Interview with Terrence Howard


Terrence Howard is one of the hottest upcoming male actors in Hollywood and has already appeared in over 30 films. He could easily be compared to the likes of Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington, but he’s more interested in reaching that level of achievement on his own. With the recent wide release of the independent hit “Hustle & Flow” and his upcoming film “Four Brothers,” Bullz-Eye got a chance to speak with Terrence about growing up in Cleveland, his sudden success, and the future of his film career.

Terrence Howard: Hi Jason, how are you?

Bullz-Eye: I’m doing pretty good, how are you?

TH: Oh, I’m good.

BE: You’ve had a pretty big year with the success of “Crash” and “Hustle & Flow.”

TW: Yeah, I appreciate it. You never know why they come to you, but you’re happy that you do the right things with them. So I show appreciation for the little gifts that have been handed to me.

BE: You’ve also been in the business for quite awhile. How does it feel to receive all of this recognition in one year?

Terrence Howard in Hustle and FlowTH: It’s like being in school, and you’ve just been doing the work that you’re supposed to do, that’s been handed to you do, and doing it well. These people that show appreciation for the work that you’re doing, that’s the greatest gift that any student could ask for, for the teacher to like him and appreciate the effort that he puts forth. Sooner or later, you might find out that you got Valedictorian. You know? That’s a great honor. That’s a great, great honor for people to truly say thank you. It’s like the lifetime achievement award for me, all of this.

BE: I’m finally glad to see you getting the attention you deserve. Jumping off track real quick, I’m a native Clevelander myself. Can you tell me more about growing up in Northern Ohio?

TH: Cleveland was hard for me. Because of the segregation and stuff that took place emotionally. And inter-segregation and being somewhat of a mixed. I had a really rabid frustration that I could fully exist and not be a target from either side, whether it’s from the black side or the white side. I don’t know if you had that experience, but that’s what Cleveland was like for me. And tolerate, not even tolerate, but just appreciating people. Cleveland had a hard time with that, and I hope that in the twenty years since I’ve been back there that things have changed.

BE: Would you say then that a film like “Crash” was more of a personal project for you due to the racial undertones?

TH: Very much so. The difference with Cleveland is that the racial tension was not a casual taste of it. It was outlandish. In California it was more under the skin, and a lot of the people weren’t even aware of the bigotry that they were showing. So I feel like I’ve become a human rights activist as a result of appearing in that movie.

BE: And is that something you’re proud of?

TH: Very much so.

BE: I noticed that you attended Pratt University for chemical engineering. How did you make the jump into acting?

TH: You start off thinking that your life might go in one particular direction, but then I knew where my heart was at, and I always wanted to act. It enabled me to go out and audition, and at first, I was just trying to get sitcoms. I got a job for a week, I didn’t know you’d be away for months if you got a movie, and so I would always have time to come back to class. I could miss a week of class, but I’d still have a place to live. So it was more sort of strategic, me going to school for chemical engineering. It was something that I was very much into academically, because I wanted to know how things worked. And I’m very surprised that all this stuff actually worked out to where I could have a career in film, gain the benefit of my education, and be thankful that I was able to break into my craft as an actor.

BE: As I mentioned before, it wasn’t until this year that you’ve really begun to get noticed by critics and moviegoers alike. In 1999, you actually pulled out of John Singleton’s “Shaft.” Do you regret not taking the part, or do you feel that these smaller, more independent films have helped you grow as an actor?

Terrence Howard in Hustle and FlowTH: (laughs) I like this one. The choices of pulling out of a big film like “Shaft,” you know, I really didn’t pull out of that. That’s beautiful. I was more forced out of that job because one of their lead actors had run in to some problems and had to go to the hospital for a few weeks, which changed my entire schedule. And we were no longer going to be able to do the film in a timely manner. It was a process called force majeur. If you’re going to force majeur someone, you have to give them half of their wages if you want to hold them, and then you still have to renegotiate. But you gotta take a stand for yourself, and the best thing always happens when you do what’s right for you. And, so yeah, I’ll always want to work in independent films because you’re not forced into a category or a formula. And you’re allowed to do what you love doing, and came to this business to do, which is to create. Artistic freedom means a great deal.

