Set Visit: Interview with Iron Man actor Terrence Howard
With all due respect to THE DARK KNIGHT, IRON MAN may very well boast the most impressive cast of any comic book flick ever made. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow all have boatloads of various golden statues between them, and don't even get me started on the immense acting talent of the one and only Ghostface Killah.
But I digress. When I visited the Iron Man set, Terrence Howard -- to my knowledge, the first actor ever to receive an Oscar nomination for playing a pimp -- stopped by to talk about playing Tony Stark's pal Jim Rhodes (aka War Machine), despite the fact that he wasn't even scheduled to work that day. He's just that cool. Check it out.
What attracted you to this role?
War Machine, the whole idea of being able to play
a superhero, so to speak. Getting to go up in jets, because the Department of
Defense took me up in a T-38 and an F-16, and they might let me go up in a B-1.
All of those ideas, that was it for me.
You're a big comic book guy. Have you read up on Iron Man?
It was funny, I called up my father and asked him, because he used to be a big Iron Man fanatic and he loved the War Machine aspect of it. I asked him, "When you were reading it when you were younger, did you have any idea that inside your loins would be the one putting that on?"
Marvel producer Kevin Feige said you were already attached to the project, you were already being talked to before Jon even came on board. How early on was that?
About a year before they got it started. I've got a great manager, Victoria Fredericks, who was all over this a long time before. Me and Avi Arad had spoken at Mike Medevoy's party, one of the parties he throws. He smiled at me, like we were going to work together. Then about six months later, it all happened. I was taken by surprise by it. I'm still in shock.
Had you been pursuing the role?
No. Victoria was like, "I've got something I'm working on." For a year and half she had been pursuing it, because she knew that they had planned on doing it. I was lucky.
Have you shot any of your big action type stuff yet?
We did a few things, but a lot of it I can't say anything about. I got to shoot that M-50, man. I was up in the...oh wait, I can't say that. But I had some fun with the Air Force. They took me out on some of their real training stuff and let me play.
Have they taken a digital model of you for CGI purposes? Have you seen that guy in action?
You're very clever. [laughter] They've done
some stuff. They've done some things for me.
So what's been the hardest part for you so far?
The hardest part is, we got the use of...like, if
you remember in the comic book, Rhodey, even though he's by the books, so to
speak, he's a bit of a rogue in his own nature. But since we have the Department
of Defense that we're working with, it's been having to pull back because of
trying to appease them for being so generous to us. So that's been the hardest
thing, to stay true to the needs of Rhodey in the comic book and still satisfy
the needs of the Department of Defense.
What can you tell us about the arc your character goes through in the movie?
I think it's pretty much a three-picture arc, so we're right in the very beginning of that, of him starting to consider that perhaps there is a different way. My character starts off in complete disgust of how Tony has lived his life, but then he realizes perhaps there's a different way to live one's life. So that's where we are now. We're in the debate of who's way of life is the right way? Is it the military and that strict disciplinarian way or is it being an independent, acting and behaving as an individual?
Can you talk about working with Robert Downey Jr. and the rapport you've developed with him?
I love him. The first film I ever saw him in was WEIRD SCIENCE, which I watched 400,000 times. So when I saw him that's all I wanted to talk to him about. I mean, he had heard all of those questions before. But to find that he was a fan of mine...and I told him that the reason I wanted to do this movie -- especially after I found out he was doing it -- was I wanted to work with him. Because I wanted to learn from him. I mean, he's brilliant. Every day he re-writes his script. Every single day. We've got great writers, but every day he will sit there and spend the first hour and a half making it perfect, making it better. He has this light, jovial nature about him that floats everywhere. And therefore when he focuses in on something, it's powerful. It's magical. He's really probably one of the best actors I've ever worked with in my life. I look forward to learning a little more from him as we go along.
What have you learned from him so far?
