DATE January 20, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Craig Brewer and Terrence Dashon Howard discuss their
new film, "Hustle & Flow"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Our guests are Terrence Howard, the star of the new film "Hustle & Flow," and
Craig Brewer, the writer and director of the film. It's just come out on DVD.
"Hustle & Flow" was Brewer's first theatrical release. The Washington Post
described it as a breathtaking national debut and it won the Audience Award at
the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Actor Terrence Howard received a Golden
Globe best actor nomination for his work in the film. His other films include
"Crash," "Four Brothers, "Ray," "Hart's War" and "Get Rich or Die Trying."
Terry spoke with Terrence Howard and Craig Brewer last summer, when "Hustle &
Flow" was released. Howard plays DJay, a small-time pimp in Memphis whose
dream is to become a rapper. With the help of a friend who records music for
a local church, he makes a demo cassette. His plan is to give the cassette to
rap star Skinny Black when Skinny Black returns for a visit to Memphis, his
hometown. In this scene after Skinny Black's return, DJay manages to get him
the cassette. Skinny Black is played by the real rap star Ludacris.
(Soundbite of "Hustle & Flow")
Mr. TERRENCE DASHON HOWARD: (As DJay) I have this thing right here. My heart
beats in this thing.
LUDACRIS: (As Skinny Black) What am I going to do with a cassette tape, man?
Mr. HOWARD: (As DJay) See, that's my blood pumping, man.
LUDACRIS: (As Skinny Black) Dog, do you know it's a new millennium? I can't
do nothing with no cassette tape. I don't even have a cassette tape player.
Mr. HOWARD: (As DJay) Yeah, I appreciate you talking to me man to man like
this, you know, treating me like an equal, man. And the only reason I gave
you that right there is 'cause, you know, if you give me a shot, you know,
just give me a chance to get my voice heard, man, you know, I wouldn't even
have words to that, man.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Terrence Howard, Craig Brewer, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Craig Brewer, when you were trying to get the film produced, how did you
describe it? What was the description you used to potential backers?
Mr. CRAIG BREWER (Director, "Hustle & Flow"): Well, I described it as this
street-hustling pimp who wants to make a recording studio out of the back of
his shotgun house. And I know that a lot of the studios, you know, they
immediately kind of saw the more sensational elements to the story, you know,
such as like, you know, the fact that the character is a pimp and that he
wanted to do rap music. But I kept trying to reiterate to them all that I
really wanted to do a movie about collaboration and creativity.
And they do this odd thing in Hollywood where they ask you to--they do this
thing called running numbers. And what running numbers means is that they ask
you to come up with a movie that your movie is comparable to or similar to and
they then find out how much money that movie spent on advertising and how much
they spent making it and how much it made. And so they then can kind of, you
know, have a better definition as to how they would make that movie or even if
they would make that movie. And the problem was was that they were always
asking me what my movie was going to be like, and every time I brought up the
one movie that I felt was the closest thing to it, which was "The
Commitments"--I don't know if you've ever seen that movie, but it was, you
know, about Irish kids but it was about...
GROSS: I have, yeah.
Mr. BREWER: ...you know, trying to make soul music, and you'd see the whole
process of them trying to make this music. But I learned very quickly, and it
was a little bit disconcerting and heartbreaking that I could not use that as
an example because there were no African-Americans in "The Commitments." And
so I was kind of limited to movies that had predominantly African-American
casts, which made the movie kind of difficult, because as much as people
thought that this was going to be kind of like your standard urban flick where
you have pimps and prostitutes and rap music, that's actually not the kind of
movie that Terrence and I wanted to make.
GROSS: Craig, I read that before you made the movie, you were actually
approached by a pimp in a car. Kind of the same type of thing that DJay does
in the movie, 'cause he has this, like, battered car...
Mr. BREWER: Yeah. Yeah
GROSS: ...that he drives around with his prostitutes in.
Mr. BREWER: Yeah. What...
GROSS: So I'd really like to hear the rap that was laid on you.
Mr. BREWER: Well, what it was is that I was over on this street called
Summer Avenue in Memphis, and I was trying to--you know, I was making this
movie on digital video called "The Poor and Hungry," and I needed just one
hotel room at kind of like this, you know, divey hotel, and I knew that they
rented by the hour because that's what the police reports were saying about
the place, 'cause it looked like--you know, it had a--it was a place where,
you know, prostitutes frequented. So I went in to talk to the manager to see
if I could pay to film in this hotel room. And I wasn't even doing anything
shady. I mean, it was just like this one simple scene. But he wasn't having
it, and I just remember pleading with this guy behind the plastic if I could
please film there, and he said, `No.'
So I'm walking back to my car, and this Chevy Caprice, you know, a real
beat-up kind of car but it was rolling on, you know, chrome wheels and there
was this black pimp and a white prostitute, and the white prostitute, she had
these micro braids, you know, these little teeny blond braids into her hair.
But she looked so pathetic, just so tired and bored, and he just had this
ratta-tat-tat type of delivery to him where he was just, like, `Hey, man, I
saw you leave that hotel. I don't know if you, you know, had a good time, but
you can take this girl and have a good time with her, too. You know, it's
like, you just need, like $30. Just take her inside there, $20 for the hotel,
you know, $50, you can go around the world.' You know, he just would not
stop. And I'm doing the whole walk towards my car going, `No, that's OK,' you
know. And he wouldn't stop. He was like this panther rolling next to me, I
mean, like, five miles an hour, just right on my heel. And the girl just
wouldn't say anything, just kind of looked bored, but he would not stop.
