Terrence Howard is soft-spoken but very intense. He’s the sort of guy you naturally lean towards to catch the details of his speech. In part because he’s got enough of an accent that paying close attention is mandatory, but mostly because he knows that he can grab more attention by playing it small rather than large.

Which makes him a really interesting casting choice for Jim Rhodes in Iron Man. Especially playing opposite Robert Downey, Jr., who we’ve already seen is very willing to take the role large when called upon. Howard’s participation in the writing process and as a foil to Downey may prove crucial to the film’s depth.

This was your first Comic Con panel — how did you like it?

I loved it. You have 6000 people waiting to see you; and you don’t know how that’s going to feel, but we were so well received out there, it was like coming to a family reunion. This is great.

You were the first one cast — how’d that come about?

Avi Arad… I bumbed into him at a Mike Medavoy party and he was, ‘We’ve been talking about putting you in this movie or putting you in a Marvel film, so I came down there and we talked and within three hours, they were like, ‘We’re going to have you do this.’ They still didn’t make my deal, though, until they made Robert’s deal. We had been talking for six months, ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it.’ It was like, ‘Who do you like?’ and I was just working with Robert Downey’s wife, on The Brave One, Susan Downey, and she’s like, ‘Robert’s interested in that.’ Suddenly when you say Robert, you get like a shock. That’s the piece that’s missing, so I called Ari and he said, ‘How do you guys feel about this?’, and he says, ‘We’re talking about, but I don’t think it can happen. They won’t bond him.’ I told him that if they use Robert, they have me 100%. I would do whatever we need to make this a reality. I don’t know what Robert would do when he got that, but what he did as an actor, I’m still watching how did he make that choice. What did that choice come from? I still want to know. I feel like a little puppy around him.

Robert mentioned the tension between him and Jon Favreau over script pages. Was that palpable?

Yeah. It happened. Robert would be like, ‘You know what. I’m going to use this one. This, right here, based upon what we could do, we can’t do this. I think we can do better. I think we owe it to be better. This idea just locks us into a box. What do you think Terrence?’, and I would start mumbling, and Robert would go, ‘Fuck you too. We can do better’. We would go on the train and we would rewrite it. Not one time did he say that we have to shoot this. What we would do is we need to do it three ways and we go in there and write three ways of doing the scenes. We would write from what Marvel had in mind, from what Jon had in mind, and from what we had in mind. Most of the time, by the end of the day, Jon’s favorite stuff was what we collectively had in mind; and literally to have to do three takes, three different ways, nine different times, we never fell behind. Even though it would take us seven to eight hours to get our first shot off, we always finished our day. Because when it finally got going, it was perfect. So whether there was tension, there was tension between great minds. I’m being humble to say, ‘I think your point is valid. We should explore it.’ Not one on the set was ever exhausted to the point where, ‘No, I don’t want to support it’. They did everything they could. It was a perfect work environment.

 The way you describe that, it sounds like you are making a two million dollar indie, rather than a big effects heavy film.

But that’s what it was. It was an independent film. What Marvel is more concerned with is setting the ground work for the future. They are not trying on the marketing formulaic pattern that somebody has set up and say what we need. No, we need to make sure that Iron Man can go and fight with the Avengers. We need to make sure that Iron Man and War Machine can get off and do the things that they are supposed to do. We need to make sure that this savvy audience that can get on the internet and talk about this work and will stand behind the film and say, ‘Thank you for accomplishing my imagination of what could have happened thirty years ago.’

How much did you know about War Machine?

That was the real first black superhero. Historically, I knew everything about this man. He was someone that was able to fly. The descendant of Tuskegee airmen. That’s hot stuff. I’ve been changing the world my entire life. When I was in my daddy’s loincloth I was changing the world. I was destined to change the world.

Was this a grueling shoot, in comparison to your other experiences?

The most grueling of days was sitting there, everyday, every single day cuz you don’t know if what you are writing is going to work. You get in front of that camera and everybody is sitting there saying, ‘You got some magic. You didn’t want to shoot what we had written, ok, what are you going to do. Show us what you got.’ And the first time you get out there and it falls apart, but you have Robert who will not quit.

Does Rhodes wear the armor sometime in the film?

(Laughing) Contractually, I can’t answer that question, but I’d say if you were hinting at it…my nod doesn’t mean I’m saying yes.

Did you read the comics as a kid or watch the cartoon?

I didn’t watch the cartoon, I just read the comics. The fact that James Rhodes, once he puts on the machine, his mind is altered as a result of Tony Stark’s brain wave that traveled a particular frequency between each neon and the synapses and back to the neon, his mental attitude has changed. Everything. His perspective. His intelligence quotient changes. He’s been a traditionalist his entire life. Now, he’s seeing things from a rebellious nature. It’s beautiful.

What’s your anticipation level for a spin-off?

The spin-off is dependent upon…you’re talking about two-three hundred million dollars [box-office take for Iron Man]…

But you seem excited about the prospect.

Yeah. I think if the audience comes and shows its support and we meet their expectation, we got us a spin-off. We have a number of spin-offs.

Are you ready for an action figure of yourself?

Are you saying, ‘Would I like to play with myself?’ (laughs) Maybe.