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November 2005
GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN: An Interview with Terrence Howard

GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN: An Interview with Terrence Howard

By Wilson Morales

This time last year, we were praising the work of Jamie Foxx, for not only was he phenomenal in “Ray”, which led to his Oscar, but his other roles in films that year were exceptional. Well, the same can said this year for Terrence Howard. A veteran who’s been in this game for a good minute, Howard has opened plenty of eyes this year with one good performance after the other. From his role in “Lackawanna Blues” to “Crash” to his breakout role in “Hustle and Flow” and more recently in “Four Brothers”, Howard has simply been marvelous. Now comes another film that will continue to open up and widen his appeal amongst dealmakers and producers. In “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”, Howard plays a fellow prisoner Bama, who befriends 50 Cent’s character when he wants to leave his past life and start a new one as a rapper. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Howard talks about working with 50 Cent, the good year he’s had so far, and his upcoming projects.

How was your first scene with 50 Cent?

Terrence Howard: It was intense, because I felt him before I saw him. I was rehearsing with Jim and something kept distracting me to another room. And I didn’t know 50 was in there. So, after a half hour, Jim said, ‘You seem distracted. And I was like, ‘Yeah, sorry. I just can’t concentrate right now.’ He said, ‘I think I know why. You’re sensitive aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he took me over to two doors down and there was my kindred spirit sitting there writing.

And what did he say to you?

TH: We didn’t say nothing we just looked at each other from across the room. We could have been sitting there for a half hour.

Did you pick this outfit out on your own?

TH: Who me? Yeah, it was the only thing that wasn’t wrinkled. I just came back from London and everything was kind of – got in so late last night, didn’t have time to send it down to get it put together. But, I always liked flowers and I think men need to start wearing flowers again.

This year seems to be “the year” that we have been talking about for a long time. How does it feel to you?

TH: I still just hear, those beautiful sounds to any person is the sound of their own heart. Their own heartbeat, the rhythm of their breathing. And as much people may say, ‘Wow, we love what you’re doing. You’re doing so great.’ Da, da, da. There will come a time when people won’t say that. So, I will never drown out the praise of my own heart by saying, ‘You did the very best you could.’ Like ‘Animal.’ I did ‘Animal.’ I didn’t succeed in doing that, but I tried something new. And I feel the applause myself for my effort in that. And I like the fact that other people are taking notice and looking my way, but that’s temporary.

Are you interested in being a star? Or a thespian?

TH: A thespian. A better thespian. Back to the whole thought of being a star. Our son is made up of hydrogen and helium, you know? And what makes up 90% of our bodies? Hydrogen with Oxygen. H2o. So, the very atoms that make me up once existed inside the sun. So, I was born a star. So was every other person on this problem.

But you know what I mean.

TH: Yeah, no, no. But, I want to be a thespian. Do I want a better magician? I would love to understand how to move people’s emotions even more so than I have learned to this point. I feel like the young man trying to become the alchemist and I’ve had some success, but I’m still trying to master the alchemy of what we do. What Jim has mastered. And I’m sure you guys after finishing talking to him, each and everyone of you has to be as enchanted as I was by him and working with him for six months. I want to understand that more.

How was it like to work with Jim Sheridan who would allow you to improvise?

TH: Well, it’s strange. He’s a bit of an abstract painter. He has an idea and he’ll bring the canvas and a number of different colors, but he will actually throw the paint on the canvas and let it run where it runs. And not one time, very rarely will you see him pick up a brush and move it over here. He’ll pick his painting by the paints that he throws together at the same time and throw a little heat on it. The freedom to run free even if you’re dripping places? That’s amazing, because everything happens organically. He’ll turn to an extra and say, ‘So, what do you think. It’s about your craft mate.’ And the extra will say, ‘Well, you know. You could do it like this.’ ‘Oh, O.K. Dechli, come here.’ And he will incorporate ideas of what someone else as an extra and atmosphere, this human being, this artist-in-training, this apprentice, he will treat them on an equal base with him. And so, with me as an actor he treated me the same way.

First I thought your character was just going to be one of those crazy guys you see in the movies.

TH: He was.

He was, but you find out later that he really sees the talent in Marcus. Do you feel like he wanted to exploit him or he just wanted to be a part of that world?

TH: Sometimes you are drawn to people and you don’t even know that it’s your job to protect them. ‘Why did I get thrown into prison? I may have committed this crime 100 times, why did I get caught this time? Why did I have to be in the shower right now. Why is that Young Cesar and Bama were drawn to each other inside the shower. What was that all about? Why did Bama try and save his life? For some reason, in the real life, Country and 50, for some reason they had been brought together. And 50 explained to me that he thought Bama’s charater, a guy named Country, was always an angel, because he would just show up right when he needed him. Like showing up right out of prison when he got out of jail when he was never supposed to see him again. In comparison to when he could have gone in that car and just gone back to selling drugs. You know what I mean?

The shower scene was that spontaneous. Any trepidation doing it?

TH: I was trepidatious about Jim not getting the shot that he wanted. I saw my friend, I saw the person, I saw the magician loose faith in his abilities because he was limited by his contract. So, he wanted to ask us. We shot the scene for two hours and he was not happy with it. And I saw him sitting at the monitor just stroking his head. And Declan was saying we have to move on because they have to do lighting for the next scene. And I asked Declan, I said, ‘Can we do one more? Do we have time to do one more?’ And Jim said, ‘I dunno if it’s going to make a difference.’ And I went and talked to 50. And I said, ‘Look man. I think we should just do the whole damn thing naked. Just one time and see how that works.’ And I took my drawers and he was like, ‘Go ahead, do it, do it, do it.’ And so I took my draws off and 50 was like, ‘shoot the camera at him’ (Laughs.) And Jim came over and he was like, ‘You sure you want to do this?’ So, Jim was trying to work it around so to where you just see me in that naked sense and I looked at 50 and was like, ‘C’mon man. We’re in this together.’ And he was like, ‘Fuck it.’ I was shy more so, because 50, it doesn’t even cross his mind. And in the moment it was introduced to him it was like, ‘O.K., whatever.’ And then the other three actors did it and we and now the scene, the set was alive again.