And I remember getting in my car, and that's when I got to thinking. I was
like, `What do they talk about all day? Like, when they're just rolling
around, you know, for johns, what is their conversation? What is this man
saying to her...
GROSS: Well, how would you know?
Mr. BREWER: ...that's keeping her there?
GROSS: I mean, how would you know before writing this screenplay?
Mr. BREWER: Well, I mean, you know, the thing about me making movies in
Memphis and especially the movies that I've been making in Memphis--and this
is what I love about my city and it really falls into a historical context--is
that, you know, the street kind of hustled to help me make my movies. And
they knew that I wanted to tell things for real. And so on my first movies I
was filming in chop shops and strip joints, shake joints and, you know, pistol
clubs. And I just got to meet a lot of people. And I think that there are
good people to sit and talk with and have a beer with and have a conversation
And everybody's talking about the philosophies that DJay spouts in his car,
but, you know, I hear this from hustlers. I hear their thoughts on life and
about God, and I've always found that to be very interesting. So I took
elements of my own life, of me trying to deal with the death of my father at
an early age and me feeling that my life may be half over if I die at 50 and
that, you know, I need to get on with something, but at the same time, you
know, you have kind of sins of your own and dark places of your own that
you're wrestling with while you're just trying to make one thing pure before
you check out. And that's something that a lot of these hustlers felt.
GROSS: Terry, when you were preparing to play the role, what did you feel
like you wanted to know about hustlers?
Mr. HOWARD: Well, you know, it's evident the things that they do that's
wrong. You know, we all know the difference between right and wrong. But
what I wanted to know was what did you want to do before you got involved with
this? You know, what were your dreams before this happened to you, and what
went wrong in your life? At what point did you decide that this was your only
means of making a living? And they were forthcoming with me.
GROSS: Who? How'd you find the people to talk to?
Mr. HOWARD: Well, you know, there's the areas in every city that--where
generally and sadly it's the urban areas, you know; a lot of disenfranchised
people, you know, with nothing left to sell but pieces of their humanity. And
I would go to downtowns, the darker sides of downtowns. You know, you start
off talking to a drug dealer who will also know how to tell you where the
other side--'cause part of DJay's life is he was also selling, you know,
marijuana. He was selling everything he could, you know, to hustle. He was
shortchanging people. And they would lead me and say, `Look, I know somebody
over here.' And then I talked to Craig, and Craig introduced me to some
people who were actually involved in this life that were selling weed, you
know, pimping and trying to, you know, get a rap album out, you know. This
was real live people. It wasn't just one. It was a number of people, and
after two and a half years of interviewing people, you know, I saw an
uncomfortable commonality between me and them.
GROSS: When you went up to people to talk with them about their lives
hustling, did you introduce yourself as Terrence Howard, actor, making a
movie, or did you pretend like you wanted to buy some time with one of their
girls? I mean, what did...
Mr. HOWARD: Well, no. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately at the same
time, the majority of the films I've been involved with were urban films. And
so in these urban environments, all these people, I didn't meet one stranger.
Everyone was familiar with me, and so they were a lot more comfortable as far
as talking to me openly. And they knew the type of work that I liked to do.
They said they were fans of mine. They said I always told the truth about my
characters. And I said--well, that opened up the way for me to say, `Look,
well, now a character I'm playing is someone close to your life, you know, and
what advice would you have for me as far as finding the truth in this guy?'
GROSS: And so did you go alone or escorted with other people?
Mr. HOWARD: No. You know, there's a thing called a ghetto pass, you know,
as far as being a black celebrity. You know, I have a ghetto pass, so I could
talk to pretty much anybody I want to.
Mr. BREWER: I applied for my card, but I don't think I'm in yet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: Terrence Howard, star of the film "Hustle & Flow," and Craig Brewer,
who wrote and directed the film, speaking with Terry Gross. "Hustle & Flow"
has just come out on DVD. We'll hear more of their conversation after a
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with director Craig Brewer and
actor Terrence Howard. Their film "Hustle & Flow" has just come out on DVD.
GROSS: Now that we've tried to look a little bit into the soul of your
character, let's look at his hair.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: You have quite an incredible hairdo in the movie. It's kind of like
conked and curled.
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, well, it's called a proces--it's called not a process;
it's a perm. It was just strictly a perm that...
Mr. BREWER: It's a perm.
Mr. HOWARD: ...was rolled every day.
GROSS: I thought you were in rollers in the opening scene.
Mr. BREWER: He was.
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, I was.
Mr. BREWER: It was curled. I see cats like that all the time in Memphis,
just, you know, right there on their porch with their curled hair, you know.
Mr. HOWARD: So we talked a long time, extensively about how DJay should
look. We discussed having to borrow--but I remember a year before we started
shooting, Craig said, `Don't cut your hair.' He said, `Do not cut your hair.
You know, I want to have some options.' And so I tried not to, and then we
went inside and we permed it right before we were doing the camera tests.
