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Actors Ryan Phillippe and Terrance Howard talk about the complexities of racial conflict in Crash

Q: What's the most heroic thing you've ever done?

Ryan Phillippe: Oh God, do you want to call yourself heroic at any time? I'm always looking for the chance to save somebody. It hasn't happened yet.

Q: Could you apply any real life experiences to this film?

Ryan Phillippe: For me, not a whole lot. I think Terrance probably has a better answer to that question.

Terrance Howard: Well, my life's experiences and I've always had, my uncle used to call it antennas. I know what's going to happen oftentimes before it happens when it's involving me. So I've always been able to avoid circumstances like that. But watching the things that my family members did, my grandfather was someone who stood up for himself and he was told by the Buffalo police department never to come back up there again. So he comes back up and they say that he jumped out of a moving vehicle handcuffed and tried to run down the alley and climb a 12 foot fence and got shot 11 times in the back. But he was someone that stood for himself. So I've always had a natural fear of the police, or abuse of their power. Not of their individual position. So I was always very careful with how I dealt with them as a result of this information being passed on to me. So that was the closest thing I had to that experience.

Q: What's the toughest thing you deal with in your life?

Ryan Phillippe: We're actors, man. We've got pretty good lives. We don't have a lot to complain about. We have a great job where you get to put out something positive like this that might make people think, that might make people feel. I don't know, you can find little things to complain about, but who really wants to hear it? You try to focus on the positive, I think. There's always difficulties and challenges in every life, I don't care how much money you make, where you live… and that's something this film speaks to. Race gets in the way in my opinion in this film. It's more about the human condition and how similar we all are when you get down to the basic needs of being a human being. So we could talk about things, I hate this about… I hate when this happens to me, but that's not really the point. Healthy, try to be a decent human being and have a great job. It's nice to be in a situation where you're talking about a movie you believe in, that you feel like is worthwhile, so I'm staying on the positive too.

Q: What about the buzz the film is generating? Can that change your images or does it gets carried away?

Terrance Howard: No, because when you hear buzz around the beehive, you know they're making honey in there. So that's been good. It's all been based upon the lines of truth. So this film, there's honey in this. There's something that's soothing and something nutritious in this beehive that's been created. So I'm not worried at all about how it will be responded to, how people will respond to it. But ultimately, I think it will end up in the hands of the educators and will become a tool used in this human rights evolution as time continues on.

Q: Talk about the pullover scene.

Ryan Phillippe: It felt real. I know it was difficult for Terrance, that situation. You do have to go there, you have to look at the ugliness, you have to scare yourself. I saw him go through that process. For me, it was hard to stand there and watch because I'm not that kind of person in real life. I would not stand by helplessly. But I think it was a lot more difficult for our friend here.

Q: How did you work with Matt and Thandie on that scene?

Terrance Howard: When you've got a group of magicians, of craftsmen…

Ryan Phillippe: Likeminded people too.

Terrance Howard: Yes, and each and every person created those four walls, I couldn't escape from the circumstance. I couldn't look in Thandie's eyes and find an avenue where the tension wasn't so high. I couldn't look to Matt and have him let me off the hook. And I couldn't look to Ryan because they were all so engrossed in their parts. I mean, we were able to create a bit of magic right there for that moment, it all felt real. I was trying my hardest not to cry standing there. Instead of me literally trying to cry, another actor might be trying to cry, I was trying not to cry. I was trying not to be afraid. And I caught myself at a moment trembling that wow, does this person really live inside of me? Would I allow anything like that to happen? Because I felt like it was happening. I couldn't wait until they said cut. I couldn't wait until the director let us off the hook and let us go home that night.

Q: What happened after he said cut?

Ryan Phillippe: It's just weird. It's definitely weird. You want to like each other and you do like each other and you know fundamentally, there's nothing [wrong], but it's weird, being with Matt all the time and when he's in character and he's trying to find the truth of what he was doing, it's weird. It's definitely weird when you finish a scene like that and you're all getting back in the van together to ride back and there's not a lot of talking. It's like I don't know, everyone's kind of thinking. But we all know why we're there. We know that we would have to go to these dark places in this movie and it needed to be done, but that's also exciting at the same time because I love moments in movies that make you uncomfortable. I love moments in movies when you think, "Should I be watching this?" If a film can take you to that place of truth and discomfort, that's powerful.

Terrance Howard: Yeah, I remember Matt afterwards at the end of the night apologizing to me. And it was sincere, literally apologizing to me for what he had to do right there. And he was so concerned with Thandie because he was trying to be real with it and we all wanted him to go further and further and he felt a bit reserved. I saw him struggling with being able to go there and I was struggling and Ryan was struggling and Thandie was struggling to allow this to happen. And he just kept apologizing to us. He kept apologizing.

Ryan Phillippe: Which he shouldn't have to do. I mean, it has to happen. The story, I think, is important enough to be told but you do have those weird residual feelings.

