Hustle & Flow

SOUND BITES

Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before? “Quentin Tarantino, Ron Howard and Denzel Washington”

How do actors balance commerce vs. art? “I will never again be in a position where I’m beholden (to take roles he doesn’t want). But I’m signing up to go back to the University of Pennsylvania, just in case.”

Up next: HBO’s “My Life in Idlewild” and the Weinstein Co. thriller “Awake” premiering next year. He’s also set top play the lead in Spike Lee’s upcoming Joe Louis biopic.

The topic is his incendiary lead performance as a Memphis street hustler in “Hustle & Flow,” and Terrence Howard is a bit surprised.

Although he appeared in three bigscreen pics this year — along with two telepics and a straight-to-DVD project — it seems most filmgoers recognize him from his supporting turn in “Crash.”

“A lot of people haven’t even seen ‘Hustle & Flow’ because of the way it was marketed,” Howard explains. “It was sold as a hip-hop movie, and people associate it with films like ‘Soul Plane.’… I get so many people who say, ‘Wow, you were so great in ‘Crash,’ and they have no idea I was even in (‘Hustle & Flow’).”

Certainly, at least a few Oscar voters must have been at Sundance, where “Hustle” produced a rousing ovation upon screening and set off a bidding war that culminated in Paramount paying $16 million to producer John Singleton, who financed the film with his own money.

And there was nothing “Soul Plane” about the reviews. Regarding Howard’s take on DJay, a pimp in the throws of midlife crises, Variety’s Todd McCarthy wrote, “Howard’s delivery mixes brooding thoughtfulness with emotional immediacy in a manner that recalls the young Brando.”

It’s the kind of powerful performance that’s channeled with plenty of research…and ultimately, perhaps a little empathy.

Howard says he didn’t ask for a single word change to writer-helmer Craig Brewer’s script. But by his count, he talked to 123 real-life pimps to craft DJay, drilling past the hard anti-hero stereotypes and into human lives wrecked from the beginning, in many cases, by sexual abuse and addiction.

And like DJay, who fights to hold onto his dream of rap-music stardom, Howard knows what it’s like to see a calling almost slip away. In fact, despite recent acclaim for scale-paying roles in the Oscar-winning “Ray” and HBO’s Emmy-winning “Lackawanna Blues,” the grandson of New York stage actress Minnie

Gentry was ready to chuck acting for something that would better pay the bills for his wife and three kids back home in Philadelphia.

“I’ve got all the responsibilities that a man has, and sooner or later, I had to face the fact that acting was done for me, and I was ready to go back into construction and finish my chemical engineering degree,” he says. “But I guess you pour a little more out when you’re saying goodbye…. This is definitely a movie for anybody who’s ever lost sight of a dream.”

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