Mr. BREWER: I'll never forget you coming in. I haven't talked about that in
a long time, because I remember you coming in and he's just thinking, `Wow.
that really works in a really wrong way that totally is right.' You know,
I'll never forget just--it was undeniable that we could not have your hair
like that after you came in.
Mr. HOWARD: 'Cause we thought about cornrows, and Craig was, like, `No,
that's not it.' And John was like, a bald head, and no, that's not it. And
we thought about a big Afro, and no, that wasn't it. But I talked to a pimp
named Tweety Bird in Cleveland, and that was his hair. And he was the one
that was the most honest with me. You know, and it wasn't about a stereotype.
It was about--you know, it's still a struggle because black people struggle
with--you know, you see everyone having straight hair or, you know, everyone
that you see on television for the most part or advertised before us, have
this straight hair and they can do anything they want with it. And, you know,
as a black person, you're still always trying to fit in as a human being. So
he had went to the extreme of straightening his hair, like Al Sharpton or a
number of us do, and something we've got to work on.
Mr. BREWER: What was wonderful about it is that, you know, Terrence came in
with this hair, and because you would see the process of what it would go
through, you then began to see the process that DJay would go through just to
get his hair like that. And then it led to scenes that were never in the
script, like Shug, right before he goes off to the big showdown at the end of
the movie, curling his hair, and the beauty in that moment of kind of, like,
her kind of preparing this guy for battle. You know, you could put a match to
my whole film, but just give me that one moment, you know, where Shug is
curling his hair. It's beautiful to me. I love it.
GROSS: Well, you know, in that part of the film, Terry, you were going to
meet the character played by Ludacris, who's the...
Mr. HOWARD: Skinny Black.
GROSS: Skinny Black, who's, like, the successful rapper. And you think, `If
only I could get my cassette to him, I know he'll love it, he'll cut a record,
you know, help me cut a record.' And so, like, you dress for the occasion.
You're wearing, like, the new leather jacket. One of the prostitutes gives
you this, like, nameplate medallion that's very old-school, among other
things. And you look like you're dressed for your first day of rap school,
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah.
Mr. BREWER: Yeah.
Mr. HOWARD: Well, he dressed like Run-DMC and...
Mr. BREWER: Right.
Mr. HOWARD: ...Kool Moe Dee and all those guys.
GROSS: But everything's, like, so new and shiny and not lived in.
Mr. HOWARD: You know, but Craig told me, you know, DJay wasn't a great
rapper. He reassured me with that, and said that DJay was very uncomfortable
with that world. You know, he didn't even know what a hook was to a song. He
was very ignorant to the world he was trying to get in, but his desire to
survive there was great. And I think that led to so much beauty, and people
just seem to--I was so attracted and felt so sorry for him for the most part,
because I could see this man just trying. He was just trying.
GROSS: In one of the main raps in the movie, I mean, the premise is that,
Terrence, you're coming in with your notebook in which you've written down all
these raps, and you're basically reading them in the first recordings that you
make. And then, you know, the people who you're working with come up with
hooks behind you, and one of the hooks is, you know, `It's a hard life for a
pimp making money just to try to pay his rent,' or something like that. And
it's both really catchy but almost funny at the same time, because it's, like,
`Have empathy for the pimp who's working hard just to try to pay the rent,'
and, you know, you don't...
Mr. BREWER: Right.
Mr. HOWARD: `It's hard out here.'
GROSS: You don't think of yourself as, like, `Man, those pimps, they really
have it hard.' You think of them as exploiting people--Do you know what I
mean?--and not as, like, `Boy, it's really tough being pimps, paying the
rent.' So I thought that--you want to talk? You look like you want to say
Mr. HOWARD: Well, no, no. That's what I was saying. You know, DJay, one of
the things, like, I--like, when Craig first told me about the movie and I
decided I was going to try and do it--and I have to say that. I was going to
try and do it, 'cause I didn't know if I was going to be able to. And almost
up until two weeks before we were going to start shooting, I sat on my wife's
bed, edge of my wife's bed and told her, `I don't think I can do this. I
don't think I can pull this off.' And I was about to call Craig and say, `I'm
so sorry.' But I was, like--I put my mind into it.
But D--Craig told me. He said, `DJay is not a good pimp. He's not good at
it.' You know, one of the first rules about pimping is--as far as the real
life of pimping is you can't love the prostitutes. You can't love them. And
DJay had true love for them. And I tried to watch all those--remember those
videos I told you I went to see, Craig, where...
Mr. BREWER: Right.
Mr. HOWARD: "American Pimp" and all of that. And I was, like, `Which one of
these characters is DJay like?' And Craig said, `DJay's...
Mr. BREWER: None of them.
Mr. HOWARD: ...like none of them.'
Mr. BREWER: Well, the thing is that, like, one of my favorite scenes in the
movie is DJay picking up one of his girls from one of the strip clubs. And
they're just walking out to the car, and there's just--it just seems like, you
know, they just were working on, like, an assembly line. You know, it's just
like, you know, she's complaining. Her feet hurt. DJay gets in the car. His
one prostitute, Nola, fell asleep in the back of the car. And they're all
chatting and talking, and it's at this moment that I remember turning to
Singleton and saying, `You know, we got to film this scene like DJay's a
soccer mom, you know, that he's, like, picking up kids from, like, all these
different places, and they're fighting. He's, like, "Now wait. You know, now
hang on. Now just, you know, I want you all to be quiet till we go and get
food. And then we're going to go home, and we'll watch some TV, but, you
know, I need some peace, you know,"' But he doesn't have that.
