Page last updated at 13:45 GMT, Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Howard's way to Hollywood respect

If Hustle & Flow sees Terrence Howard walk away with an Oscar next month, he will have director Craig Brewer's persistence to thank.

"Terrence is someone I've always looked at in supporting roles and thought, man, give that guy the helm," Brewer said after the film won the audience award at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Full profiles of the main Oscars contenders

Howard, 36, was initially reluctant. He had made his name in Crash, playing a TV producer whose wife is assaulted by a racist policeman.

The lead role in Hustle & Flow was a low-rent pimp and wannabe rapper. He feared it would just be an exercise in blaxploitation.

But Howard took on the role, and after years in the shadows, he is now one of Hollywood's most in-demand new stars.

Hustle & Flow
The Best Man (1999)
Crash (2005)
Hustle & Flow (2005, above)
Howard went on to develop a reputation for scene-stealing. He played a robber in Dead Presidents, and received praise for his womanising role in 1999 romantic comedy The Best Man.

Born in Chicago, Howard was influenced as he grew up by his grandmother, Broadway actress Minnie Gentry.

His acting career began in The Cosby show , and he first came to attention in 1995 musical drama Mr Holland's Opus, which starred Richard Dreyfuss as a frustrated composer who finds fulfilment as a high school teacher.

Career frustration

But he became frustrated with his career. He admits to having had a reputation for being difficult. He moved to Philadelphia, to finish his chemical engineering degree and get some more stable work.

Acting has never been his real passion - he dreams of becoming a theoretical physicist.

And in 2000, he was arrested after a flight attendant complained of assault on a plane from Toronto to Cleveland. Howard spent a night in prison, but the prosecutor in Cleveland said he had no jurisdiction over the matter and the case was dropped.

But Howard's fortunes improved. In 2004 he was able to show off his musical skills - he is a self-taught pianist and guitar player - in Ray.

Crash breakthrough

His breakthrough came in Crash, in which he played a TV executive whose encounter with a racist policeman changes the lives of himself and his wife.

Nominated for
Golden Globes
- best actor (drama)
Image Awards
- best actor
- supporting actor (for Crash)
Independent Spirit
- best male lead
Online Film Critics
- best actor
National Board of Review
- best breakthrough performance by an actor
Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer and producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain were determined to persuade Howard to accept the role.

He says he identifies with his character DJay's struggle to achieve his dream - and spent two-and-a-half years talking to pimps and prostitutes as he researched his role.

"I don't really act," he says. "I fall into and become. Sometimes you'll learn a secret you weren't supposed to know."

Howard's payday for Hustle & Flow was just $12,000 (6,760).

Whatever happens at the Academy Awards, Howard - who can also be seen in 50 Cent vehicle Get Rich Or Die Tryin' - knows he can look forward to a much more lucrative, and satisfying, film career.


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