Q: Were there any jokes on the set?

Ryan Phillippe: Not a lot, man. Not a lot. I mean, we all got along and enjoyed each other but there wasn't a lot of joking. You don't do that on this kind of movie too much.

Q: Terrence's moment with Ludacris plays funny, though it's an intense breakdown. Were you aware of the humor? Was that just editing?

Ryan Phillippe: I think it's that and it's the reaction to the absurdity of life. You find yourself in a situation where it is, if you were able to stand back and look at it, it's laughable. But when you're in it, it's dangerous and explosive.

Terrance Howard: Sometimes the only way to make palatable that which is appalling and apprehensive is to season it with some humor, but I don't think the actors provided the seasoning of humor. I think the nature of the audience, in order for me to digest this, I'm going to have to giggle with this for a moment. But I remember when he came up to save me from my own self-destruction and him pleading with me, that felt real because it seemed like he was pleading to me about my own personal life. Stop getting in your own way. You're about to kill yourself with all of this up here. And I'm trying to tell him that I didn't ask for your help. Those were unscripted lines that became part of the scenery as a result of the emotional pool that was being exerted upon the two of us at that time but he was literally trying to save me in more ways than just the film.

Q: Ryan, how is life for you now?

Ryan Phillippe: Home life's great, man. The kids are great, happy and healthy. I've reached this sort of wonderful precipice. I've been in this business for a long time at my age, I've just turned 30 and I feel like my wife's career is going incredibly well, my kids are happy and healthy in schools, we've both been able to buy a house for our parents respectively in the places they life. And now I'm ready to work on my stuff, my career. I feel like everything's taken care of. I'm just in a really good place.

Q: What did you do for your 30th Birthday Party?

Ryan Phillippe: I got a place in Malibu. I surfed the whole time.

Terrance Howard: Poor You.

Ryan Phillippe: Yeah, poor me, man. I'm telling you. I didn't get a place. I rented a place for the weekend. I didn't go and buy a Malibu house for my birthday. I'm not there yet.

Q: The film is very much about Los Angeles. Would you raise kids in LA?

Ryan Phillippe: Where you raise your children isn't as important as how you raise your children. I think what you talk to them about, what you expose them to, what you make them mindful of and you've got to do that anywhere you live. LA can be a very open and accepting creative environment. But it is important because there is this odd separation here, it is important to make your kids mindful of other people and other people's plight. I grew up with no money. My kids will grow up with a lot of money and so it's really important to me and it will always be a part of my parenting to keep them conscientious and connected socially to other people.

Q: Do you live in LA too?

Terrance Howard: No, I live in Philly.

Q: What are your impressions of LA?

Terrance Howard: Well, something that LA is missing is the seasons. It's like when you meet someone in LA and you see them two or three years later, you don't remember really where you met them at because you don't have the landmarks, we don't have any landmarks here. You can't say, "Well, it was in the fall." You don't know when.

Ryan Phillippe: It was that sunny, 80 degree day.

Terrance Howard: It loses cohesion with reality. And me trying to live here with a family, I would have a hard time with that. I wish I had the constitution that he has because it is about how you raise your children. But I'm still affected by the people around me that I need the change of the seasons to help me get over. I need six months by myself in the wintertime to get over all the stuff I went through during the summer and the spring. I need all of that.

Ryan Phillippe: But there's something great about riding waves in January.

Q: What was your decision to do a movie like this instead of big budget films?

Terrance Howard: This was a big film to me. The nature of the script was a big subject for me. Even though it may have lacked the monetary support, it was still sufficient in the emotion of the emotional conversation that was necessary at the time. Everybody needs that conversation, that inner dialogue right now. I think in order for us to get past the point we are here.

Ryan Phillippe: This is the kind of movie I want to make. This is the kind of movie I think most actors want to be a part of. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of these out there. With the diversity of the cast, of the characters within this movie that touches on the important social issues. You know, social issue movies don't make a lot of money. It's not like the sequel to whatever film was successful last year. If you have any potential or power to help get a movie made, this is the kind of movie I want to help get made. This means something to me.

Q: Will your production company do movies like this?

Ryan Phillippe: Absolutely. I will for the length of my career be involved in movies like this.

Q: Do you look for films to do with Reese?

Ryan Phillippe: Maybe someday eventually. I don't think that's something that we look for.

Q: Because you both have your own companies.

Ryan Phillippe: We do, yeah, and I'm sure eventually it's going to happen. It's important I think to make the distinction, to separate also that we have this whole life outside of the business and it doesn't need to be necessarily joined within it.

Q: Have you ever had an uncomfortable situation with the LAPD?

Terrance Howard: I remember a person telling me once, a truck driver, he said if you're trying to get someplace, just follow behind the other drivers. If you look a quarter mile down the road, you see them hit their lights, then you know to slow down because you know there's a police there. Because everyone, even though they're riding at the right speed, they're naturally afraid when they see a police officer.

Dont't forget to also check out: Crash