Terrence Howard Interviewed by Kam Williams
Terrence Dashon Howard was born in Chicago on March 11, 1969. He developed his interest in acting while spending summers with his late grandmother, the legendary stage diva Minnie Gentry. His own career began on The Cosby Show which led to appearances in such TV shows as Living Single, Coach, Family Matters, NYPD Blue, Soul Food and Picket Fences.
On the big screen, this versatile performer has delivered memorable performances across a variety of genres from The Best Man (for which he won an NAACP Image Award) to Dead Presidents to Big Momma's House to Hart's War to Ray to Lackawanna Blues. Terrence, who resides in the Philly area, is also a self-taught musician, proficient on piano and guitar.
In his latest outing, Crash, arguably the best film of 2005, he plays Cameron, a Hollywood television director who has compromised his values in order to make it in Hollywood. However, his character's accommodating nature is put to the test, when his wife (Thandie Newton) is molested by a police officer during a profile stop.
Kam Williams: Do you think maybe the movie goes too far in getting its message across?
Terrence Dashon Howard: "No, there's nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. Some things have to be exposed. Instead of saying, 'You're perfect,' it's better to say, 'You've got a little smudge right here.' Because that's what bigotry is, a smudge upon a humanity."
KW: How do you explain your character's behavior during his confrontation with the racist cop?
TH: "Cameron had made so many compromises in his life leading up that moment, that he'd long since lost his self-confidence, because he didn't have anything true to draw on. So, I think it's just something that naturally occurs when you're in a place of conflict with self and dignity.
Even though you only see that one incident, apparently he had been forced to make those same sort of compromises for years in that same environment.
Everyday, his integrity was stripped away from him. Or he handed it to them, so he could receive a paycheck."
KW: If he'd been making these compromises before, what made this experience different?
TH: "Well, now he was openly exposed, whereas before, he could hide that from his wife. Previously, she just saw his success, the parties and everyone shaking his hands. But now she could see him for the coward that he was."
KW: Coward? Isn't that a bit harsh?
TH: "No, you're a coward when you choose not to stand for what you know to be right. And that was just another symptom of his problem in this dilapidated world where humanity means very little, and where we put up emotional fences and spikes of bigotry to make sure no one climbs over.
Because if you climb over, you're going to get cut. But it's necessary to get to the other side, even if you're going to have your skin pierced every once in a while."
KW: Did working on this film have you thinking about who you are as a person?
TH: "Yes. I found from working on the film that I am a bigot, at times. And that I am also a coward, at times. Then there's also a part of me that's self-destructive, and another part that's a hero who's going to stand up for a principle. I found myself naked, and exposed, and pinned to the wall.
There's a scripture in the Book of James which says, 'Become a doer of the word and not a hearer only.' A hearer is someone who looks into a mirror, walks away, and quickly forgets what sort of person he is. The mirror exposes all of your faults. Right there! The question becomes, now, what do you choose to do about it. Do you just walk away and pretend that they're not there, or do you work to fix it."
KW: I see Crash as a very important film because of its potential to spark serious conversations across color, class and cultural lines. Do you also see it as a socially-significant work which might help eliminate racism?
TH: "This is where you participate, because a lot of people who won't see the film may read your article. If the film has affected you, then ultimately, it may affect everyone and ripple across the surface of humanity and produce a positive outcome. These little links in this chain of events towards this human rights evolution are going to continue. And maybe this link that we're adding now will be part of that bridge to something better, and maybe it will help lift off that oppressive cast that's sitting on top of mankind. But I think we're going to need a lot more links in order for that to happen."
KW: You worked with Ludacris, in this movie, and he'll also be co-starring with you in your upcoming film, Hustle and Flow. Did you have any reservations about working with a rapper?
TH: "I don't see the fields as separate entities. Actually, we're all entertainers. In the Twenties, it wasn't a remarkable thing for a singer to be an actor, or even to be involved in politics. If this is our roots, how can you blame the branches for following the course of the roots. I wasn't a trained actor when I came into this business. God bless them for giving me a shot. So, I'm definitely going to give everybody else a shot. If you got it, you got it. And Chris Bridges [AKA Ludacris], oh man, he loves this business. And he's given everything he's got to be successful in it and to be representative of his family and culture. The same with Curtis Jackson [AKA 50 Cent]"
KW: What about Samuel L. Jackson's complaint about gangsta'
TH: "On the one hand, I have to respect what Sam is saying, because some of them aren't taking it seriously. And they will ultimately affect him. He's putting his entire career on the line when he makes a movie, because he can't go and do an album. There have been some who have taken it seriously.
You have to remember, Will Smith was a rapper. Dana [Queen Latifah] was a rapper. I think Sam had all the right intentions and what he wanted to say was, 'Be serious about this craft.' And I feel the same way about any person in any position on the set who's not doing their job. If you're not going to do your job, get out of here. Don't mess up my work. This is how I feed my family."
KW: And what are you doing with your music?
TH: "It's just me and my guitar, and the rhythm's from there, and the poetry of life.’
KW: Are you planning to perform anywhere?
TH: "Yeah, in Black Lily in Philadelphia, and I'm doing some stuff up in Toronto."
KW: Are plans for a CD?
TH: "I will soon. I've just been running so much to where all I'm doing is just hanging out in the studio putting my ideas down. I'm determined to produce everything myself So, maybe sometime this summer I'll get out and have an intimate gathering and throw some stuff together. Thanks for such insightful questions. I had a great time."
More About Terrence Howard
Crash Movie Review
Thandie Newton Interview
Terrence Howard in Idlewild