Actor Terrence Howard spoke to an Emerson College audience in the Semel Theater Tuesday as part of the College’s celebration of African American Heritage Month. The E.B.O.N.I.-sponsored event revealed a multifaceted and philosophical side of the Iron Man star.
“You have to figure out if you’re a king or a pawn, and I’m not a pawn,” Howard told students in the discussion led by E.B.O.N.I. president Christel Hyacinthe ’12.
Howard began the discussion with a story about the serendipitous start to his career: He mistakenly walked into and nailed a Cosby Show audition. He came into acting by faking it, he said, with no professional acting lessons. Howard cited his talent, confidence, and family as reasons for his successful career.
Appearing in more than 40 films, including Hustle & Flow, Crash, and Ray, Howard has also worked in television on Law & Order, but says he hopes to return to his first passion, science. His mother, who died in 2008 of colon cancer, wanted to be an actress; Howard said he became an actor to please her.
One of 11 children, Howard is the second oldest. His childhood was never chaotic, but growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1970s came with challenges. His father was mixed race, and his mother was half-Hispanic and half-Native American. Howard said because of his mixed race, he was harassed on the black side of town and also didn’t feel welcome on the white side.
Throughout his career, Howard has taken on challenging roles. In Crash, he played a husband who struggled with defending his family as a black man. “Having to face a lot of those moments and having to demonstrate it—that was difficult,” Howard said.
Howard said his strong sense of self has enabled his career. In an audition in which the director stopped him mid-scene by saying “thank you,” Howard told the director, “Don’t insult me by saying thank you for something you are not grateful for.” He told the Emerson audience, “I was introduced to Terrence Howard that day…I knew who I was then.”
Howard advised students to find themselves and be true. “You have to believe in your purpose.”
Howard is currently writing about science, and has several projects in production. He stars as Nelson Mandela in the upcoming Winnie, Mandela’s biopic, due in theaters this summer.
Photos by Lauren Foley '13.