Sunday, March 04, 2007

Terrence Howard Reveals His Pride in His Latest Film (Q&A)

You might've gotten introduced to Terrence Howard opposite Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland's Opus or maybe it was the Hughes Brothers' hard-boiled Vietnam flick Dead Presidents or perhaps it was four years later in The Best Man wherein Terrence proved his flexibility as an actor which lead to roles that would challenge his abilities and expand his fan base with stellar performances in Hustle & Flow and then, more recently in Paul Haggis' Crash which garnered 2005's Best Picture Oscar....

Terrence returns to the big screen this March with the starring role in the film Pride opposite co-stars Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise and Tom Arnold. Directed by South Africa's Sunu Gonera, the film is inspired by the life of Jim Ellis, once an aspiring swimmer, who moved to 70's-era Philadelphia in the hopes of getting a job teaching only to find himself fighting against staggering odds to establish an all black swim team in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Philly. Terrence and the rest of the cast were in town last Friday supporting the film and below is what took place with Howard who not only talks about this film, he sheds a couple of insights on both the forthcoming Iron Man and the recently-wrapped The Brave One...

Q: Did you know about Jim Ellis before you took this movie?

Terrence Howard: I knew about Jim Brown, I knew about James Brown and I knew about [Ellis'] nature but I didn't know his work, his personal work, until I sat down with him in this place called Spring Mill Cafe-- off of Baron Hill Road in a little town in Philadelphia called Lafayette Hill. And I sat down with him and he asked me-- you know, I'd just come off that whole Oscar nomination [process] and I was exhausted, tired of smiling and tired of doing all of that stuff (laughs) and Jim looked at me and in one moment, he calmed my nature. He leaned forward, he smiled and he said 'why do you want to play me?' and I didn't have an answer. And the only thing I could say was 'because of the question you just asked.' I felt my entire mood shift, he has the ability of subtle suggestion and everyone who listens to him becomes [engulfed] in that. And I was wondering, I wanted to know where does his power come from and then, after going and watching him coach, I still don't know. But perhaps it's just the fact that he cares-- he genuinely cares.

You know, even though we took liberties in this script-- Jim was a math teacher in Philadelphia schools at the time, he had a wife and he had a mentally handicapped son-- he had 33-34 students [whose] homework he had to grade and write a curriculum for. But he took his mentally handicapped, two year-old son to that swimming pool every morning at 5AM, to that pool again at 3:35 every evening. And along with taking care of his responsibilities with his kid, with his son, he took on the responsibilities of children that had been abandoned by their own parents and the social system. He was generous with his time, that was it. The more I learned about him, the more guilty I felt because I have my three kids and I've always said 'well, if I take care of mine, I'm alright.' But our responsibility lies with everyone that is of our kind-- to be of our kind doesn't mean you have to be of our color. Anyone that's made in the image of God has to be taken care of, life-- the image of God, you know, you're supposed to love them. And [Ellis] has done that, for thirty-three years without any acclaim, without the help of the school board, without the help of the recreational department, he said he's sat down with [the Governor of Pennsylvania] a number of times, talked to [the Mayor of Philadelphia] a number of times and every one he came across, not one person has helped-- he still has a swimming pool that does not have heat and he has to run a hose every morning, to heat up that water so his kids can swim in the pool. He's still fighting to build a suitable recreational facility that they can instruct students in. You know, [the US ] has had only four black people compete in the the swimming events in the Olympics-- in all the years of the Olympics, why? Because we don't have the facilities to expose [inner city kids] to it. The death rate for African Americans, with regards to swimming, one out of three African Americans can't swim-- the sad thing about that is, if one of their children falls in the swimming pool, their children will drown. Imagine being a parent that can't save your child, can't jump in there and save your child. So, I have a great deal of respect for this man.

Q: What kind of training did you do for this role, if there was any at all?

TH: The question is: what kind of training didn't I do? (laughs) It felt like I was training to be an astronaut because it was anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 yards of swimming per day. And to put that into perspective, it's 25 yards across a pool, so you're talking about 150-200 laps a day-- your shoulders are dead tired. Your spirit is tired, you hate water, you're all wrinkled up like you're 95 years-old, it was hard, and then on top of that, I had to work with this guy named Daryl Foster who's Will Smith's trainer. Daryl trained Sugar Ray Leonard, so, he demanded an hour of lifting and at least 45 minutes of running everyday-- no matter what time. We started running at 5AM and we ran another three miles every evening, if we got off at 12 o'clock at night, there was no going to bed. I don't care if you've got a 5AM wake up call, we had to put the time in and if you missed the time today, then you'd have to put the time in tomorrow-- who wants to have to run ten miles tomorrow? (laughs) He would make you do it but if you'd do it, he'd run with you and lift with you.

Q: Did you keep it up?

