Terrence Howard Talks Red Tails, Winnie, and On The Road
An Interview with Terrence Howard
By Wilson Morales
January 13, 2012
Coming on Jan.20 is the highly anticipated Tuskegee Airmen film, ‘Red Tails,’ that was produced by ‘Star Wars’ George Lucas.
Directed by Anthony Hemingway, the film stars a bevy of veteran and newcomers (Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Method Man, Tristan Wilds, Ne-Yo, Michael B. Jordan, Elijah Kelly, Leslie Odom Jr, Kevin Phillips, Lee Tergesen, Andre Royo, Bryan Cranston, Daniela Ruah) in a film where a crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.
For Howard, who Bullard, the film represents his finest performance since he received an Academy Award nomination for the 2006 Craig Brewer film ‘Hustle and Flow.’ Howard will also appear in the Walter Salles film with Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, and Sam Riley, and hopefully later this year, the long awaited ‘Winnie,’ in which he plays Nelson Mandela, will show up in theaters.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Howard talks about his character, the potential success of the film, and his upcoming projects.
What was the attraction to doing the film?
Terrence Howard: I wanted to work with George Lucas, but the biggest attraction is to tell the heroics of these extraordinary men who flew 20,000 feet in the sky. These guys controlled the winds. They controlled the tides of the war. Without them, we wouldn’t have won the war. It’s nice to fix that hole in history that’s been around for years, and it’s nice to see that field with the truth. To be forever attached to that. No matter what I’m going to be associated with the Tuskegee Airmen.
How would you describe Col. A.J. Bullard?
TH: He was based on Benjamin O’Davis. He was the third black graduate from West Point, and for four years, not one cadet spoke to him. They were white. He only got orders when needed. He didn’t allow it to taint him and as a result, he ended up integrating the military and encouraging these young me to stand up. He was just 30 years old and was considered the old man because these kids were 19 and 20 and he showed them how to be rock stars in the sky. Tom Cruise would wish that he was black once he sees this movie. Even ‘Top Gun’ had nothing on these kids.
What sort of research did you do for this film?
TH: You go and look at the best of the war movies. You add them up and in the necessary imagination to accomplish that and then you open up the history books and ask yourself what doesn’t fit. What’s missing? You find your way to Alabama and go to Tuskegee and then you go to Washington and see half the people that accomplished things are the children of the Tuskegee Airmen. I didn’t know until I was 30 years old that my daddy was a Tuskegee Airman. You sit down with Roscoe Brown and at 90 years old, this man with another Airman, stood in a spot for 30 minutes as were we were this promo for Fox. They were so disciplined.
You’ve had your share of ensemble films. How was working with this cast?
TH: David Oyelowo is the next coming. His grace, charm and talent exceed anything that many people would expect from a foreigner. He comes here with a figure and a gumption, and arrogance that are necessary. It’s reminiscent of those men of the past. You also have Nate Parker, and Tristan Wilds, I’ve watched Nate shine for the first time and open the pedal to the flower of his ability when we did ‘Pride’ and to see him in ‘The Great Debaters’ and blossom now. I’m supporting him. With Cuba, I had forgotten how talented he was and I think a lot of people have forgotten how talented was. Elijah Kelley has my heart. He plays Samuel ‘Joker’ George and was also in ‘Hairspray’ with Queen Latifah. He’s amazing.
There’s a lot of talk about the success of the film before it has even opened up. While you have no control on the outcome, do you sense a big pressure for the film?
TH: Well, if it doesn’t succeed, then they are already saying, the propaganda, that black films doesn’t have international value and will not sell overseas so you can’t make a black film with than $20 million dollars because the best you can hope to make is $50 million on your return and you can’t even hope to do that. Now George Lucas has spent over $100 million dollars (budget and P & A) making this movie. Now, if it does not work, then that becomes a foundation stone that will stand for the next hundred years and with people saying that George Lucas, one of the best filmmakers of all time, tried to put out a black film or black cast into an action film. That’s what this is, it’s not a black film; it’s an action movie that happens to have black people in it. If it fails, then it will be the standard and we will be forever sweeping the outskirts of the cinematic experience. We will never get a full shot, but one or two black folks in a film, a white film.
Although “Law & Order: Los Angeles” didn’t stay on the air long, will you consider doing another TV series?
TH: TV is the way to make money. Only a crackhead will call themselves an actor as opposed to an actor. There are only a few people that are making enough money to do just films. If I can make $500,000 a week on an episode, you are very right. I will do a TV show.
What’s the status on ‘Winnie’?
TH: ‘Winnie’ is being reworked and fixed the way it needs to be. It was never completed when we took it to the Toronto Film Festival. They just wanted to do a showing of it, but it’s being completed. ‘Winnie’ is the best work I’ve ever done. Compared to doing ‘Red Tails,’ that’s the only thing I stand by, no matter what. Everything takes time to complete. How long did it ‘Avatar’ to be in theaters after they finished shooting it? The same goes with ‘Star Wars.’ It always takes a good two years to release a film. We shot in 2009 for it to come out at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 with more special effects than ‘Transformers 3.’ This film had 1600 special effects in it. The only two films that had more were ‘Avatar’ and ‘Star Wars.’ It takes time to do that.
How was filming ‘On The Road’?
TH: Yes. Walter Salle’ film. I play a saxophone player so I got to do something that I haven’t done cinematically. I play it in life but this time I was able to do it on film. I get to work with Garrett (Hedlund) again and he’s fantastic. I thought he was the younger version of Val Kilmer years ago. Watching him now after seeing him in ‘Country Strong,’ ‘Tron,’ his growth has been exponential.
You did well on Broadway with ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ Any thoughts on returning to the theater world?
TH: I just bumped in James Earl Jones recently and he had wished that I would have joined him and reprise the role when they went to London, so if it’s something with James or someone of that talent, I would do it again.