Over the past three decades, Terrence Howard has delivered some of the most powerful performances ever put to film. Across a wide array of genres, he continues to up the screen with his remarkable skill set while raising the creative bar for each project he is a part of. His latest performance is no exception to the rule. His role in Orson Oblowitz’s new film, ‘Showdown At The Grand’ is one of his most moving performances to date. A love letter to cult film and action cinema, the film centers around proud movie theater owner George Fuller (Terrence Howard), who must defend his family business from corporate developers alongside a legendary action star, Claude Luc Hallyday (Dolph Lundgren), as art imitates life in a showdown for the ages. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Terrence Howard for an inside look at the making of ‘Showdown At The Grand,’ the evolution of his creative process, new music, and more!
Thank you so much for talking to me today, Terrence. I’ve been a fan of your work for ages, and your latest project doesn’t disappoint! As a cult film and action cinema fan, ‘Showdown at The Grand’ really grabbed me. Most importantly, it shows your passion for cinema.
Wow! You’re going to make me cry right now! Honestly! My wife and I, well, we got divorced, but she’s always going to be my wife in some sense; we were hoping people could appreciate the choices we made with that character. I didn’t know if it would sell or translate to the audience. So, for you to make that statement, it really means a lot. You have no idea, Jason! I hope you feel the same way about Dolph Lundgren because that is how I felt about his performance. I did not know him to be a thespian of that nature. Yeah, he was super handsome and became an action hero, but is a true actor. The way he approaches the character is fantastic, and it wouldn’t have been the film it became without him taking it so seriously!
I absolutely do! You and I are about the same age, so we came up when Dolph Lundgren was larger than life!
You wanted to be Drago, too! I know you did! Everybody wanted to be Drago! [laughs]
Tell us a little about your time working alongside Dolph. What did you take away from the experience?
He was definitely part of my bucket list, so I wanted to say that I worked with Dolph Lundgren. Ultimately, I starred in a movie that Dolph supported me in! That was a significant milestone for me. For me, his intellectual capacity as a chemical engineer, a speaker, and a presence is undeniable. He was always honest with everything he said, and it’s almost as if his eyes search through you. He’s got a God-like status when he is speaking to you. He’s an OG! He’s an original gangster, and you’ve got to respect that! You have to love his presence and his ability to sway. When he stood up and started delivering his monologue, I saw he wasn’t making fun of himself but was 100% in it; it touched my heart!
In ‘Showdown at The Grand,’ you play George Fuller, a man who has given his heart to cinema. We learn about his passion for art early on in the film. What lit the fuse for you when it comes to your love for the craft of acting?
I grew up watching my great-grandmother, Minnie Gentry, on stage doing a one-woman show on Broadway. She made me believe. She had nothing but a chair, but she made me believe that there was an entire kitchen and a house. She also made me believe she had a son that they had to take to a home because he was mentally handicapped and harming himself. I could hear the arguments between her and her husband and her other children. I could smell the green beans that she was cooking. She made me believe all of these things were with her on the stage, while it was only her and a chair. This was when I was around 6 or 7 years old, and I wanted to have that power! I wanted to have that magic, which was the magic of belief. So, that is what lit the fuse for me.
I’m always interested in hearing about the creative process of bringing a new character to life. What voices from the past most flavored your role as George Fuller?
One of the things I love about the character is that, in many ways, he is John Wayne. As deeply as anybody can get to, he loves the nature of John Wayne. That is the Halladay that he is looking to as a star form. I love characters like that! I love characters like the ones Paul Newman created. One of my favorite actors, who played my father in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” is James Earl Jones. When we first spoke, he told me that he didn’t want to play the characters that Sidney Pointier did. James wanted to play the dangerous characters! He wanted to play the characters that no one could figure out. I remember, early in my career, telling casting directors and producers that if you’ve got a part and somebody else can do it, give it to that other person. However, if you have a necessary character and you don’t know how to bring him about, that’s the character I want to play! I want to play complicated, hard-to-reach characters. That was fun, and it challenged me as an actor, but it also put me in danger because a lot of those characters had a hard exit strategy. Getting out of a character is just as important as it is to get into a character.
