Interview: Terrence Howard

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You hear all the Oscar talk as a result you get people who think you might get nominated and want to attach you to their film, cause if you get nominated then that gives press to their film. But I also got some scripts from people who believe what I can do. Like you know to play Thurgood Marshall from New line and to play Joe Louis. Those good opportunities, those 2 opportunities; my life has changed in regards to that. But I know it’s only changed because I learned to listen to a director. Now at the moment that I stop listening, it will revert back to the other way.

Scene-stealer actor Terrence Howard has only himself to thank for his new found success as being a ‘noticed’ actor. As Howard is no stranger to the silver screen; he has confessed to being his own worst enemy. In a previous Hustle & Flow interview, Terrence revealed when things started happening for him. It was when he shut up and listened that the doors of opportunity burst open giving him a larger expansion of growth as an actor and all around person. Here he speaks to The Black Star about his role in Get Rich or Die Tryin’

BSN: Hey Terrence, let’s talk about that shower scene. Was it you running across there naked?
TH: No. That was a stand in. I am much more, well endowed than that. It was a very cold shower.

BSN: Was it easy to ease into it?
TH: I didn’t ease into it. I just saw my friend Jim Sheridan sitting there, struggling for two hours, trying to shoot a scene that he wanted. And we tried to do it with the coverings and all that and it was not apart of his vision. It was hurting him. And I saw him sitting at the monitor just rubbing his head. So I went to Jim and said can we do one more. And he said I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference. I said you know what…I took my draws off. And I turned to 50 and I said…this is us. This is who we are. He’s like nigga fuck you…lol. I am not there…they ain’t gonna put a poster of you up. They gonna freeze frame, put a poster of me up and say look at 50s bitch ass! I was like man just try it. Jim really needs it. He said fuck it. Took his draws off and jumped right in. then the other three people in the scene…they did it too. Then you saw Jim getting live. He was all live and I was happy.

BSN: You’ve worked for quite a few years. 20 to be exact, but only till recently with the success of Crash, Hustle & Flow and now this have you really gotten the recognition. Well, can you see the sudden change?
TH: Well, the difference is was…before…I was warring against the entire world. I was just warring against it and I just would not surrender to the director, you know. And then in this year, when Kathy Bates told me in 1997 at Sundance was you got to trust your director. It took 6, 7 years for that to sink in. So, I lent myself to that this year and look at what a difference it made. I stop doing Terrence Howard impersonations.

BSN: Are you following your instinct?
TH: Terrence Howard: No. You’ve got to surrender and trust the director’s instinct. Because your instinct is  ...â€?he who isolates himself will seek out his own selfish longing. And against all practical wisdom he will break forth.â€? That was me…before. So when I learned to surrender to what they wanted. Then I saw knew characters created. But before they were all just reflections of me.

BSN: So you were difficult?
TH: I was very difficult.

BSN: Did you set out to do that purposely?
TH: No. I thought these people were idiots. They didn’t know what they were doing. And Jeffrey Wright has to sit me down and tell me, you are your own worst enemy because you refuse to get out of your own way.

BSN: Is Crash the first movie that you did that in?
TH: Paul just looked at me and said you know Terrence…umm, what I need you to bring in this movie. I can’t ask you to bring. Cause I don’t know what it is. But I’ll get it along the way. Just trust me along the way ok. I promise you I will not lead you wrong. And if you never work again, you can come and live in my house. This is what he told me. And Craig Brewer would come over to you like this and say…I think you can do it. I think you can do it. He’s such a pimp. Honestly. And Jim would be like, hey you that’s a bunch of crap man. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. What do you think? What do you want to try? And all these people. For him to ask me what do I want to try after having a year of learning to surrender? I was like a little kid. I want to try this. Well, try it like this and do this with it. And then add this on it. And he allowed you to bring your own clay. You bring the clay and then he’d mold it into his city. But it was my clay that I brought in and he let me play with my clay.

BSN: What do you know of this culture that is being implicated in this movie?
TH: As a young Black male, I’ve grown up in that same type of environment. Fortunately for myself I had my father, who had a rule that we could not play with anybody from the neighborhood. If he was home, we could be in the front yard and stay inside the gate. But none of our friends could come inside the gate. Nobody could loiter the gate. So people would come and talk to you for like a minute over the gate and then walk. But when he wasn’t home we had to be inside. And when the street lights were coming on, we had to be in the house. We couldn’t be walking in the house. My father believed in corporal punishment. We got whipped. And for me I watched it. And he would say, you may hate me now, but I promise you, you’ll be able to hate me when your 40 instead of loving me when your 17.

