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Terrence Howard Likes the Pain

Howard at last night's after-party.Photo: Getty Images

Tennessee Williams wrote the character of Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a man of "calm indifference," an ex-football star saddled with alcoholism, a broken leg, and an unrequited love for his buddy Skipper, who's just committed suicide. It's quite a challenge to get inside that head, and Terrence Howard, who plays Brick in the new production that just opened on Broadway last night, freely admits that he needed help. He studied past performances by Paul Newman and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as "did a lot of reading" on their thoughts about the role. "Newman says he finally understood the character Brick when he did Cool Hand Luke," Howard said at the opening night after-party. "It took fourteen or fifteen years for it to sink in, that calm indifference that Tennessee planted in him in 1958. And I think that what I've learned about Brick will inform every performance that I ever do for the rest of my life." So what, exactly did he learn? "Listen. Listen to the birds. See the clouds."

We're not sure exactly what the birds have been telling Howard lately, but one must have talked him into portraying his Brick as a man who also has quite a bit of indifference to his body … and pain. His Brick lunges and limps and crashes to the floor, and that's the way Howard likes it.

"Oh yeah, I've hurt myself," Howard said. "You have to, along the way. I'm happiest when I do get hurt. Because then it gives me something very real to respond to." His director, Debbie Allen, agreed. "It's good for him! It's good for him to feel that pain!" she said. "Terrence is the kind who goes for it so hard that he does hurt himself every now and then. But it's all right. He never cries about it. He just uses it onstage." "It happens probably once every three weeks," Howard said. "The knees take a beating, and the toes, because they drag along the carpet when I'm coming after Maggie, and every once in a while, you'll hit your elbow on the table."

What about co-star Anika Noni Rose? Does she ever feel the pain during the heated fight in which he tries to kill her by swinging at her with his crutch, hitting a chair instead? "No, never," he said. "It's perfectly choreographed." "That's crap!" Rose laughed. "Of course I've gotten hit by with the crutch! That's what happens onstage. Usually it's something like the chair is out of position, and if the chair is not where it's supposed to be, things go awry. Or a piece of the crutch breaks and flies off and hits me. That man is strong! Every time he hits something, it bends or breaks. We go through a new crutch every night. It's ridiculous." And in any case, she seems to like the pain as well. "Whatever," she said, laughing. "Worse things have happened." —Jada Yuan

Related: Oh, the Mendacity [NYM]