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Terrence Howard's departure from the "Iron Man" franchise has been the one blemish on Marvel Studios since the company began making its own films in 2007. Howard played Co. James 'Rhodney' Rhondes, a long time friend of Tony Stark's (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Jon Favreau's franchise making hit. After "Iron Man" grossed over $585 million worldwide, it was assumed that the remaining cast would return for the inevitable sequel where Rhodes was expected to become Iron Man's buddy War Machine. But it didn't happen. The studio claimed contractual differences with Howard and cast Don Cheadle to replace him. "Iron Man 2" went on to make even more money than its predecessor and Cheadle easily made the role his own.
In the four years since, Howard has slowly revealed more and more of his side of the story. The Oscar nominee for "Hustle and Flow" has always blamed Marvel for wanting him to take a pay cut. Earlier this year he revealed he was the highest paid actor in "Iron Man" making $4.5 million and he was supposed to make $8 million for the sequel before Marvel insisted he take a pay cut to $1 million. The one thing Howard has never really done, however, is place any of the blame on his co-star, Tony Stark himself, Downey, Jr. That all changed when Howard appeared on Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" program Thursday night.
Howard stopped by the irreverent and gossipy talk show to promote his new movie, "The Best Man Holiday," alongside co-star Nia Long. A caller into the show professed to being a fan of Howard's and wanted to know why he never returned for "Iron Man 2."
And then it began…
"This is gonna get me in a lot of trouble," Howard warns. "It turns out that the person that I helped become Iron Man, when it was time to re-up for the second one took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out."
It's clear "the person he helped become Iron Man" is Downey, Jr. But, "took away"?
"We did a three picture deal," Howard continues. "You did the deal ahead of time. A certain amount for the first one. For the second a certain amount. For the third…they came to me for the second one and said, 'We will pay you 1/8th of what we contractually had for you, because we think the second one will be successful with or without you.' And I called my friend who I helped get the first job and he didn't call me back for three months."
And how are things now with that friend?
"Oh, I love him. God's gonna bless him."
That last line of Howard's cannot truly be understood unless you watch the video here. To say Howard is still angry and resentful is an understatement. And, to some extent, who can blame him?
After the "Iron Man 2" debacle, Howard's career took a nosedive. He'd already been through some rough waters after his career apex with "Hustle," but the fallout over losing a franchise role and lingering rumors about his difficulty on set (not to mention bizarre behavior at junkets and premieres over the years) found him in a series of bad films such as "Fighting," "The Ledge" and "Winnie Mandela." He even went to TV starring for half a season in the short-lived "Law & Order: LA."
Recently, and somewhat surprisingly, the eccentric actor has had something of a comeback. It began with small roles in Walter Salles' "On the Road" and Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep" which debuted on last year's festival circuit. Over the past four months it's only gotten better. Howard is now coming off an impressive turn in the hit dramatic thriller "Prisoners" and a key role in the potential best picture nominee "Lee Daniels' The Butler." And, in theory, he already has banked more quality projects. He has both David Ayers' "Sabotage" and the intriguing indie "St. Vincent De Van Nuys" with Melissa McCarthy and Bill Murray set for release next year. He's also appearing alongside his "Prisoners" co-star Melissa Leo and Matt Dillon in the FOX "event" series "Wayward Pines" which is executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan and fears episodes directed by Shyamalan and Zal Batmanglij ("The Sound of My Voice"). All good stuff that should be making his agent and family breathe much easier over the state of his career.
And yet, here's Howard on national television clearly still feeling wronged over his chance to be part of the Marvel universe. A slight from almost five years ago. He doesn't mention that he originally misunderstood the contract (Marvel had an option for him and could drop him at any time) or his own behavior on set may have influenced their decision moving forward. It's one of those stories that will never go away. For good and for bad.