Idlewild - Terrence Howard interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
OSCAR nominee Terrence Howard talks about appearing in the OutKast movie Idlewild.
Q: Can you talk a little about playing this character, because he seems to be one of the nastiest men you have ever played on screen?
A. If you ask my kids, they might tell you that they would rather have Trumpy as a father rather than me. [Laughs.] To play a guy that has no conscience gives you complete freedom to create a character. It gives you a moral freedom.
Q: What kind of line do you have to walk to not make him a total monster?
A: He was a man who was grounded. To him, it was all about principle. Everything was about immediate response to command. He had a way about him. He built a company for all of those years, and then his contribution wasn’t acknowledged when the opportunity arose. His feelings were hurt. When you hurt a child’s feelings, that child will respond. When you hurt a child inside a grown man, a monster will arise. He was born from the neglect of those around him. That’s how I justified him.
Q: As a musician yourself, did you ever feel the need to jump on stage and join them in their endeavours?
A: No. When you see lions fighting in the cage, you don’t want to jump in the cage to fight with them. Antwon, Andre and Macy Gray have been doing this for over 15 years and they have mastered what they do. I would not come and trip them up. I don’t even know how to hold a microphone correctly.
Q: The film is set in the 1930’s and is such a period piece, what does it do for you as an actor to put on that wardrobe?
A: When you look back on the images from the 1930’s, it was all about individual style and that came from the freedom of the jazz age. But we were also coming out of the conformity of the Victorian age where dress and presentation meant everything. You were looking for some form of creative expression that still conformed. How they did that was through their actions.
Men always showed women respect. They never called them by their first name, even in a whore house. It was always Miss so and so. He always spoke to her properly. The dress demanded respect and respect was given to those who dressed correctly. All of that helped me because I knew where the dance was at. You don’t go in there and do the Foxtrot when a Waltz is required. As an actor, the biggest thing about me is my wardrobe. So, when you set that properly, I know who I am and how I’m supposed to walk. If I have on stilts, then I need to be a little higher than everyone else and behave like that.
Q: There is something quite evocative about the gangsters of that era, images that we have seen from such iconic figures as James Cagney. How did you decide to create your gangster or did you borrow from them?
A: I dove into this project without having even read the script. I am such a big fan of Andre 3000 that I was in no position to choose my character. Bryan Barber called me and I was trying to get my music off the ground at the same time, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to do some music. Then I get there and we start rehearsals, and that was the first time I even saw the script. I finished Hustle and Flow on August 9th and on the 10th, I was on a plane and on the 11th, we started rehearsals.
I thought I could just fake my way through it and no one would know the difference. It was an intensive process for two weeks to find this guy, but Bryan was so hands on that he was the gangster I was emulating. It was all about the smile and there was something so deadly about the eyes. I looked to him for every inspiration and he did a lot of hand holding to me for every scene and motivation. He pulled me to the side. He knew that I wasn’t well versed with his videos, so he walked me through it, but then let the little kid run around when he needed to. He was a really great teacher.
Q: How familiar with the culture of the 1930’s were you?
A: Cab Calloway was my great grand uncle and he was so beloved in my family – we would always hear stories about things he did. I grew up in a house with my mother, grandmother and great grandfather, so the twenties was still present day, if you know what I mean. To me, it wasn’t that much of a culture shock. Without that, I might not have been able to have found those things. To show disrespect, I called out to Rooster’s wife using her first name. To do that today wouldn’t have the same impact, but back then, that was a sign of great disrespect. It was like saying “fuck you”.
Q: Is it still hard out there for a pimp?
A: It’s a lot easier now. [Laughs.]
Q: How do you view your career now after the Oscar® recognition? It seems your name is being bantered about for so many parts. Is it a good time to be Terrence?
A: Any time someone has a break through in therapy, their life is much better afterward. I discovered strength inside my self and found confidence. It does change the way you think and therefore it changes your choices. I am now, hopefully, better equipped to delegate these choices, so I don’t have to work from film to film to film. I want to enjoy my life and not look at a film like Idlewild and wish I had worked a little harder. I want to look at those two years I had with Hustle and Flow and map out a better character. But there isn’t any money at the beginning. When they offer me the chance to work with people like Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, I jump at the chance. Not only do I get the great opportunities, but I also get the better paycheck.
Q: Can you feel the difference? Do you now start choosing projects by the people you will be working with?
A: Look, anyone can go to a party around the corner, but when they tell you that so and so will be there and you kind of like so and so, that might influence your decision as to if you want to go. It will then be a good party. I go to a party based on the people who are there. We can make our own music, but it’s the people who are at the party that make it a good party. It’s the same with a script. We can write a script about what we’re doing right here, but it’s who we have to tell the story that makes the difference.