BSN: And you agree with that now?
TH: Yes. I raise my kids the same way.

BSN: You put your son in Animal. Are you teaching him what Kathy Bates taught you?
TH: Well, my dad was a contractor. And he took us to work with him everyday when we had nothing to do. And he taught us how to do construction. And we learned that we would always be able to make a living. Since I am an actor now I take my children. I just took my oldest daughter Aubrey to London with me. She is learning to trust. Learn to trust but to still be you. So I am teaching them everything that I learned and they’ll expand on that and become better actors than me.

BSN: If that’s what they want to do?
TH: If that’s what they want to do. I wish I had learned these things when I was like 17, 18. I would be retired by now and only do a movie every 2 or 3 years.

BSN: Rap isn’t your music. Has Hustle & Flow and this film changed that for you?
TH: I don’t believe that music should be violent. Cause it touches such a central place inside of us that is delicate. And it should never have guns, and knives, and swords and bats in the inner most place of your heart and mind because we behave accordingly. There are elements of rap that I still like, like back in the day music like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy. These people talked about a positive image. And Nas today. And Kanye West today. But the other elements of it, I still stay away from it. Curtis Jackson, the person, I’ve met; he has such a positive message. Mr. Hyde, 50 Cent, he’s real. He’s very real. But he’s been created in order to survive that environment that he’s grew up in. once he’s made it through everything he’s had to make it through, you’ll see a change in his music. But he’s still dealing with the post traumatic stress of 50 Cent.

BSN: Is it important for you to do that also in your films? To bring positive ness?
TH: Well, you have to. There’s a good side to everybody. I try to show both the good and the bad. And in each character I don’t try to water down the truth, even though I don’t like using the word nigger in Hustle & Flow it wasn’t in the script one time but you heard it in almost every sentence. Why? Because the time that I spent down there, everybody I heard used it. So I would be remised not to put it in there. And fortunately in this film, this character hated that word. So I could express my ideas with it. But even in Hustle & Flow, DJay had a strength about him that was encouraging. Crash you had a similar strength. There was a guy with some dignity but he had lost his integrity. He was so busy trying to hold on to the facade of dignity.

BSN: Your character in this film doesn’t start off as being a killer. I am really surprised at how the character proves that theory wrong?
TH: Bama was crazy. What was beautiful about Bama was he came from a guy named Country. A friend of 50s. And 50 said he was a man that didn’t yell or anything like that. He was very soft spoken. And he would tell you in a second that you hurt his feelings. And if you did not apologize for hurting his feelings he would shoot you.

BSN: Did you meet Country?
TH: No. He was incarcerated. This was a benefit for the rest of us.

BSN: Which the buzz from Hustle & Flow and Crash there is lots of Oscar talk?
TH: You hear all the Oscar talk as a result you get people who think you might get nominated and want to attach you to their film, cause if you get nominated then that gives press to their film. But I also got some scripts from people who believe what I can do. Like you know to play Thurgood Marshall from New line and to play Joe Louis. Those good opportunities, those 2 opportunities; my life has changed in regards to that. But I know it’s only changed because I learned to listen to a director. Now at the moment that I stop listening, it will revert back to the other way.

BSN: Will you do those films?
TH: Yes.

BSN: Do you feel vindicated now that you’ve learned to listen to the directors and now you’ve gotten a reward for it?
TH: It encourages you. First time you try something it’s a mistake, do it again, if it works the second time, it’s a trick, third time it’s a method. Then it becomes a principal and a way of life. And your reward is from the principle because now you can use that strategy.

BSN: How come we don’t hear more stories like this; about the African American community? We always hear about mothers raising children, grandmothers but never the fathers. And yet you seem to have your hand in it all?
TH: Well, the best way to control a people is to take away their leader.  And the father is the leader of the family. And for 400 years, what happened with African Americans, they were…the children grew up without having a father. The Willy Lynch syndrome. And that is still…now that has become so engrained into us, like in Crash, my character felt still unable to defend his wife and his family in view of the great threat of losing his life. Until men begin to take responsibility and know that they only way your going to separate me from my children is by killing me. And I think that the people that have survived throughout slavery were female. Because the men in my family all must have lost their lives trying to stand up for what they believe.

BSN: You’ve worked with other singers as actors before. How do you rate 50 Cent?
TH: I think he’s brilliant. His willingness to try something new. Now, is he still struggling at it…he’s still working it out. But damn it, I’m still working it out.

BSN: Did you have any reservations about working with a rap artist, in regards to the rumors and gang shootings around him?
TH: Naw. I think I got more enemies than him. I thought he was wearing a bullet proof vest because of me.

Copyright 2005 Tonisha Johnson

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