Have you spoken to Terrence Howard [Howard originally played the role of Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, but parted ways from the Iron Man franchise reportedly due high salary demands]?
Yes, Terrence and I are cool. I’m kind of not really all up in the Hollywood life that much. I have a family, you know, wife, kids. I kind of stay out of that game a bit, so a lot of that stuff that was bounced around in the media I heard it. I just wanted to make sure I was good with Terrence. Terrence and I connected, so we understood what was happening. Me getting the role was not a result of me somehow freezing Terrence out. There was already a decision that had been made between the producers and Terrence that he wasn’t coming back. And right on the heels of that, almost immediately after that decision was made, they reached out to me. As a producer, I was one of the people responsible for putting Terrence in Crash. And we go back before that. We were trying to do Talk To Me together, but we couldn’t work that out. But there was never anything between me and Terrence. That was all business.
One thing that’s been a constant for you is choosing roles that are out of the box, especially for African Americans. Even in Iron Man 2 your role is that of an authority figure and a good guy who is an equal to the main character Tony Starks.
Well, I try to approach all my films the same way whether it’s Boogie Nights or Iron Man 2. As a Black actor and a Black man, I didn’t want to keep playing roles where I was either holding a gun or having a gun held on me. It’s a grind, but it’s become easier. Because of my success, people tend to listen to me a little bit closer than they did before. I came up in the theater and we played everything from Shakespeare to August Wilson to Tennessee Williams. We played roles by all of these different classic writers. So, after I came out of school, I kind of thought well, I want to keep doing this character work because it’s very interesting. Little did I know that’s kind of antithetical to what Hollywood is set up to be. When you think of a lot of stars they do the same kind of role over and over again. So right out the gate, I set up a difficult journey for me. I don’t think it’s ever gotten easy. But I’m really proud of my work. Just look at a film like Boogie Nights. I’ve never seen any of those human beings in a movie like that on screen. They are extremely unique individuals [laughs]. Buck was definitely one of the more unique people I’ve ever played. Still, I know for African-Americans in Hollywood, it’s still a grind.
You are known as the first celebrity to beat Phil Ivey in a game of poker. Are you a serious sports nut?
Well, I can’t say that I beat Phil [Laughs]. I can say that he lost. As far as sports go, as a kid you are foolish enough to put your heart into a team. I was smart enough to get out of that whole thing being that I was a Kansas City Chiefs fan. The AFC is just awful. Thankfully I don’t carry the Kansas City Chiefs cross any more [Laughs]. I’ve laid that burden at the river. And then there’s my other team the Denver Broncos. Now they are back to their old horrible tricks. They were great for a minute, but they are horrible now.
What’s the most challenging film you’ve ever worked on?
I would have to say Hamburger Hill. That was kind of a scary experience in a way because [all the actors] were kind of green. All of us hadn’t really done any work before; it was our first big feature movie, and this one happened to be a war film. I remember early on in the movie there was a question about residuals because the company that produced the movie was an offshore oil company. We weren’t going to get residuals and we were kind of upset about that. But the producers told us it wasn’t going to happen, so a lot of us decided not to sign our contracts which said that if something happened to us while on set, they didn’t have to take care of you.
Yeah. That was kind of eye-opening right there that they just came to us like, You don’t have to sign it, but if you fall down in a hole, we don’t necessarily have to give you any aid [laughs]. Like, damn, that’s rough. It was a dangerous film to shoot. Our best boy was actually electrocuted on the set of that movie. It was just one of those things where you felt like, Well, it ain’t going to get any worse…so, welcome to Hollywood.