The actor works on his nasty side in the film
He broke out as a known star in last year's Hustle & Flow and Crash, but Terrence Howard has been working his craft on screen for years. And now, in his latest, Idlewild, we see Terrence in a whole new light - a bad guy.
He plays the gangster, Trumpy, who's finally getting his shot at glory taking it out on the two members of Outkast, Andre 3000 and Big Boi. The film takes place in 1930's Southern Georgia, in the times of prohibition, and free flowing Jazz music.
So, it only makes sense that when Terrence walked into our room, he was dressed head to toe in a three piece tan suit - equipped with a tan feather hat. We spoke with him about taking on such a different role than what we're used to seeing, and his aspiring singing career.
Here's what he had to say about Idlewild:
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?
Terrence Howard: 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?
Terrence Howard: 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?
Terrence Howard: 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 Antwan (Big Boi), 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?
Terrence Howard: 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.
What are your impressions of Big Boi as an actor?
Terrence Howard: 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. 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.
Were you familiar with culture of the '30s?
Terrence Howard: 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 'f- you.'
Did you get the music help from Big Boi?
Terrence Howard: Oh yeah, I got the help of get it done; whatever you got to do, he basically took me right back to Hustle & 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?
Terrence Howard: It's a little easier now.
And it seemed pretty easy for Terrence on the screen in Idlewild. You can check him, Andre 3000, Big Boi, Macy Gray, and newcomer Paula Patton in the film when it hits theaters August 25th; it's rated R.