When Terrence Howard began training in preparation for his role as Philadelphia swim coach Jim Ellis in the upcoming film “P.D.R.,” he quickly came to a humbling realization.
“I had never been a great fan of swimming because I had never been exposed to it,” he explains. “In the process of working with Jim and watching a 14-year-old girl swim 4,000 yards without stopping, I learned to appreciate it. I could barely do 50 yards.”
Now he’s building a 25-yard lap pool in his backyard. “I’m a disciple now,” he says.
The Oscar-nominated actor has always considered himself active and athletic. He runs three to five miles every day and plays basketball occasionally. But he credits swimming with transforming his body. “I started out weighing 203 pounds,” he says, “and ended up at 172. That was after only six weeks of swimming.”
Authenticity in sports movies is vital these days. Savvy audiences can spot a fake immediately, casting a film’s credibility into doubt. Howard knows this, which is why he took great pains to study the sport in order to make his portrayal of Ellis, who started a swim program for inner-city kids in the early ’70s, appear truthful.
“I would go watch some of the Olympic swimmers training and see how they moved through the water,” he explains. “I would
notice how graceful and beautiful they are.
“It’s important to do something that’s credible. It’s like being a boxer in the ring and not knowing how to throw a punch. It takes a whole lot of cuts to make it work, and I didn’t want a lot of cuts.”
During preparation, Howard worked both with Ellis and another coach.
“It takes a lot to be able to get across 25 yards of water in 12 strokes. When I finally got it I said to myself, ‘Wow, I’m doing something here.’ “