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I AM (still friends with) IRON MAN: Terrence Howard

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment
I AM (still friends with) IRON MAN: Terrence Howard
“Iron Man” opened worldwide this weekend

With “Iron Man” now in theatres, CBR News finishes its presentation of roundtable interviews with the people behind the film. In previous interviews, we’ve chatted with director Jon Favreau; Iron Man Robert Downey, Jr.; Gwyneth Paltrow, who played Pepper Potts; criminal mastermind Obadiah Stane, in the mild-mannered guise of actor Jeff Bridges; the writers who had to put up with the actors’ numerous ad libs; and now, Terrence Howard. Howard plays Tony Stark’s good friend James Rhodes in the film, and of course fans of the comic are excited to see where Rhodey’s story eventually takes him as War Machine. At the press junket Sunday afternoon, the actor discussed his admiration for co-star Robert Downey, Jr., and his own vision for Rhodey’s journey.

Howard began by addressing the fantasy aspect of a super hero story, and why such a mythology appeals to him. “You have to enjoy that entire walk,” the actor said. “There’s a book by John Bradshaw, it’s called ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You,’ and it speaks about toxic shame and the effects it ultimately has on an individual. And as a result of toxic shame we create false persons, false identities that we hide behind, and either they’re super-human or less than human. Because either we feel inadequate as ourselves to become the person we’re supposed to be so we hide behind something else. But we do that pretty much every day, most of us, when we go to work.

“So we want to be a super hero and try and do something beyond that. I think the greatest super hero is somebody that can just be themselves and accept themselves as who they are. That’s Robert Downey, Jr., right now for me. Completely transparent. His entire world has been exposed for so long that as an actor and as a human being he doesn’t walk into a room thinking you think any more of him than what he is. He doesn’t think any more of anyone else in here, because everybody is hidden behind something–but he has the benefit of having his curtain pulled. So he’s free. So as an actor he’s absolutely free. He’s a super hero without even knowing that he is. I want to be that transparent.”

James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) having some fun.

Howard also said that working with Downey was educational. “I learned to be a little more courageous. Robert would sit up and say whatever comes to mind, without any fear of being reproached. He had no fear of that. Me, I still gauge some of the things that I’m going to say. I never felt as honest as he was. I felt if I gave a 70% truth then that was good enough. I’d never been faced with 100% honesty, and whatever I’d say he would trump it. Which maybe comes as a result of having been completely exposed. He kept encouraging me to be even more free. He said, ‘you’ve let this huge monster out of you,’ you know, he said, ‘I wish you could see you the way I see you.’ I look forward to seeing me the way he does one day.”

In talking about his preparation for the role of career military man James Rhodes, Howard said that his experiences taught him about the mental preparation that goes into being a real soldier. “You spend a month and a half on a United States Air Force base, that indoctrination is real. You do become part of the ‘we’ mentality, and the ‘I’ disappears, the ‘me’ is no longer in existence. It is literally ‘we,’” he said.

“I used to run before, but running every morning with them for those five miles, and the cadence that you’re singing — at first you’re like, oh this is fun. And then you begin to measure the miles by the cadence that you’re on, and you’re no longer thinking about the words that you’re saying. You’re being indoctrinated. Until we got to set, I had the Department of Defense and three or four Air Force personnel around me — I felt uncomfortable except when I was with the military, you reach that place.

“It’s a strange thing that happens, you know. I always wondered, how do these boys go over there and somebody says ‘run behind that wall, take that gun and tear it down’… Fuck you, I ain’t going over there,” Howard said, laughing. “That’s what I’ve always thought. But after being there for six weeks I’d have run right over there.”

Terrence as James Rhodes in uniform

Asked if he had been a comic book fan growing up, Howard paused for a moment and smiled. “Yeah. Yeah. ‘Hustler.’ ‘Playboy.’ ‘Penthouse.’ Those were good comics,” he said. “My dad kept the comic books right where he kept his porno magazines, so it wasn’t that hard to make a choice. What do I want to get in trouble for looking at today?”

“He had ‘Iron Man,’ he kept that around, too, but those were his collectibles so we weren’t supposed to really touch them. But we looked at them too. I loved the comics when they came on TV, though, more than anything. When the X-Men came on TV, I watched that from maybe fourteen years old to twenty-eight. Honestly, still sit up and watch it, Saturday morning, be right there glued to the TV. We’d get up, watch that and ‘Life with Louie.’ Then ‘The Tick.’ And when ‘The Tick’ went off and ‘X-Men’ went off, it was a wrap after that.”

Fans who have seen the film will remember Rhodey standing near a second suit of armor and pausing before deciding, “Maybe next time, baby.” So when does Howard think his character will suit up as War Machine? “When Rhodey continues on his emotional evolution,” the actor said. “He has to be willing to take off his suit as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force first. And that is a hard thing to let go of, especially with the indoctrination.

“Tony has already let go of his billionaire suit that he wore. The money-hording individual. You’ve got to get naked to get in that suit, and Rhodey has to get naked first. And that’s where Tony is winning now. You think Tony is being pulled by Rhodey, but Tony is still pulling Rhodey up, saying ‘you don’t see it now, but take a look.’ Because Rhodey’s killed a thousand people in his planes, dropped bombs, and there’s no responsibility for it. But that will come to face him.”

Stark and Rhodey shake hands.

He continued by addressing the timing of War Machine’s debut, which may or may not take place in the first sequel. “The question is whether we will take the time to put on the Iron Man suit first and then have to fight with Iron Man to take it off, or will they go right into the second one of them building the suit. I would prefer to wait til the third one, prefer to let it grow a little bit,” he explained.

“And then after the third one it can go into its own franchise of War Machine. I don’t want to introduce War Machine too early, for my own monetary benefit.”

Though joking about a franchise based on his character, Howard believes that a War Machine film is not completely implausible. “They hired Rhodey first, they cast Rhodey before Iron Man. So in their mind, the links in the chain to the franchise was already being established,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can get from it, I haven’t sat down and said, ok, here’s some official documents, sign here, we’re going to do this, that, and the other. But they were very intent on putting that line in the movie, ‘Maybe next time, baby.’ That was from their motivation without me sitting up and asking for anything.”

Following up on director Jon Favreau’s comment that Howard could easily have been cast as Iron Man, the actor laughed and said, “Yeah, I think I’d have made a better one.”

“His sensibilities would have been a lot different. I don’t know if he would have been as free-thinking and free form as Robert’s Iron Man, though,” Howard continued. “Robert has a comparative nature. He’s been a child of privilege, he knows what that life is like. He’s always been talented, he’s always been recognized for his talent. From very young on, he’s been kind of led through the world, that he can take into Iron Man.

“Me, I’ve had to fight so much that it makes me a little more suited to become War Machine, someone that’s always bulldozing right through something. Strategizing but bulldozing right through. I think they did a really smart choice. But for little while people thought I was going to be Iron Man and it didn’t hurt my career at all.”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.

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