About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Studios Home
August 2006
IDLEWILD: An Interview with Terrence Howard

IDLEWILD: An Interview with Terrence Howard
By Wilson Morales

Since being nominated for Best Actor last year for his incredible performance in “Hustle and Flow”, Terrence Howard’s film life has blossomed probably beyond his wildest imagination. Always seen as the scene stealer in most of his films, Howard has elevated his game where the industry is now pitching him leading man scripts and big budgeted films. While that’s great and all, Terrence still will take a role that different from the other roles he’s done, even if it’s big or small. While the film was shot before “Hustle”, the long-awaited film, “Idlewild” is finally coming to theaters on August 25th, where Howard plays a gangster named Trumpy who menaces Big Boi’s character throughout the film. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Howard talks about playing this character and working with Big Boi.

Can you talk about playing this character, the nastiest you’ve played?

Terrence Howard: Right, on screen. You ask my kids, they’d say they’d rather have Trumpy as a father.

How did it feel to be bad?

TH: I mean, to play a guy that has no conscience or has wider boundaries in which he lives under, it’s amazing. It’s freedom. It’s freedom. It’s moral freedom.

How do you ground him?

TH: He was grounded. Remember, everything was about principal. Everything was about immediate response to command. He had a way about him. You do not let me build your company for all these years and then fail to acknowledge my contribution by giving me the opportunity to run it. You do not do that. His feelings were hurt and when you hurt a child’s feelings, the child responds. And when you hurt a child inside of a hurt man’s feelings, a monster responds. It was born out of the neglect of those around him. That’s how I justify him.

Did you ever want to jump on the mic and join in?

TH: No. When you see lions up there fighting, you don’t jump in the cage. These cats, these guys are great. Andre and Macy Gray and Antwone, they’ve been at this for 15-odd years. They’ve mastered what they do. I will not come and trip them up. I don’t even know how to hold the damn mic properly, so I wouldn’t even try and touch it.

What feeling did it evoke wearing ‘30s clothes?

TH: Well, the ‘30s, you’re talking about truly the heyday of jazz. Jazz was about individuality but then you had that level of conformity that we were coming from the Victorian age where dress and presentation still meant everything. So you’re looking for some form of expression, creative expression that alone was informative. And the way that they did that, how you approach someone, a man never spoke to a woman improperly even inside of a whorehouse. He never spoke to her in her common name. Everyone had a Miss or something in front of her name. They just demanded respect and respect was given to those who dressed properly. All those things as a character helps you because you know where you’re dancing at. You know what type of dance is expected inside of a place. You don’t go inside there doing the foxtrot when it’s a waltz that’s required. You knew where you belonged in those times. As an actor, when you give me all these things, the biggest thing about me is my wardrobe. The thing that’s most expressive and most representative of me is the wardrobe that I’m wearing in that scene. So if you set that properly, I’m going to walk- - it’ll make my walk a lot easier. If I’ve got on stilts, than I know I need to be a little higher than everybody. I need to behave like that.

Any gangster shoes you tried to fill?

TH: I wish that I could have- - see, unfortunately, this is something I dove in without reading the script because Andre 3000 was doing it and I was a huge fan of his. And I wasn’t really in a position to be choosing characters like these themes, I couldn’t choose at the time. Bryan Barber had called and I was trying to get my music off at the time. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do the movie’ thinking I’m gonna get an opportunity to do some music. And then I get there and start rehearsals and at rehearsal was literally the first time I saw the script because we finished Hustle and Flow on the 9th of August. On the 10th I was on a plane. On the 11th, we were starting the rehearsals. I figured I could just fake my way through it and nobody would know the difference. It was an intensive process for two weeks to find these guys, but Bryan was so hands on, that he was the gangster I was emulating. Because everything was a smile, but his eyes, there’s something very deadly about his eyes. I always looked to him for every scene. Every motivation. I mean, he’d pull me to the side and because he knew that I wasn’t so well versed in what he was trying to accomplish, I hadn’t seen his videos, he didn’t mind walking me through, hand holding me. But then he’d let the little kids run around when they wanted to. He’s a really great teacher. A really great teacher.

Did you have to come back for any reshoots?

TH: No, I wasn’t that big in the film at the time. The reshoots they were doing was for music mostly. I wish I could have because there were a couple things that I saw that I would love to change in my performance.

Like what?

TH: Most of it. You know, you can do a move on a floor the first time you see it and it’s okay, but man, if you could practice it. Little nuances, slight nuances and changes. I mean, overall, it sold to me but as an actor, as a growing professional, it’s like wow, dang, I wish I had made that other choice. I wish I had the time to consider the other choice.

Now you have choice, what’s your life like now?

TH: Well, I don't know, any time someone has a breakthrough in therapy, their life is much better afterwards. I discovered strength inside myself. I discovered confidence. Just the ability to choose, it does change the way you think and therefore changes your choices in life. And now I’m hoping to be able to try to better delegate how I’m going to make these choices, the people that I have helping me, so I can enjoy my life and not work from film to film to film to film to film, and not look at a film like Idlewild that’s so beautifully and masterfully done and think dang, I wish I’d worked a little harder because I could have contributed a little bit more. I want to be able to spend the two years that I had for Hustle and Flow to really map out a character well and be real proud of him. But you’re not making money at the beginning. There’s no money in the beginning and you have the expectation of an obligation of money, so when they start offering you money and great opportunity, to work with Richard Gere, to work with Jodie Foster, to work with Kimberly Elise, it’s like whoa. I’ll take that.