Nothing looks so unnatural as an attempt to look natural. When you start off, when you're on the outskirts of the business way over there, you're able to do whatever you want to do because nobody is really checking on you. But to get welcomed inside and then everyone expect so much from you, you find a way to... like for me personally, the last film I did I was so busy trying to be a good actor and not ruffle anything, I don't think I did the service that I was suppose to do to it. Because as an artist, you're not supposed to fit. An artist is supposed to stand apart and have a different point of view. What I've noticed about Robert -- Robert is just himself. He has no other point of view except his own. He believes in it wholeheartedly and you've got to win him over with a convincing argument. To have that type of backbone in a business where they remove your backbone slowly and surely, and after he's been through so much, I love him for that. That's what I'm learning from him.
What's your take on the improvisational atmosphere of Jon's set?
You've got to think: Jon Favreau, as an actor, he's an improvisational actor, so he brings those sensibilities to his directorial work. He trusts where his actors are going to. There's one particular scene that just blows my mind in this movie where we were having a press conference and Robert just decided to tell the entire press to sit down on the floor. Four hundred people. After we had already lit it to shoot everyone standing. It was brilliant. Jon went with it. We re-lit and it just took the scene to a whole 'nother place.
What we do is we'll start off the morning and
talk through what's there. And we look around the room and say, "Who
believes it?" And if we don't believe it, then we'll have a conversation:
"What would you say?" Sitting there we have the conversation of what
we would say, and they have a little Dictaphone sitting around and we're all
listening to our ideas. Next thing you know, they'll come back an hour later and
will have written everything that we were able to put into it. It starts off
with a structure, and then we let the plant grow and then we trim it down. And
it's perfect, absolutely perfect. But Robert is the king of improvisation
because every single take he will adjust a word or phrase that just gets a
little more closer to home. His light just gets brighter and brighter. I mean,
everyone is sitting there watching him like he is a mad genius. He is.
Characters you've played in movies like CRASH and HUSTLE & FLOW have been multi-dimensional and often contradictory. How does your character in Iron Man compare to those?
A great director said to me once, "Limitation brings about genius." And those other characters I had, like in CRASH I had an emotional breakdown. When you have an emotional breakdown, anything goes. HUSTLE & FLOW, the character lived completely outside of society's laws and regulations. In GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN', it was a character that had decided to hate the world because of what had happened to him in his youth. For me to be limited by what the Department of Defense sets out, and the military guidelines they set out for individuals, to learn that discipline, I think in the long run will make me a much better actor. Even in this one, I sit back and wait and wait for those moments I can get active. And when they let me out, I'm so thrilled. But I find myself walking in this disciplined manner, from spending a month on a military base. I'm about to ask them to make me an honorary colonel. [laughs]
Think they'll go for that?
Well, they want me to be a spokesperson.
Did you base any parts of your character on people you worked with on the base?
General Thomas. He's so insightful. He's the head
of command at Dulles Air Force Base. He's a black general. I ain't never heard
of black general in my life, so I was happy to meet him. But he's so insightful,
so sweet. Very sweet, but very direct about accomplishing... the first thing he
told me, because I shook his hand respectfully -- I thought strongly -- and he
slapped my hand away. He said, "You fly a $200 million aircraft, act like
it." So I shook his hand and tried to break it. [laughs]
What kind of physical training have you done for this?
Robert and his competitive ass...I almost tore my shoulder trying to keep up with him. Because I'm forty or fifty pounds heavier than him. So, I'm in there lifting and I pushed up about 225, knocked it out ten times. Robert wanted to go and do 235, and he did it. So I'm gonna push it up to 245. But I took him out running and gave him some nice cramps while we were in Lone Pine. He couldn't walk for a couple of days. It was really nice. I'm up to six miles a day. And yesterday I did 100 pushups without resting.
Is this the best shape you've ever been in?
Oh, yeah. I got titties now. I don't need my girlfriend no more.
Favreau has really gotten into shape.