And so, you know, I just wanted to make him a little bit, you know, in the
kind of vein that an audience would, you know, identify with at least not
selling women, but, `Wow, you know, this day at work really, you know, was
awful, and I'm tired.'
Mr. HOWARD: And that's why it was hard out there for DJay, because if he had
been the true pimp, the stereotypical pimp, you know, he would have told them
to shut up, smacked them or whatever and went about, you know, dominating
them. But he allowed them to be human beings, that they were struggling
together. And that struggle and that consc--the fact that he still had a
conscience made it hard for him to be in the life in which he was living.
GROSS: Now, Craig, I read that before you started making "Hustle & Flow" that
your wife worked as a stripper in Memphis.
Mr. BREWER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And that was not as research for your film, I take it.
Mr. BREWER: No, no, no. That was two young people deciding early on to be
young and dumb and seeing what kind of life they could experience and--but,
yeah, I mean, Jodi and I, you know, we kind of grew up in the arts and then,
you know, we did theater together. And so when we moved to Memphis, there was
obviously this kind of exciting element that, you know, we needed some money,
and she was going to start off as a cocktail waitress. And then one day, she
just said, `You know, would you have a problem with me dancing a little bit?'
And I was, like, `No, I'm fine.'
But what we found over the, you know, two years that she was doing that is
that it does wear on you, and it doesn't wear on you in the way of, like, `Oh,
there's my wife up there, you know, taking her clothes off,' but it wears on
you just in terms of the life itself and what a lot of the dancers kind of
have to do to desensitize themselves to, you know, these guys who want a
fantasy. You know, they don't want reality. They want some sort of fantasy.
And really, it's knowing those girls that Jodi worked with, and knowing the
guys who worked the door and just, you know--I mean, I would finish my night
shift, and then I'd have to go to--I'd go to this bar, and I would write
screenplays after I finished my night shift, and then I'd have to go pick up
Jodi at about 3 AM.
And so, you know, when I write that scene I told you about when we're walking
out to the car, I just--I always rem--you know, me and my wife just look at
each other with a smirk and shake our heads, just like, `Do you remember those
times? Do you remember me picking you up with, like, maybe one other friend
and us going to Krispy Kreme's at, like, 2 AM in the morning and, like,
shopping at Wal-Mart, you know, at 3 or 4 in the morning?' And it's
just--it's an aw--it's not that great of a life, really, to work in the night,
you know, like that.
DAVIES: Craig Brewer and Terrence Howard speaking with Terry Gross. Craig
Brewer wrote and directed the film "Hustle & Flow." Terrence Howard stars in
it. The movie has just come out on DVD. They'll be back in the second half
of the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, more about "Hustle & Flow" with writer-director Craig
Brewer and star Terrence Howard. It's just out on DVD. Howard plays an
aspiring rapper in the film. He'll tell us about how he was coached and how
he learned to speak in a Memphis accent. Also, David Edelstein reviews the
new film from Albert Brooks, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World."
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to Terry's interview with Craig Brewer, who wrote and directed
the film "Hustle & Flow," and Terrence Howard, the star of the film. It's
just come out on DVD.
Howard's other films include "Crash," "Ray" and "Four Brothers." In "Hustle &
Flow, Howard plays a small-time pimp in Memphis whose dream is to become a
GROSS: You play a rapper in--somebody who wants to rap and who is starting
out and hopefully staying in the world of rap. Have you rapped before the
Mr. HOWARD: No. I mean, that's just--Craig might tell you guys the story
when we were at the Chateau Marmont...
Mr. BREWER: Yeah.
Mr. HOWARD: ...and we decided we were doing--we had just finished auditioning
people. And I pulled out my guitar and we played a little bit and had a
couple drinks, so everybody was relaxed. And Craig was like, `Wow, that's
great. You know, you should come down--when you're in Memphis, you should go
and play in some of the little spots around Memphis, you know, and--'cause
this is a whole 'nother side of you that I never even knew existed.' And I
got so excited and I was like, `Well, that's what we need to do, then. You
know, why can't DJay play guitar? Why can't he sing? Why does he have to
rap? Why does he'--and, Craig, you can finish that.
Mr. BREWER: Oh, well, you know what it was was that this is the first time
that I had been in the room with Terrence as a director to an actor, that it
was now going to be my movie. And it was like the first time that I'm, like,
staring down--like, you know, it's that moment where, like, the two lions are
looking at each other. And Terrence was very passionate, like, `I want to
play the guitar, you know, I want to do that.' And I remember Stephanie
looking at me with kind of like these big eyes like, `How are you going to
answer this, Craig?' And I remember swallowing and saying, `Well, first of
all, the writer-director in me of "Hustle & Flow" says absolutely not
because, you know, this is a story about a guy who his talent is so raw that
he isn't even aware of it, whereas like a guitar is something--you know, and
singing--that's something you've kind of got to work on. It's a craft.'