How was it working with 50 Cent since it was his first time acting?

TH: I was just blown away by his willingness to try new things. Was he nervous at the start and a little stiff? Yeah, but Jim somehow found a way to coach him out of that nervous area. That’s what I’m talking about. The leprechaun in him, the magician in him had 50 believing, he allowed 50 to see the transition, the common frame of reference between what he’s done on stage a thousand times and being on the set that one day. Or being on the set for the next 74 days. Jim allowed him to see the connection and then from then on 50 was cool.

The studio decided against a set visit for journalists. Why do you think they made that decision?

TH: Yeah, well when you are being watched it’s very hard to feel free. Here we’d been naked with everybody on the set with nobody judging anybody. There was no judging about it, but to have journalists on the set, when it is your responsibility to judge the creative source. To sift through it and say, ‘Where is the artistry at?’ Not as if journalists are bad or the evil people of the world. No, you guys actually give credence to what’s happened. You give the credibility and the authenticity and you compare it to history of what we’re supposed to be trying to reach .And Jim wanted to make sure that that was right. That was right before he could present it to the world.

In a recent interview that was posted on the web, you said you are not friends with John Singleton.

TH: No, we’re not friends, because we’re different people and different artists. We are artists from different sides of the galaxy. But, we all fit inside the same galaxy. He’s passionate from his perspective and I’m passionate from mine. And you need those objecting forces to keep the balance of justice in our eyes. There are times when we will pass by each other and there is great kinetic energy created as a result of it, but will we ever be friends? No.

It’s about the work, it’s not about being friends.

TH: Yeah, it’s a great thing. I still respect him. He still put $3 million out of his pocket when everybody else did a whole lot of this. But, I didn’t like him before we started working together. None of that changed, but I still respect him and am forever thankful to him, but we come from different worlds.

Why are you so close to 50?

TH: For some reason we share similar spirits, because the moment we laid eyes on each other from across the room, there was just silence. There was this moment of silence that could have been two seconds, it could have been a half hour. All I know is that from that point on every time we saw each other…like they say, we see ourselves in the people we are talking to based on how they respond to us. We look at how their eyes smile or the face they make. And you say, ‘What would make me make that face if I was talking to somebody?’ And then when they respond to that I’ve always felt good about myself after being around him.

Your character seems like another one of these scene-stealing characters that you have…

TH: Did he steal some scenes?

Yeah, I think so. Do you think now that your profile is getting bigger you’re not going to be offered as many of these parts and you’ll get more leading roles?

TH: I have always been offered leading roles, but I didn’t think I was ready to take them. I took on ‘Hustle & Flow’ because I had three and a half years to work on the character. I wanted to make sure my go around, my first time leading would end up being successful. With this film I wanted to work with Jim Sheridan because I needed to learn from him. I needed to learn from George Wolfe. I need to learn from Steven Spielberg. So, if I get an opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg in a supporting role because I want to be a director one day, you’re damn right I’m gonna jump there and do it. But, when the time comes, like ‘The Crusaders’ with Thurgood Marshall, you’re damn right I’m gonna play the lead in that because I’ve been working on him for three years. Reading about him. Joe Louis. Would I let someone else play Joe Louis? Hell no, because I’ve been working on him. But, I will not take the lead of something that I don’t know anything about it.

You’re not willing to make the compromise, just for the sake of being the lead.

TH: You can either lead by example or lead by barring down. Or you can have a greater weight and say, ‘Well, I’m gonna make more money than other people, so I should be the lead in this.’ And people will follow it. Supporting. Or, you can lead by example. The character I played in ‘Crash’ wasn’t the lead in that, but the example my character shows stands in a leading way or ‘Lackwanna’ because of Tyler and George Wolfe.

George is a very well known stage director. How was he like as a movie director?

TH: Flawless. Flawless. He was the first one to really challenge me. The first director to ever challenge me. He told me, ‘This is not going to be a Terrence Howard impersonation day. Sorry honey, it’s not going to happen. You’re going to act today. Okay?’

This movie is very hip-hop. You’re a very stylish guy, is that look ever part of your wardrobe?

TH: I like flowers. I like ruffles. I like soft. I just painted my nails. I believe in the art. And the artistry and the greatest thing that human beings have is the ability to express and to communicate. Not just in the words we use, but in every other aspect of our lives. Presentation to me is everything. It’s always everything, you know. And I hope the style is something that is appealing, but I know when I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror I smile and that’s the whole point of it.

Has the type of scripts you’re getting changed in the past year? Is your stature in the industry changing?

TH: I get a lot more respect from individuals when I talk to other actors they ask questions of how did I come about. What did I learn? Yeah, I’m respected now, but the truth of the matter is I’ve always respected me more. And as much as you guys like me or dislike me, my daddy told me when I was six-years-old, he put me in front of the mirror and he said, ‘You see this little red head motherf-er?’ He says, ‘You gotta love him, because no matter what he’s the only person that is going to be there through the rest of your life through the highs and the lows.’ I am a narcissist? You’re damn right. I love Terrence Howard and I’m going to look after him and believe in him even when nobody else believes in me. Because that one little sperm that made it to that egg out of a half a billion, that was me. It wasn’t the other ones. It was me and that’s the person I look up to.

Are you still in Philly or have you gone Hollywood?

TH: I’m still in Philly.




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