Oh Jon -- Jon is great, man. I watched him drop 70 pounds in the process of shooting this thing. He's been eating 900 calories a day. That's it, and directing this movie. He's completely slimmed down. Have you seen him yet? And he's still on it. I think him and Vince (Vaughn), you know...cause you get a little money, you get a little comfortable, and you can have it. Look at what I'm eating! But the six miles a day allows me to eat the salt and the sugar that I want.
What about working with Gwyneth Paltrow? Have you had your scene with her yet?
Oh, we've had a couple of scenes. But Gwyneth is hard to work with because she's so beautiful and you try not to flirt with her. You don't want to flirt. But you're hoping somewhere in your heart, I'm hoping she likes me. I'm hoping she likes me and is gonna leave Coldplay to come and hang out with me. I've got two more pictures to work on it with her. Let him mess up. [laughs]
What about working with Jeff Bridges?
Jeff surprised me because he is so good at improvisation, he's so comfortable and just flows. He reminds me of Nick Nolte in that sense. They've always been competing giants anyway. But, he's like that and one of the first times we got together, he took me into his trailer and we smoked cigars, drank some vodka and played guitar for four hours after wrap. He's a brilliant musician and a great songwriter. Jeff is beautiful and he kept giving me hints on how to play my character, which I loved.
He's been giving you pointers? You are an Oscar-nominated actor, after all...
Yeah, but he's been nominated a few times. And I
love his work. So for him to tell me...Gwyneth has given me points. Same thing
with Robert. We all do that. And then you know everybody is completely secure.
Will we see the birth of War Machine in this movie?
Have you read the comic book? If you read the
comic book then you kind of know what happens. But you'll still have to wait
'cause ya'll ain't taking away my next two movies.
Cause if I say too much...I like y'all, but man...[laughs]
You said your dad was a big Iron Man fan. Have you been able to get him out here?
No, I just had my mom out here. My dad, he wanted me to buy him a boat, so I told him to go build my house. When he finishes my house, then he'll get his boat and then he can come out here.
What did your mom think of it?
She loved it because she always thought Robert
Downey Jr. reminded her of my brother. She went up to him and hugged him like he
was her son.
The Academy never really recognizes this type of work, the genre and comic book flicks. Do you think we're getting to a point where hopefully the Academy will recognize some great comic book adaptations?
Well, if you look at the stuff Robert does in this movie...I mean, at the end of every take someone is applauding him. I'm not talking about, "Good job." I'm talking about [starts clapping]. He's brilliant. So if anybody ever gets an Academy nomination for a comic book, I think Robert might be one.
Jon says he monitors the internet to see what people are saying. Have you been doing that as well?
Yeah. What I keep seeing the most, what they're waiting for is what I'm sure a lot of you guys are waiting for is, will IRON MAN follow the full course that the character did? Because you've gotta remember, when the comic book came out, to have a character that was an alcoholic and all those troubles, that was a big thing in the '70s. So is that here? Do you see that in this movie or not? I'm glad they're concerned and I can't wait for them to see the movie and find out. I try to encourage them. But I think this may end up being one of Marvel's best movies, because they were able to stay true because they're doing it themselves.
Can you talk specifically about your character?
My character is a young man that grew up in the military, went to college as a result of the military, father was in the military, grandfather was in the military. So I am truly a son of the USA. Sometimes the son wants to leave home just to venture out, but then he always makes his way back. That's my character.
What's the coolest thing you've gotten to do for this movie, action-wise?
One day when we were up in Lone Pine, the 14 freeway was blocked because there was all of this wind coming down. So they blocked it off. And I've gotta be on set and the set is about 20 miles away. And I know we've got the Department of Defense working with us, there was a base nearby. So, I'm like, "I'm not going to make it to work for the next two hours." I called the Air Force and told them to send a helicopter for me. They sent it. I got to arrive on set with this huge helicopter and we landed on top of a sand dune. That was the coolest thing.
When you stepped out of the helicopter, did you have your sunglasses on and stuff?
I had the whole thing. And I saluted as they flew
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