The movie stars . . . everybody. Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon, Liev Schreiber as LBJ, and on and on. It also stars Oprah, with whom Howard has a love scene!
Howard raved about Daniels' gifts as director.
"That's a serious cat," said Howard of Daniels. "The experience I had with Lee Daniels remade me as an actor. He'd be my number-one choice of people to work with again."
"I really felt that this time I had a more mature approach to the work. Maybe it's just that I'm more mature. Sometimes I have this idea about a character, and conflicts with what the director sees, and that can be tough," said Howard, who reportedly exited the lucrative "Iron Man" franchise after creative differences with the filmmakers.
No such issues on "The Butler."
"With Lee, we had this connection, this mutual understanding, and I've never had it to that degree before," he said. "If you look at Lee's work, you can see it. Nobody's trying to be a movie star anymore; it's about the art."
In "Dead Man Down," Howard plays a businessman with a very dark side, teamed in the movie with Colin Farrell, who plays his lieutenant.
His character, Alphonse, is menacing and capable of great violence, but operates under a very cool surface, a template that Howard said he borrowed from rapper 50 Cent, whom he befriended on the set of "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."
"There was this time when one of 50's friends had turned on him, and I asked him how he handled it, and I'll never forget what he said: 'Just be still for a minute. Think on it for a minute; see how it goes.' And I took from that 50's ability to think through a situation, and I applied it to Alphonse," said Howard, who chose "Dead Man" in part because a portion of the movie was filmed here, giving him a chance to spend time with his children. He splits time between a house in Lafayette Hill and Hollywood.
The new, mature Howard is as in-demand as the old one. He's also wrapped "The Ten," co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sam Worthington. They all play DEA agents targeted for assassination.
It's the work of David Ayer, who made the underrated "End of Watch," "Street Kings" and "Harsh Times," and wrote the scripts for "Training Day" and "Dark Blue." His vivid, pulpy portraits of law enforcement have developed a cult following among, well, among me and Terrence Howard.
"I've never been more frightened on a movie set," said Howard, laughing. "David doesn't give you anything at the beginning, he's a military guy and it's all no nonsense. 'You maggot, this,' 'you maggot, that.' You feel you're not getting it, but you come to see he's really building you up. I've never had a director take me through the wringer the way David did."
Howard and the rest of the cast endured SWAT and DEA training. There was a lot of fighting, actual hand-to-hand combat.
"I got punched by everybody in the cast," said Howard. "But, on the other hand, I got to punch everybody else.
"There's a point to it. It's about team-building. And it's also designed to make you authoritative, so you know how to handle an M-4 or an M-5 or a shotgun. You look like you know what you're doing on set."
There was no punching on the set of "Lullaby," what Howard calls an "enchanting" fable that co-stars Amy Adams, still awaiting a release. Ditto "House of Bodies," which gave Howard a chance to work with "Easy Rider" Peter Fonda.