Pride's Terrence Howard hears freedom ring in Philadelphia.
When we catch up with rising star Terrence Howard, he's preparing to present an award to Michael Jordan at the Trumpet Awards in Las Vegas. He's a little nervous about it, which sounds surprising coming from the man who received an Oscar nod for his role as an aspiring rap star in Hustle and Flow; costarred as a conflicted Hollywood director in 2005's Best Picture, Crash; and played a nasty hood in the Prohibition period piece Idlewild. Howard's real-life persona is quite the opposite of those swaggering roles.
He's a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, eloquent individual with a passion for acting, horticulture, and people. He also enjoys playing guitar.
Howard shuns the concept of the stereotypical Hollywood star sequestered away in a palatial Tinseltown estate. He lives near Philadelphia, forever known as the City of Brotherly Love, and for him, that maxim is the absolute truth. It's the perfect place for an actor who likes to stay down-to-earth and close to his neighbors, many of whom are oblivious to his profession. That may change, however, as more and more of Howard's work emerges, including the soon-to-be-made comic-book adaptation Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow; the forthcoming music drama August Rush, with his favorite actor, Robin Williams; and the new Pride, with Bernie Mac. The inspiring Pride is based on the real-life story of Jim Ellis, a swimmer who helped transform a decaying Philadelphia recreation center into a champion-producing swim facility. Strong movies like Pride prove why Howard has been generating a buzz in Hollywood lately.
According to Howard, Mark Wahlberg recently told him "there is nothing better than for someone to reach a place that everyone's been hoping he would get to." "He said the amount of goodwill I have had has been great," says Howard. It seems that goodwill already extends to those around him in Philly.
Do you live inside or outside Philadelphia?
I live outside the city, in a little area right past Blue Bell called Abolitionist Hill. The people there were part of the Underground Railroad movement. They provided sanctuary and safe housing for slaves escaping from the South and on their way to the North. Because the bounty hunters would come to retrieve these slaves, the residents built true underground tunnels that led from one home to another home and into a field. And I bought one of those homes. I'm trying to find out who traveled through. I bought a 250-year-old carriage home, and there is a stone tunnel, maybe five feet under the ground, made with fieldstones that are there, about three or four feet in diameter. I don't know what was at the end of it, but it was the greatest discovery of buying that home.
How many people can say that they have a house that literally was part of American history? It's nice, unless you're trying to renovate.
HE SAID …Where Terrence Howard feels brotherly love in Philly
Illiano's Pizza (italian)
Spring Mill Cafe
Valley Green Inn
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Mint
The Liberty Bell
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Where did you first live when you arrived in Philadelphia in 1998?
I lived in Wissahickon, which is right near Fairmount Park. Before that, I was in L.A. I was trying to make it the Hollywood way, but I just didn't fit. I tried to. I did all the things that I thought I was supposed to do. I was running around and trying to be friends with the earth shakers and oftentimes found myself shaken up by it. My uncle said, "You have a mean streak of conscience running down your spine, and until you get rid of that, you're not going to have any fun here." I guess I never had any fun there.
It sounds like you wanted to maintain your integrity.
I just wanted to still be human at the end of the day. That's why you're an actor - because you love humanity. I keep digging into every one of these characters that I come across or watch, in hopes of finding myself. You find a little piece of you that you were just unaware of before.
Since you also dig into history, are you going to the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute?
Yes, I'm going immediately. You've got to remember that the Franklin Mint is down there, too, and I have a son who absolutely loves money. Money, coins, and gold. He's asked me to get him a gold bullion one day. He wants a big one.
And what did you tell him?
I said, "Okay, why not? I'll work at it."
How many children do you have?
I have one son [Hunter] and two daughters [Heaven and Aubrey]. They live only a couple of minutes away, with their mom. They're nine, 11, and 13 right now. It's nice to take them through places [like] where Thomas Paine had his influential pamphlet "Common Sense," which reflected the philosophy in the Declaration of Independence. It's nice to be in the place where the Declaration of Independence was written and ratified, where it truly gives a new meaning to the Fourth of July. Just to see the history there and to be a part of it and to hear, breathe, and smell all the things that took place … I think a lot of those waves of inspiration are still floating about in Philadelphia.
What are your favorite landmarks in the city?
I love the Philadelphia Museum of Art, downtown. When I grew up, in Cleveland, even though the museum there was always open, we were never encouraged to go. Maybe that was something that my parents failed to show me. All I know is that I spend a great deal of time down there. Philadelphia is just brimming with history. The authenticity of what the place is, what it's truly about - all these things make the biggest difference in life to me. Being a part of something that's older than me, being part of something that's a little deeper than my understanding, because then I can keep learning.
There are areas in Philadelphia, like Germantown Pike, where you can almost hear George Washington marching down with 300 men to battle a stronghold near the center of the city held by British sympathizers. What's interesting is that those 23 men inside that home killed almost 150 of George Washington's men and caused the others to retreat because they were so well fortified there. I live 10 minutes from that place and live near the first known school that had a mixed group of kids, both white and black. It's really, really nice. But my favorite place is still Fairmount Park. That's where I spend most of my time. I run there in the morning, and I run there in the evening, except in the summertime, when the mosquitoes like to have their way with me.
You should come to Fairmount Park. I've never seen anything more beautiful.