'Pride' leading man is in demand

Posted: March 23, 2007

"Pride" is the first of what could be a string of biographical roles for Terrence Howard, still red-hot coming off his "Hustle and Flow" Oscar nomination.

Howard has the lead in "Pride," the story of Philadelphia Recreation Department swim coach Jim Ellis and his success at turning city kids into competitive swimmers.

Producers of "The Crusaders" are also chasing him to play former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in a story built around the early days of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Craig Brewer, who wrote and directed Howard's star-making "Hustle and Flow," is also after the actor to take the lead in a movie about African-American country singer Charley Pride, a role that Howard wants and for which he's uniquely suited - Howard's father was a long-haul trucker who loved country and western, and Terrence grew up listening to Pride and other country greats.

"Kiss an angel good morning, and let her know you think about her when you're gone," said Howard, citing lines from one of the singer's No. 1 hits.

"Yep, all we're waiting for is the script. But it has to be done right, and that's a tough thing. The hardest thing about doing a biopic is getting someone that can translate living energy to pen and paper. It's very much like catching wind in a bottle."

Howard, of course, just completed the process with "Pride," which was in pretty raw shape when he saw the initial screenplay.

"When I first got a look at it, it was 73 pages, and most scripts are at least 120. I thought it needed more dimension, we weren't getting a full sense of the man's heritage to the city."

Howard met with Ellis in an effort to get a better idea of the man.

"What did I learn? That there are two types of people, in terms of attitude. The big difference between them is whether it's positive or negative. And this guy had an unbelievably positive attitude," said Howard.

"That doesn't come naturally to me. I'm a melancholy person, or I can be. I have to struggle to maintain a positive attitude, but not Mr. Ellis."

Howard spent several days watching the coach in action at the Marcus Foster Pool, on Germantown Avenue at Staub Street in Nicetown, but he wasn't studying Ellis' mannerisms.

"What I did was watch the people that he talked to, to see how he affected them. Then I tried to imagine how I could have that effect on people. Therefore, when I stepped into Mr. Ellis' shoes, it would not be an impersonation, but a recreation," Howard said.

Preparation for his next movie was no doubt distinctly different - Howard stars in "Iron Man," playing Jim Rhodes opposite Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man superhero. He also has two thrillers on the way: "The Brave One" is a "Death Wish" in drag starring Jodie Foster, and he has a supporting role in "Awake," starring Hayden Christensen as a paralyzed man trying to solve a crime from his hospital bed.

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