And then I said, `But second, Terrence, knowing that this was, like, your
craft and this is something that's good, you don't know what may come of you
after this experience. You know, allow yourself to go into this rap world and
learn and keep your eyes and ears open. It may inform your artistry to some
extent.' And I think it did, because the great thing about watching Terrence
come into the studio to make these things happen is that he didn't completely
yield himself and his essence from the rap. There is a touch of that swagger
in Terrence Howard, in his rap, that when people of my region listen to it,
they go, `You know, he's really good.' And I think what it is is that because
he found that rhythm and he found that essence of this character and he imbued
his rap with that, you know.
GROSS: Terrence, I really like the way you talk in the movie. You know, for
a lot of us who've seen both "Crash" and "Hustle & Flow" in a short period of
time, you know, almost back to back, your characters are very different, very
middle-class in "Crash" and you're a television director, you speak very well.
In "Hustle & Flow," you speak very well, but it's a more--first of all, it's a
more Southern accent; second of all, there's a little bit of a mumble in it.
Mr. HOWARD: The mumble that John Singleton tried to get me to get rid of.
Mr. HOWARD: He was like, `You're mumbling. You're mumbling.' He didn't
recognize it as a choice.
GROSS: Yeah. No, it seems it's right for you, I have to say.
Mr. HOWARD: He says, `You're mumbling. We don't understand what you're
saying.' But when I was down there with Craig...
Mr. BREWER: I understood.
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, Craig understood. But most of the guys that you talk to,
you have to listen three or four times, play it back in your head, `What did
they just say?' because there was this--the cadence had--it was a songlike way
of speaking. And you try and catch on to it, and that was a difficult task.
I remember Craig really going through the phonics of the entire thing, trying
to say, `Well, this is how you say this word, and carry...'
GROSS: With a Memphis accent?
Mr. HOWARD: Yes. `And carry this through.' And then I had to take that a
little further in talking to some of the other guys.
GROSS: Do you remember the first sentence I told you? Terrence and I were on
the phone. And, Terry, you can try this, too. I said, `Terrence, try to say
this.' I said, `Say, "I'm down, but I'm still here."' And he said, `I'm
down, but I'm still here.' And I said, `OK, but now don't say "still"; say
"steel." And don't say "here"; say "her."' And so--`I'm down, but I'm steel
her.' And if you loosen that up a little bit and you put a mumble to it, it's
like, (with accent) `You know, I'm down, but I'm still here,' you know. That
sounds Memphis. You know, that's a particular kind of South Memphis and North
Memphis type of accent.
And I remember being kind of worried that the audience wouldn't understand
what Terrence would be saying or anybody would be saying, including Isaac
Hayes, who has that natural accent, for the first 20 minutes of the movie.
But what ends up happening, which I find really interesting, is everybody
adjusts to our rhythm in the South for, like, the first time in a long time,
you know. And people begin to hear the words clearly. But we haven't been
clear with our words; the audience has just shifted into our rhythm.
Mr. HOWARD: It took months, though. It took a few months to get there.
GROSS: Let's hear you rapping. And this is something from the movie, and
it's called "Hard Life for a Pimp." And here we go.
(Soundbite of "It's a Hard Life for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow")
Backup Singer: You know, it's hard out here for a pimp when he tryin' to get
his money for the rent. But our Cadillac and gas money's spent. You know,
it's hard out here for a pimp when he tryin' to get his money for the rent.
But our Cadillac and gas money's spent.
Mr. HOWARD: (As DJay) (Rapping) With my eyes ...(unintelligible) the
streets, got a couple hos working on the chain just for me. But I gotta keep
my game tight like Kobe on game night. Like takin' from a ho, don't know no
better, I know that I ain't right. Now things people feel, the things people
Mr. HOWARD: Now, see, I cleaned that up a little bit, huh?
Mr. BREWER: I'll tell you something, it's good you played that because you
heard that one little thing in there, that one line, `Like takin' from a ho,
don't know no better, I know that ain't right.' But the way he says it is
like, (with accent) `Takin' from a ho, don't know no better, I know that ain't
right.' And that--I mean, that's the prime example of, like, three words
becoming one word that, you know, Al Capone and Juicy Jay were doing with
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah. They really took me through the wringer. They really,
GROSS: What else did they do to coach you?
Mr. HOWARD: I kept trying to sing through stuff, and they was like, `No,
rappers don't sing. We don't have talent. We just talk. That's all we do is
talk. There you go singing again.' They take all the melody out of my voice,
all the melody out of my voice. They did great. They did great.
GROSS: I felt really stupid after seeing the movie because that refrain, you
know, `Hard out here for a pimp,' is really catchy, and so I'm leaving the
theater singing that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I felt like that's really--I sound really stupid singing that.
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah. Wait till you see 800 Mormons at the Salt Lake City
screening for Sundance coming out of the theater singing that. You know,
you've seen something when you've seen that.
GROSS: You know, the woman--you know, the prostitute in the movie who's
singing backup in that, did you intend her, Craig, to look like a very
strung-out young Diana Ross?
Mr. HOWARD: Wow.
