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.''