TERRENCE HOWARD PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN SCHOELLER
Josh Rottenberg
December 23, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Terence Howard made our 2005 Entertainers of the Year list

Terrence Howard had no idea that 2005 would be The Year. After working for more than a decade on the margins of stardom, struggling to get noticed in movies like Dead Presidents and The Best Man, the 36-year-old actor was starting to believe he was destined to languish in Hollywood’s middle tier. ”I thought I was falling back in the ranks,” he says. ”The studios weren’t paying any attention to me.”

They won’t make that mistake again. Howard stunned audiences with Oscar-caliber performances in not one but two of the year’s best independent films. In the provocative ensemble drama Crash, he played a successful TV director whose wife is assaulted by a racist white cop, while in Hustle & Flow, he brought a combustible blend of menace and heartache to the role of DJay, a conflicted Memphis pimp who dreams of making it as a rapper. Both roles — along with supporting turns in Four Brothers and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ — allowed Howard to draw on his own dark places. ”DJay was just one beat away from becoming subhuman, but he kept feeding that one little piece of his conscience,” Howard says. ”I could appreciate that.”

Even as the critics heap on praise and comparisons to Denzel Washington, Howard has no intention of jumping at the first big offer of a jumbo-size paycheck and a shot at a marquee role in the next, say, Hitch. If his slow boil of a career has taught him anything, it’s the value of patience. ”It’s like the stock market,” he says. ”You can trade in your nice little stock tomorrow, but you won’t get the payday you would if you sit on it and let it grow.”

Judging by awards-season buzz, Howard’s looking like a great investment. His performance in Hustle & Flow has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination and is undoubtedly on the short lists of many Oscar voters. Howard is just going with the?well, you know: ”It’s so goofy, man. This is all pretend. We’re a bunch of oversize kids trying to fit on these little swings in the playground. It’s like ‘Best Dismount From a Swing goes to?Terrence Howard!”’

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