Mr. BREWER: No, but she could be an incredible Diana Ross. I mean, she's
really a remarkable actress, and she's really, you know, the heart of that
movie. I remember telling both Taraji and Taryn about this one moment when I
was filming one of my first movies at a strip club where I had a crew of two;
it was me holding the camera and my brother-in-law held the microphone, but I
needed my brother-in-law to the light, and so we needed someone to hold the
boom pole. And this one stripper with freckles across her nose just said, you
know, `I'll hold it.' And so for like three hours in clear pumps, you know,
this girl held this microphone above her head. And I remember we were packing
up and she just came up to me and she was like, `Are you all coming back
tomorrow? You know, where you gonna be? Can I help?' And I remember just
thinking, like, wow, she just got bit, you know. And we gotta remember that
there are people--even though that we're not like this at all, there are
people who've never been asked their opinion, and there are people who've
never been asked to sing or for us to hear what's in their heart. And that's
what these characters' journey is. For the first time, Shug is hearing her
voice in that context.
GROSS: Craig, you're white, and wrote this movie that is about
African-American characters, has a mostly African-American cast. Were you
told when you were trying to get the film made that it was going to be less
authentic, less real or less saleable because it wasn't written and directed
by an African-American?
Mr. BREWER: Well, no, that's what was kind of messing with people. You know,
they would get the script and even some, you know, African-American junior
executives were saying, `Well, you know, thank God, you know, here's--you
know, this is a very, you know, realistic portrayal. This is like, you know,
a perfect African-American voice.' And then I walked in and, you know...
Mr. BREWER: ...deer in the headlights. They could--yeah, they couldn't
Mr. BREWER: ...you know, believe I just walked in. But I found that the
reason why many people were resistant about it is because it was a personal
story. If I were doing something where there was action or a ton of violence
or goofy humor, you know, where we were laughing at DJay instead of
empathizing with him, then it would be OK for me to direct it because then
it's commerce. But as soon as it becomes a personal story and when race is
involved and, interestingly enough, even on my next movie, gender, there's a
question as to whether or not you can explore that and not be of the race and
not be of the gender.
GROSS: Well, Terrence, if you would, I want to ask you just stick around a
little longer so we could talk about your career and your life, some of your
other movies. And, Craig Brewer, I want to thank you so much for talking with
us. It's been great. Thank you.
Mr. BREWER: Oh, it's my pleasure.
Mr. HOWARD: And, Craig, thank you again for that enormous opportunity. You
said the film will change my life, and it really has. Thank you.
Mr. BREWER: That's good. We've got more to do, brother, you and me.
DAVIES: Craig Brewer wrote and directed the film "Hustle & Flow," which has
just come out on DVD. Terry will continue her interview with Terrence Howard
after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to our interview with Terrence Howard. He plays a
pimp whose also an aspiring rapper in the film "Hustle & Flow," which has just
come out on DVD.
GROSS: Terrence Howard, let's talk about your early career. How were you
first given your first acting role?
Mr. HOWARD: The first role I did was on "The Cosby Show." I did one episode
on that and didn't understand...
GROSS: How old were you?
Mr. HOWARD: I was 19, 18, 19. I've been trying to act since I was, like,
maybe about 16, I'd been really trying, and it took about two and a half,
three years before somebody would really give me a shot, you know. And I
bumped into the casting director of "The Cosby Show" on the street when I was
about 18, 19, and he finally let me come in and read, and they gave me a part.
GROSS: So that's how you got your first part.
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah.
GROSS: Samuel Jackson used to be the...
Mr. HOWARD: He was...
GROSS: ...not the body double--What do you call it? The...
Mr. HOWARD: No, no, no. He was--Samuel Jackson--what's funny about Sam is
GROSS: On "The Cosby Show." He...
Mr. HOWARD: Yes, no, but he worked in the building. He was a security guard
in the building that I lived in.
GROSS: Oh, you're kidding!
Mr. HOWARD: Sam used to let me into my apartment. He was the security
Mr. HOWARD: ...at the gate. We lived at a place called Manhattan Plaza on
43rd and Ninth Avenue.
GROSS: Oh, is that where a lot of artists live?
Mr. HOWARD: Yes.
Mr. HOWARD: And he was...
GROSS: And musicians.
Mr. HOWARD: He was the security guard there.
GROSS: No. But I know on "The Cosby Show," like, when they would do
lighting, instead of Cosby just having to be there for the lighting, Samuel
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, he was a stand-in for...
GROSS: A stand-in. That's what I was looking for.
Mr. HOWARD: Stand-in for him, yeah.
GROSS: So was he doing that when you were...
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, I guess he was. I guess he was--I guess he had made the
move over there. But I had known Samuel since I was eight, nine years old,
GROSS: Oh, that's so funny.
Mr. HOWARD: Funny that you brought that up, yeah.
GROSS: Now your grandmother was...
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, Minnie Gentry, my great-grandmother.
GROSS: Your great-grandmother--she acted on stage?
Mr. HOWARD: She was, yeah, a stage actress. And...
GROSS: How successful was she?
Mr. HOWARD: You know, she acted well enough to make a living. But you know,
Manhattan Plaza, they subsidize your rent, you know. If an actor only makes a
hundred dollars a year, they may only have to pay 10 percent of their rent.
So your rent for that whole, you know, year was, you know, $10. You know, it
was a great building; it still is a great building, run and operated for the
sake of artists.
GROSS: So when you were growing up, was your great-grandmother still
Mr. HOWARD: Yes. Yes. I mean, she used to bring me to all her rehearsals
with her. I spent every summer with her since I was, like, three years old.
