There are only a few actors that can exude the amount of “cool” that actor Terrence Howard comes across on screen. And few can find where he gets it from. It’s not like he hasn’t had his fair share of troubling time. From his mother losing her battle with cancer, to having to get fit for his latest role in “Empire” (a grueling 100 push-ups in between takes) and his failed marriages, he’s been pushed to the limit. But Terrence pushes back.

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For most of his career, Howard was pretty much the kind of kid you do not want to hire; it was (and still is) his way or no way. Years ago, for example, he read for a movie about the Motown group the Temptations. “[I was] told to prepare two scenes,” Howard recalls. “I’m halfway through the first scene, and the director is already looking at the next guy’s résumé, and he says, ‘Thank you.’ The monster came over me at that moment, and I said, ‘Excuse me. Thank you for what? Normally, when somebody says thank you, it’s because you’ve done something that is so incredible they cannot help but express their appreciation. Now I’m wondering what I did that was so wonderful that made you interrupt me in the middle of my performance? If you want me to leave, then you say so.’ I got my stuff together and left, and they never called me back in again. I don’t know that director’s name to this day, but I bet you he knows mine.”

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Some might call this approach integrity; others, arrogance. Either way, it’s pure Howard, and he does not apologize for it: “A lot of people are told to check their manhood at the gate in this business. I won’t do that.”

This tough-guy stance and the notion of never backing down—even at great cost—was imprinted in Howard from a young age. On December 21, 1971, standing in line to meet Santa at a Cleveland department store, 2-year-old Terrence watched his father, Tyrone, a contractor, kill a man. “I remember all of that,” he says softly. “That’s a painful thing to talk about.” The incident started as an argument about who was next in line. Tyrone and another father, exhausted from an hour-and-a-quarter wait and worried about their children and pregnant wives, lashed out. As the other man tried to choke him, Tyrone grabbed a nail file and stabbed him several times. Charged with manslaughter, he was sent to prison for 11 months in a notorious case called the “Santa Line killing.”

Terrence Howard: Building An Empire From The Inside  was originally published on

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