TH: Yeah, I'm still's a team effort. Anyone inside of Will [Smith's] camp, runs with him, this morning I was exhausted, I had the benefit of being at an art gallery last night and I was talking to Hugh Hefner and some of his Playboy girls, having a good time but then I got home at 12 o'clock, got up at 5 o'clock this morning and had my run. I had my run, you know-- I felt like I'm doing my job. I still got to go do my hour of lifting.

Q: Talk a little bit about working with Bernie Mac in this, while he's doing his first real dramatic role, were you able to help him in any way?

TH: No, you don't need to help Bernie-- see, that's the thing, to have the comical wit, it means you must be smarter than everyone else around you and he understands the dramatic pauses, that's the beautiful thing about him. You don't know if he's playing or he's being serious about what he's doing. And he can make light of a heavy situation, so, for me, him and Tom Arnold...wait until you see the DVD outtakes-- they would just go on and on and on and [play] off of each other. Bernie did just what was necessary, he brought the film home for us. Me, you know, I'm a drama king, I talk in this mellow, melancholy way and that's just my nature-- Bernie kept it honest and I love that about him.

Q: So what about Iron Man which is a total fantasy world, in comparison, you could say.

TH: Well not when you're working with Robert Downey, Jr.-- you're talking about: get ready for some action because, you know...what I love about him and Jon Favreau is you cannot predict who they are [going to act like] or what they're thinking and then you add Jeff Bridges to the mix. I still think he's still in that movie he did with Kevin Spacey, on another planet. He's present but then he's ahead of you at the same time when you're trying to conversate with him and then we've got Gwyneth Paltrow, so, there's nothing fantastical. It's like: so you say you want to be an actor? Every single one of these people have been nominated for an Academy Award so now it like: let's see what you're made of.

Q: Who's your character in Iron - Man?

TH: I play a guy named James Rhodes who becomes War-Machine, I'm a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and I'm a liason between Stark Enterprises and the military in the department of acquisitions.

Q: There was talk about John Singleton's frustration with how slow it's going to get Luke Cage made--

TH: -- Luke Cage? I'm not in that.

Q: Have you seen any of the costuming for the Iron Man characters?

TH: I didn't see them do any of Tony Stark's costumes but the outfits that these people had on were amazing. They looked beautiful in them-- I took this role because I wanted to work with Robert Downey, Jr...he has a spontaneity and Fearlessness that I get close to [while acting] but I'm still very conservative and reserved in the choices I make. He doesn't care, he just doesn't, he believes in jumping out of the airplane at 25,000 feet and just go 'wooo' all the way down-- I want to learn that. I want to learn that.

Q: Jim Ellis' character in this film was a pretty complicated person, he'd seen some stuff, how is it for you to play a character with so many layers?

TH: You know, that's what makes him a hero. He's able to lift up, lift off of the things that would normally hold us all back and, for the greater good, extend himself and not [worry] about the personal loss because he's thought of the mutual gain for everyone. And to this day he still smiles, he still wants to get one of his swimmers on the Olympic team, he's had a number of [go to] the Olympic tryouts. He's always looking towards the future and that's what helps up overcome our faults. We all make mistakes. Man, I make mistakes everyday, he makes mistakes all the time, he's a divorced man-- like a lot us might be divorced people-- but he hasn't allowed any of those faults to stop him. He's got a quick temper and he could've gotten a lot further had he been nicer to the people inside of City Hall and all of that, but he has a determination to do things his way which is the right way.

Q: What about working with Sunu, him being a first-time director?

TH: Sunu gave me complete autonomy, we started off with 73 pages at a table reading: it sucked. I went up to my room and I called my agent and my manager and I said 'get me out of this.' And they said 'we're executive producers, we can't get out of this.' And so I went down to Sunu and I asked him, I said 'the only way I'm going to be able to do this is, you have to keep a camera on me and keep a camera on the boys and I'm just going to talk to them.' And the script was an outline, they finished writing another forty-something pages but most of the stuff we did in there was really just honest communication and me being Jim Ellis talking to them-- I thought it worked. It was a wonderful trip in improvisation.

Q: How hard was that to come in everyday knowing that you were in something that you could not get out of, that could possibly go wrong?

TH: I guess it's what I like. Then you know your meaning...when it's on your shoulders-- if I had been third or fourth lead, I would've still been upstairs with my coffee like 'just say what they have on the script' but knowing that it's on my shoulders, knowing that it's my legac-- you're not going to make me look bad because it may not have been prepared properly. And it was just what we needed, I gave the kids the same autonomy that Sunu gave me and they responded naturally, to [the point] where there was very little acting. It was great.

Q: Have you finished the Brave One?

TH: Oh my God, the Brave One is incredible! It's really great, I got a call from Alan Horn and Joel Silver over at Warner Brothers and they were beside themselves. And I'm happy because Jodie Foster personally recommended me and I didn't want to fail her.

Pride opens on March 23rd (click header for official site, see preview blow)...

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