And, you know, when she was rehearsing, she would record everything--all the
other actors' lines, you know, and then she would stop the tape and say her
line. And she was doing that one day when I was about five, and I'd heard the
recording so many times that I started saying the other actors' lines, and I
had a really good memory back then.
GROSS: Yeah, those were the days.
Mr. HOWARD: I don't know what happened. So I guess I had a good 20 years of
experience watching her, you know, and working with her.
GROSS: Let me ask you about something that--let me preface this by saying
this might be too personal, so if it is, you just tell me and I'll move
someplace else. I read--and tell me if this is true--that when you were
eight, you saw your father stab a man.
Mr. HOWARD: Well, no, I was three, three years old. Cleveland is still one
of the most racially segregated places on the planet. And my father can pass
for white. And, you know, we were at--it was December 23rd, 19--What?--72,
and we're standing in the May Company line, you know, to get in the Santa
Claus line. My dad had already been there, and my mom was walking us around
getting stuff while my dad was in line, and we came and got in front of my
father, and this white woman behind him said, you know, `Why you let those
niggers cut you?' And my dad said, `This is my wife.'
And then this white guy--my dad's, like, 5'7 1/2", weighed about 120 pounds,
and this white guy named Robert E. Fitzgerald(ph), who is about 6'4", weighed
about 250--I remember seeing him like a mountain--you know, he was two steps
away from Santa Claus, and he said, `That's the problem, there's too many
nigger lovers around here.' And my daddy said--responded back to him, you
know, `F you' or something. And I remember the guy picking up my daddy and
strangling him on top of the table, you know, the display table where the
gifts for Santa Claus was--and just strangling him. And my dad was trying to
push him off of him; the guy wouldn't let go. And then all of a sudden, the
guy collapsed on my father, and I remember my daddy standing over him saying,
`Please don't die, please don't die.'
And, you know, court, all that stuff and Daddy went to jail, 'cause in
Cleveland they don't have a self-defense law. You know, he had grabbed a nail
file and just to get this huge man off of him that...
GROSS: So he stabbed him with a nail file?
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah.
GROSS: And that's what killed him?
Mr. HOWARD: Stabbed him--well, he tried to stick him in the leg and the guy
wouldn't let go, wouldn't--was still choking him. Stuck him three times in
his leg; the guy wouldn't let go. And then stuck him in the stomach; the guy
wouldn't let go. And he was just trying to get him off of him, you know. And
it punctured his heart and the guy, you know, finally died. But he was trying
to kill my father that day, and it was me and my three brothers standing there
watching my father get strangled to death. And what was interesting is they
were--the white man had three sons that watched their father die that day...
Mr. HOWARD: ...you know. So that was the last time we celebrated Christmas.
GROSS: So his three sons were watching and you and your brothers were
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah.
GROSS: What was going through your mind as you were watching this?
Mr. HOWARD: `Get off my daddy.' You know, you're watching your father get
strangled. You're watching your father get pummeled, you know. He beat my
daddy for a while before he started strangling him.
GROSS: So your father spent how long in prison?
Mr. HOWARD: A few years in prison, you know.
GROSS: Did you visit him there?
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah, we tried to, but--you know, but prison changed him. Prison
changes most people.
GROSS: How did it change him?
Mr. HOWARD: Well, you become more militant and, you know, you lose faith in
the world. You come out, you know, and can't get a job anymore because you're
a convicted felon. But the alternative was him being dead, so I'd rather him
be a convicted felon, you know, for trying to save his life than, you know, to
be dead and to be talking about him in the past tense.
GROSS: So prison changed him. How did the whole thing change you?
Mr. HOWARD: Well, you...
GROSS: This is a really formative experience for you.
Mr. HOWARD: You lose your father. You just lose your father, 'cause he's not
the same person anymore. You lose your means of--my father used to sell
insurance, and we had a decent life. You know, when my father went to jail,
we were forced to move into the projects and get on welfare. And, you know,
being light-skinned, half-black, half-white kid in the middle of an urban
jungle, you know, that's racially charged, you know, you got chased home every
day and people would clop you in the head and say, `Watch him turn red,' most
of your life, being attacked like that, you know, for most of your childhood
is--yeah, it changed--it affected me.
GROSS: So what was it in your life, in addition to your grandmother, that
made you think about the life that you've made for yourself, you know, as an
Mr. HOWARD: Well, I remember when I was a kid, I was told, you know, the
imagination--anything that you think, you can make happen. And so being in
that world and having seen a different world, I would always imagine myself
being in that different world, and I would pretend that I was just visiting
the projects and visiting that school. And that pretending, you know,
ultimately led to me developing a craft called acting, you know. And I
believed it. And nowadays it makes sure that my children never have to live
in the projects.
GROSS: Terrence Howard, a real pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much,
and congratulations on...
Mr. HOWARD: Thank you.
GROSS: ...all your success.
Mr. HOWARD: Thank you, Terry. And thanks for giving me an opportunity to
express some of my views.
GROSS: Well, my pleasure.
DAVIES: Terrence Howard, star of the film "Hustle & Flow," speaking with
Terry Gross. Earlier we heard Craig Brewer, who wrote and directed the film.