BE: And that’s exactly what you guys had with “Hustle & Flow.” I want to congratulate you again on your performance in the film. The character of DJay seems so well refined and developed. Is that something that you brought to the screen word for word from the script, or –

TH: 95 percent of the dialogue was written, but this is what happens when you have enough time… (laughs) Oh, that’s gorgeous. When you have enough time to work on a character, then you have enough time to create what the character truly needs, and I had 2 ½ years to do the research for DJay. Now, that’s our craft right there; the benefit of being in this business. Because we’re telling real life stories, real life stories that people can relate to honestly in their hearts. So having those 2 ½ years to work that out, and to learn the nuances and understand the director’s reason and blend in, it made the project wonderful, and that’s why you can respond to it. The little details that I added to it, were just that, little details, but the majority of the work that I accomplished in that movie were accomplished by Craig Brewer. He’s a very skillful director, and every actor needs to be recruited by someone of that caliber.

BE: You have a real respect for not only Craig, but every director you’ve worked with. Is there one director you’re dying to work for?

TH: (laughs) Everyone wants to work with Spielberg.

BE: And when do you plan to get behind the camera?

TH: I’ve got a little more to learn. I’ve got a lot more to learn. It took me 19 years before I starred in a movie. (laughs) Imagine how long it will take before I show that I can direct and control the entire vision of the film.

BE: Is that something you see yourself getting into in the future?

TH: Yeah, but that’s a natural progression, because you have to continually grow. Don’t just view me as an actor. Everything you take in affects the entire body. And right now I may just be living inside the heart of the body, and I one day hope to move to the brain.

BE: That’s a brilliant answer. In your upcoming movie “Four Brothers,” you’re co-starring with Andre Benjamin, who is also currently filming with you for the movie “My Life in Idlewild.” You’ve also co-starred twice with rapper Ludacris (AKA Chris Bridges). What are your thoughts on musicians crossing over to film?

TH: All the things we have to remember, and I’ve mentioned this before, is that we’re all artists. Every one of us is an artist, and as an artist, you really can stroll into any venue that you want, as long as you take your time to learn the etiquette of that venue. As a painter who’s used acrylics, you can easily learn how to use oils, but you have to know the rules of using oils. And once these young artists learn the rules of applying themselves not just musically, but applying themselves theatrically, it’s the same rules being used, it’s just a different stroke. And I applaud that. Every artist has to grow, and has to challenge themselves with a new form of expression.

BE: You also dabble in some music yourself. Do you have any plans outside of your busy acting schedule to make an appearance, or perhaps put out an album?

Terrence Howard in Hustle and FlowTH: Like I said, I want to touch all fields. But I’m just learning this sinew of musical expression a little bit more first.

BE: What does the future hold for you?

TH: The reason that I’m an actor, or an artist, is ultimately because I’m trying to paint a self-portrait, and the most complete and beautiful self-portrait that you can. My future’s about trying to be a better man. My future’s truly about trying to be a better human being. I can’t tell you if one day I’ll be standing up there with an Oscar or directing, but I am going to be the best human being I possibly can.

BE: You’ve worked with John Singleton twice. He produced “Hustle & Flow” and directed “Four Brothers.” John has mentioned that he has you in mind to play the villain in his upcoming comic book adaptation of “Luke Cage.” Have you talked to him about this and is it something that you’d be interested in?

TH: Yeah, he’s talked to me about it, but I don’t really know if that fits in with the direction that I’m going. I really appreciate him looking out for me, and you never know, he might come up with an incredible script (laughs) where I’m like ‘Wow, I actually wanna do this.’ But right now, I wanna make more serious minded films, and I wanna deal with the truth, and not so much fantasy.

BE: I totally agree. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it myself. I want to thank you for your time and applaud you on all of your achievements, and I really hope I see you accepting an award sometime at the beginning of next year.

TH: I’m right with you right there. We all want that. I would love to receive those few moments of honor and hear my peers say, ‘We love what you did.’ I’ll pray along with you man. And I hope that I haven’t been too melodramatic with you on this song.

BE: It’s been a pleasure.

TH: Thank you so much too man. God bless you.


About Author

In addition to writing for, Jason is a proud member of the Columbus Film Critics Association (COFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS).