Writer/director Craig Brewer’s Memphis-centric debut Hustle & Flow won the Audience Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The term “buzz” doesn’t begin to describe the tidal wave of sustained praise the movie has garnered from critics and audiences alike. Hustle & Flow is a perfect example of an American independent film that boldly embraces its rarefied subject and squeezes out sparks from every scene and every line of subtext-rich dialogue.
Terrence Howard’s emotionally devastating performance as Djay, a low down pimp making a last ditch effort to turn his life around with music, is steeped in American values of redemption and ambition. Since creating unforgettable sensations on television (NYPD Blue, Sparks) and in movies (Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dead Presidents) Terrence Howard has been called the next Denzel Washington. But that lofty compliment doesn’t begin to evince the actor’s slow burning intensity, inscrutable poise and thoroughly individual nature.
Howard is an actor you absolutely cannot take your eyes off. He’s unpredictable and unknowable in ways that beckon to the early career days of Marlon Brando. It’s a name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in the coming years.
Maui Time Weekly: How does it feel to be called the next big thing due to your performance in Hustle & Flow?
Terrence Howard: I feel great. Man, I feel great. Everybody smiling and looking at me like y’all know something I don’t. Like you got a car waiting for you when you get home.
How much of your life did you have to let go of in order to become your character?
All of it. I had to let go of all of my sensibilities. I had to let my conscience go to bed for about a year. It wasn’t a question of me just being a character for a couple of months. I mean it would take a good year of demoralizing myself because that’s how I work. I mean, I wish I could just snap on and, you know, be somebody. But I had to go through all the motions. I had to start smoking cigarettes again. I watched a bunch of pornography again just to desensitize myself to my own conscience and my own sensibilities. It bothered me and I was telling them I was so afraid to do that. I was so afraid.
What do you hope your performance as Djay accomplishes?
That maybe I’ll give some hope to the rest of the world, that people may see this 20 years from now, the way I watched Rocky, and say, “Oh my God I can get up and do it.” The way I watched Midnight Cowboy and said, “Somebody that means nothing can become something.” MTW
Hustle & Flow runs Friday, Dec. 30 at 9:30 p.m.