborative women, and total masters. But in terms of rehearsal, it was almost better to prepare independently of one another, then have our impressions of our characters meet on screen for the first time. That was really exciting. It was incredible working with those two actors.

You glide effortlessly between higher profile pictures like 'Spider-Man 3' and 'Terminator: Salvation,' and lower profile films, like this one or Lars von Trier's 'Manderlay' -- how do you choose your projects?
I feel so fortunate because it's so often not about choice. As an actor you want to act, and it's often a matter of what becomes available. I wish it was just about choosing the right things. But as far as what my priorities are for what projects I want to seek out, it's filmmaker first. Always. It's my job as an actress to be a vessel for their vision, so I want to make sure that I have faith in and believe in that vision. Secondly, it's the material: the story, what it's saying. Then thirdly, it's the character. How much do I relate to the character, how challenged do I feel, what can I bring to it? I think for a lot of people its character first, but I'm sucker for filmmakers.

What's up next for you?
Right now I'm producing a Gus Van Sant film. Jason Lew and I developed a script for the last two years, and Gus in now directing it, so that's incredible. I just finished 'Twilight: Eclipse,' coming out next summer, which I'm extremely, extremely excited for. And I have another project that I can't say anything about right now [possibly 'Hereafter'?], but I feel really, really lucky right now.