What do you look for then?

TH: It’s the people you’re working with. Anybody can throw a party. Somebody’s throwing a party around the corner, that’s great, there’s a party over there. But when they tell you that so and so’s going to be there and you kinda like so and so, you’re going to be at that party and it’s going to be a good party. So I go to the party based on the people that are there. Because we can make up the music, we can do whatever we gotta do, go back and have a drink if you want. But it’s the people involved that’s gonna make the party. And the script is life. We could have a whole movie about what we’re doing right here.

What’s your perspective on scaring Big Boi in his first scene?

TH: Well, see, most of the time when he’s on stage, he’s on stage by himself and he had this whole avenue of opportunities to do whatever he wants. He could focus on any audience member that’s there to watch him perform and gain strength. But here he was this close to me. I violated every sense of space that he had, so in trying to maintain your composure, you cannot do it with somebody else telling him what to do. You have to be able to stand right there. Now one of the funniest things when he was trying to hand me that wad of money, his hand was going like this, it was shaking and we noticed that. I could’ve pretended like it didn’t happen but I just brought it into the character. And after they said cut, I said, ‘You’re scared, aren’t you? I’m going to run right over you now.’ And he took a deep breath and said, ‘We’re here to fight. Let’s play.’ And he came. He came and from that moment onward, it was good. I don’t believe you should take the gloves, you should put on gloves for anybody. Everybody has to be able to hold their own. And he did. And he found his comedic sense in his character. When he found himself afraid, he reverted back to what he used to do in other situations, what we all do. We make light of a heavy situation with humor. That’s what makes a character real. And he found ways of putting those in there and he carried himself- - I mean, I don't know what help I gave him because I wasn’t trying to help him. And I was letting him know we are at war. And he stood up for it. I loved it.

He channeled his anger?

TH: He did, and it was beautiful. Most of my scenes were with him. I had so much with him and there’s such an animosity between the two of us, but then afterwards we’d go into his trailer and sit up and talk about music because I was trying to get him to help me with my music. I terrorized him and then, ‘Can you help me now?’

You stole The Best Man.

TH: Spike said I stole the movie.

But you were noticed back then, just not famous.

TH: I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready yet.

How did you work that out?

TH: It wasn’t my choice to remain patient. I wanted something that emotionally I wasn’t ready for because I was a bit of a hothead. I grew up in a very rough part of life and it was a whole different thing culturally. Someone’s disrespect was handled in a completely different manner. And so when I first came to the set, you know how rude people can be in this business. And everyone else has the common sense to just walk away or suck it up. I didn’t know how to suck up nothing. And I wasn’t about biting my tongue. So I made my road very hard for myself, until I learned how to maintain my integrity and at the same time keep the peace. Just because someone spits on you, you don’t have to break their teeth. You just don’t. It’s easy enough to wipe the spit off and just don’t deal with that person anymore. But that was my road. That’s what took so long because you have to learn how to deal with disrespect. You have to learn how to be patient with yourself.

What’s your familiarity with culture of the ‘30s?

TH: Well, you have Cab Calloway is my great granduncle and he was so beloved inside my family. And we’d listen and hear talk, hear stories about things that he did. I grew up with my mom, my grandmother, my great grandmother and my great great grandmother and my great great grandfather. I grew up in a house where the 20s were still present day. So to me, I don't think it was that much of a- - without that formal training in everyday informal life, I would not have been able to find those things because a statement I made to Big Boi’s wife inside the movie, I called out to her. Now in tradition I should have called her by her last name. But to show disrespect, I called her by her first name and treated his wife as if she was something common, which wouldn’t work today. If my character called a woman by her first name today it doesn’t mean anything. But back then, it was a way of saying FU.

Do you do lindy hop?

TH: I could do it but I’d only do it once and then you’d have to take me to the hospital.

Did you get the music help from Big Boi?

TH: Oh yeah, I got the help of get it done. Whatever you got to do, he basically took me right back to Hustle and Flow. You’ve got to do it yourself. You’ve got to rely on your own skills, your own resources and your own drive. You’ve just got to get it done. You let other people come and say, ‘Can I help?’ but no, it’s on you to accomplish your dreams.

Is it still hard out there for a pimp?

TH: It’s a little easier now.

How’s the work on ‘The Perfect Christmas”?

TH: That was fun. I got to do a bah-humbug.

Is “Idlewild” the flip side of Crash where you were vulnerable?

TH: I never thought about that because I actually like it a lot. I like the fact that I was able to be completely free in this role. With Crash I was so confined by the need of conforming.

Is your character, Trumpy, named after Donald Trump?

TH: No, but he needs to be. Donald may be- - Donald probably is that aggressive.

How’s working with Jodie in The Brave One?

TH: She’s incredible. I get nervous in front of her. That’s how it is.

Are you doing Iron Man?

TH: Yes I am, maybe.



Terms of Use | Privacy Policy