Coming up, David Edelstein the new Albert Brooks film "Looking for Comedy in
the Muslim World." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Movie "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Beginning in 1979 with real life, comedian Albert Brooks has written, directed
and starred in a series of films that lampoon his search for artistic,
romantic and spiritual fulfillment. His films include "Lost in America,"
"Defending Your Life" and "Mother." His newest film, "Looking for Comedy in
the Muslim World," plunges him into an alien culture. Film critic David
Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
What makes Albert Brooks such a vital comic force is how he homes in
ruthlessly on his own insecurities and neuroses and obsessions. He's a
pioneer of squirm comedy, of those cringe-worthy embarrassments of TV's "Curb
Your Enthusiasm" and "The Office." But his best work cuts deeper. Take
Brooks' 1984 masterpiece, "Lost in America," in which his hero gets himself
fired and then embarks on a journey to, quote, "touch Indians." He's no mere
fool. He's a larger-than-life fool. He's every American romantic, movie-fed
baby boomer who thinks the key to life is the open road and a voyage of
discovery. And what he discovers, unfortunately, is that he can't voyage much
beyond his own imprisoning self.
"Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World" is another solipsistic voyage of
non-discovery. It has a wonderful premise, a synthesis of all the anxieties
of Brooks' previous movies raised to a higher power by the post-9/11 fear of a
billion or so people whose culture is unnervingly alien, especially to secular
Brooks plays Albert Brooks, a worst-case cartoon of himself, a woefully
unemployed filmmaker with a wife addicted to winning eBay auctions for luxury
items. So he jumps at an offer from the State Department to travel to India
and Pakistan to ascertain what Muslims find funny. The idea being that the US
has spied on them and fought with them but never tried to understand them.
For the first third, our anticipation is terrific. After a series of
humiliations, a disastrous meeting with the filmmaker Penny Marshall, a
failure to communicate with his Washington employers, Brooks the character
reckons with the job ahead and we're primed for a collision between two ways
of looking at the world and, for that matter, the next world. Imagine the
self-conscious, secular Jewish neurotic vs. the evermore fundamentalist
Muslim. Even in India, which is primarily Hindu, the likelihood of accidental
blasphemy is high.
But the film is a series of missed opportunities. When Brooks the character
accosts Muslims on the street and asks what they find funny, it's a little
dumb, but we go with it. When he worries for the 20th time about the prospect
of filling a 500-page report, it's a little tedious, but hope for the movie
isn't lost. When he decides to gather a group of Muslims to perform his
30-year-old postmodern stand-up routine, the one where he's a ventriloquist
who chatters away while his dummy drinks water, it's funny, but so
overextended and off the point that we finally lose patience. The quest to
understand the Muslim world has fallen by the wayside. The object of the
satire is now Brooks' own obliviousness.
And his character isn't that grand fool of his previous movies, but a
blinkered jerk who thinks it's more important to have a standard comedy club
introduction than to learn about his audience.
(Soundbite of "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World")
Mr. ALBERT BROOKS: OK, can somebody introduce me?
Unidentified Actor: Nobody talks about that.
Unidentified Actress: Maybe he could announce you.
Mr. BROOKS: Can you do that?
Unidentified Actor: I am not very comfortable speaking in front of people.
Mr. BROOKS: All right. Do you have an offstage mike?
Unidentified Man: No, we only have one mike. You asked me to put it out
Mr. BROOKS: I know. But I need an offstage mike because then I'm going to
have introduce myself.
Unidentified Man: So?
Mr. BROOKS: You want to go get that mike for me?
Unidentified Man: You want me to go out and get the microphone?
Mr. BROOKS: Yes.
Unidentified Man: You don't want to get it?
Mr. BROOKS: No.
Unidentified Man: Why not?
Mr. BROOKS: 'Cause I'm the headliner. I shouldn't go out and drag the mike
off and then make another entrance. Please.
EDELSTEIN: The Muslims stare blankly at Brooks' jokes, which would have been
more amusing if early in the movie studio executives and State Department
officials hadn't also received his quips with frozen faces. He has a
potentially splendid foil in his young, educated Muslim assistant, played by
Sheetal Sheth, but she turns out to be insipidly eager to please. In one
scene, he teaches her the Western art of sarcasm. Is India, the home of
Bollywood, really such a cultural backwater?
Brooks makes brilliant sport of customer service jobs outsourced to India and
there's a marvelous scene in which he's utterly deflated by three al-Jazeera
executives who want him for a sitcom. But "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim
World" suggests that self-satire is a precarious art. At one extreme, there's
genuine soul-searching; at the other, a kind of self-flagellation that's
finally as boring as self-glorification. Why has Brooks given his alter ego
so little stature? He must not think he's as great as we do.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. We'll close with this recording by
Wilson Pickett. He died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 64.
(Soundbite of "The Midnight Hour")
Mr. WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) I'm going to wait till the midnight hour.
That's when my love comes tumbling down. I'm going to wait till the midnight
hour, when there's no one else around. I'm going to take you, girl, and hold
you and do all the things I told you in the midnight hour. Yes, I am. Oh,
yes, I am. One more thing I just want to say. I'm going to wait till the
stars come out to see that sweet love in your eyes. I'm going to wait till
the midnight hour. That's when my love begins to shine. You're the only girl
I know that really loves me so in the midnight hour. Oh, yeah, in the
midnight hour. Yeah. All right. Play it for me one time.
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