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'Iron Man': Terrence Howard lives the dream

By Rob M. Worley     April 22, 2008

Actor Terrence Howard sat down with the press to talk about playing Jim "Rhodie" Rhodes in the upcoming 'Iron Man' movie. The normally reserved actor surprised the press by how much of a fanboy he is, and revealed his emotional connection to the role of Rhodie, that long-precedes his involvement in the film.

Q: Why are you happy to play this role?

Terrence Howard: I got to learn. I feel like now I am ready to really go and star in, and you know, carry some of my own films.

I got to watch Jeff Bridges who is just beyond brilliant. His instinct towards truth in the character was only matched by Robert.

Robert would fight, fight, fight, fight and make sure every single scene - every moment of every scene - was perfect. He would not surrender no matter what.

Gwenyth, there's a grace about her. She can't tell a lie on camera. And when something's not right she's gonna defend her turf. She's not going to grab onto that handrail of mediocrity, which is normally the basis of compromise. She stands up for truth.

Now I know what I need to make a film successful, creatively. I don't care what it does in the marketplace. That's somebody else's job. But now I know to make sure that it has the historical authenticity that it needs, the integrity that it needs.

Q: How does it make you feel when you hear Gwenyth say that your name was one of the reasons she wanted to come on board this film.

Howard: She said that?

Q: On the panel.

Howard: Did she? When we were up there? I totally missed that.

That's great.

The reason I wanted to do the movie was when they were talking to me about being in it, but I wouldn't sign on until they knew who they were gonna have for Iron Man. When they said Robert I was like [emphatic] "OK!".

"Well that means we're gonna pay you less."

"OK!"

Honestly. That's how it went down.

Q: Are you down for three pictures as well?

Howard: I'm down for three. I'm down for ten.

Q: Are you looking forward to duty in the suit?

Howard: I would love that. I would love to have the hemorrhoids that Robert…I mean. I doubt that Robert had hemorrhoids, not that I would know, but I mean he moved…

[pantomimes stiff movements of one in an iron suit]

But he learned how to make that suit feel real. He would be practicing that and I would watch and think, "now I need to do that," because when I put on the suit, Iron Man battles Iron Man, James Rhodes.

So who's the better Iron Man?

My vote's always on black.

Q: Is that where we're headed then? In the sequel?

Howard: Oh. We have to be.

The reason they wanted to do this film independently of any studio, so they wouldn't have anything but the material's truth to rely upon.

Stan [Lee] is notorious for following the truth that he set out. That's what got us here. It's some type of manifest destiny that he foresaw in the 1960s. For some reason he had the confidence to get us here.

He is really the bread or the rice or the staple meal of the marketplace right now.

So I think we're gonna definitely go there.

Q: How was it working with Jon?

Howard: He's an improvisational actor, so it makes him an improvisational director. Which means it makes him humble enough to recognize that even though we may have a great script, there's a better idea. He's gathered all these great actors together and great people to make a film and he trusts us.

Like when I worked with Jim Sheridan [director of 'Get Rich or Die Tryin'], one of the things I saw about Jim is he would…go over to an extra and say, "what did you think?"

And if the extra said, "Well, you should do this," he would consider it and many times he would do it.

Jon did that, but to the ninth degree because some days we wouldn't get our first shot off for seven hours because we were rewriting and trying to make it work and we only had five more hours to shoot and we never felt we had it. Not once did he say, "No, we have to shoot this."

But many times we would shoot three different versions of a scene; the way that Robert and me wanted to do it, the way that Jon wanted and the way that Marvel had dictated it should be done.

Q: Did that make it hard to keep a handle on your character?

Howard: No because, in life we're always sitting saying, "Should I do this? Should I do that?"

We'll say one thing to our wives one way, and then the next conversation we have with her we've got to adjust our position a little bit. Should we lie to ourselves? What compromises should we make?

So it made it just more real.

[At this point in the interview, the noise from idle reporters in the room rises to a new level. Ever the man of action, Howard stands up and raises his voices:]

Yeah, why don't y'all keep it down over there? We ain't all through yet!

[This gets laughs and applause from around the press room]

Q: Were you a comic book fan?

Howard: Yes. Playboy was my favorite one.

No, no. I love X-Men. X-Men is still my favorite.

Q: When did you discover Iron Man?

Howard: I discovered Iron Man in like 1978, 1979. I was like nine, ten years old.

My father gave it to me because, I had asked him, I said, "There's no black superheroes" and that's why I didn't like them. And he goes, "well look, here's one right here: James Rhodes. War Machine."

So I dove fell into that. The power to stand up. The power to have been raised in tradition, and to owe so much to the government and to tradition and to sit up and say, "but I owe more to humanity. I've gotta go and fight this cause even though it's duplicitous to my career."

I was formed by James Rhodes because I've been a rebel my entire life. A rebel with a cause. We need to be more socially conscious and hold ourselves more accountable to what's taking place in the world now. We can't sit by and let it happen. We have to give our voices because there's so much power to it. And sometimes you have to put a little muscle behind it.

Q: Did you tell your dad you got the part?

Howard: Yes. I asked him, "When you were first giving me that comic book, did you think that I would be playing this character one day?"

He said, "I thought you were gonna just be a contractor like me," and he said, "you've surpassed all of my dreams."

Q: Would you consider playing any other Marvel superheroes?

Howard: If they stay true to this character I get to play Iron Man in the Avengers, because Rhodes puts on the suit. I get to do War Machine and other things.

I think I'm good. I'm good.

Q: How's your comic-con experience?

Howard: I love it. These are the same people that I am. Normally I wear a suit and tie and all of that, because there's an image you have to keep.

This is the first professional event I could go to and just be me. This is what I dress like when I'm at home. This is what I dress like around my house, around my friends. I saw the audience dressed like this too, so I didn't feel alone. I love this place.

Q: Is this one of the perks of being an Oscar nominee?

Howard: It is. It's funny. You think the Oscars will take you to, you know, 'On Golden Pond' or something.

It brought me to Marvel, where creative stimulation has become the seed there for our future. The same way that we have a mix between religion and science again, the metaphysical has become the possible. Now social creativity has become the impetus towards the world changing.

How else do you get these ideas that we have to hold the government accountable to a six year old? How do you get them to understand? Not with Snoopy. We gotta do it with someone who has all the privileges, all the perks that we want to have when we're growing up but does the right thing by it, even though it's not the popular thing to do.

He's Paul Revere. He's George Washington. That's who Iron Man is. He's everyday people who steps up and says, "I'm going to do something extraordinary. I'm gonna be a man today," in a world where there are very few men. To be a man is not acceptable any more. To be a cowboy.

That's what he is. He's a cowboy, you know?

Bingo.

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