One of the elements I love about this film is the credit sequence, which features behind-the-scenes footage of the cast and crew. It really shines a light on what went into making this film a reality. While that is happening, we are also treated to a song from you titled “Baby, This World’s Gone Crazy.” How did this song take shape, and what does it mean to you personally?
“Baby, This World’s Gone Crazy” is a song I wrote based on the expectations you have in Hollywood, as well as the expectations you have in life and relationships, and the unfortunate reality that shows that those expectations aren’t always reached. That is the unfortunate nature of life. The world will make you feel like it’s crazy, and then you see that everyone else is just going along with it. It starts to make you think, “Maybe it’s me who is crazy! Maybe I’m the one that’s not in sync. Maybe I need to readjust my morals or temperature to fit into this place because I seem to be boiling off or freezing up. That’s where the song came from, and it fits so perfectly with where George and everyone in the film, as well as in this community, are. We’ve lost the center of the Earth. We’ve lost our connection to our soul, the spirit of the universe. Now, we’re just walking around ignorantly and without direction. I fear for our species.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 15 years since the release of your album, “Shine Through It.” So, hearing your voice at the end of the film was a real treat. Where does music fit when it comes to your creative output these days, and might we get another album from you in the future?
Thank you! Well, I’m doing a one-man-show, in honor of my great-grandmother, at the premiere of ‘Showdown at The Grand.’ I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but we’re doing it! We’re starting to get back into releasing some new music. That’s why putting this song into the film, even though it’s not fully produced in that gigantic way, was so important. I wanted the song to be produced in accordance with George’s means. I hope that people can see the truth in the song and where it came from!
Personal evolution is one of the themes in ‘Showdown of The Grand’. How do you feel you most evolved at your craft?
When I started as an actor, I thought it was about being the best liar. I used to think of it as, “Who can tell the better lie?” and do the mislead and the misread. It wasn’t until I was about twenty-five that I realized it was about telling the truth, telling a deeper truth, and making truth out of what seems like an unrealistic situation. That’s when it becomes dangerous! When it’s a lie, it doesn’t affect you. Your body doesn’t feel anything, and it doesn’t resonate with you. Once you allow it to become truth, well, then it has consequences. Then it can affect you, and it can affect everyone else out there. That’s the difference in the growth that I’ve made. That was about twenty-nine years ago because I’m 54 now. 29 years ago, I learned how to tell the greater truth, and that’s what has allowed people to resonate with the work that I do. I’m a truth teller, even if it has grave consequences.
What do you look for in the projects you take on these days?
I look for a way of bringing mankind to a more equanimous place. We’re out of balance. Ya know, I play bad guys in hopes that the people that resonate with the bad guys can learn that these characters aren’t bad but trying to get balance. They didn’t start off as hateful beings; It’s life and circumstances that led them to make a bad choice, which develops a wound. From that wound develops a limp of bad behavior, which is their way of coping, but that’s not really where they want to be. I try to pick characters that someone can learn from and that I can personally learn from. If I’m learning from it and can deliver that character in a good place, then maybe the people watching it can learn from it as well. Nobody does anything in a vacuum. Everyone is affected by everything everyone else does, so we have to be conscious and careful of the choices that we make because we’re making choices as a community. It’s not as a single cell because we are a giant organism. Whatever one cell does in the organism, the rest of the organism suffers or benefits as a result.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
The four agreements! Those four agreements are real! Always do your best. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t assume anything. Don’t take anything personally!
It was a pleasure talking with you, and I wish you the very best in your life and where you’re going.
Thank you for being so kind to me and for what you said about the work in this film. It means a lot!
Orson Oblowitz’s ‘Showdown at The Grand’ hits cinemas and all major digital platforms (available to own and rent) on November 10th via Shout Studios.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.