To promote the upcoming second season of Empire, Terrence Howard invited Rolling Stone into his Chicago penthouse. The profile rests on a single question—“How bad is Terrence Howard?”—and leaves you with an answer that may or may not be satisfying: Terrence Howard is almost certainly bad, and he’s definitely crazy.
“Since they see me as a bad guy, I’m gonna play a bad guy,” Howard says early in the story as a means of explaining the genesis of Lucious Lyon, the deliciously evil patriarch he plays on Empire. Of course, people “see” Howard as a bad person because he is a bad person. He has been accused and (in some cases) convicted of hitting women at least six times. Howard explains away two of those incidents to Rolling Stone’s Erik Hedegaard.
Regarding a 2001 incident in which he beat his first wife Lori McCommas:
“She was talking to me real strong, and I lost my mind and slapped her in front of the kids,” he says. “Her lawyer said it was a closed fist, but even slapping her was wrong.”
At the time, Howard told police that he “broke the door down and hit my wife.”
Regarding a 2005 incident in which he punched his second wife Michelle Ghent in the face while the two were in Costa Rica:
“She was trying to Mace me,” he says, “and you can’t see anything so all you can do is try to bat somebody away, and I think that something caught her. But I wasn’t trying to hit her.”
According to divorce papers, Ghent accused Howard of far more than that. While filming a movie in South Africa in 2010, he allegedly threw her across a hotel room before picking her up, taking her onto the balcony and threatening to toss her over the railing. Days later Ghent says they got into another fight in which Howard punched her in the face, in the process chipping her tooth with his wedding band. Ghent’s injuries were so bad that the couple’s personal assistant eventually had to summon a doctor to the hotel to check on her. In 2011, she says that he plunged a butcher knife into the island in their kitchen and told her to stab him.
In any event, Terrence Howard is by most measures a walking monster—aside from his history of domestic violence, he lost a fortune upon being ditched by the Iron Man franchise for being a notorious terror on set.
During the Rolling Stone interview, Howard summoned his most recent ex-wife Mira Pak (who, at the time, was putting on the appearance of still being his wife despite having secretly separated from Howard months earlier) to find a recording of a conversation between Ghent and Howard, which would later be used to overturn a divorce settlement which essentially called for Ghent to bleed Howard dry. Howard plays the entire 13-minute tape for Hedegaard as a means of showing that he was not always the aggressor in his fights with Ghent, and while Hedegaard grants Howard his point, the description of Howard’s reaction to the recording does not really make a great argument for his efforts in conflict resolution.
But at the moment, all he can do is glare at the laptop, leaning toward it, hissing, “You fucking bitch. Shut the fuck up! Shut the fuck up!”
That Terrence Howard is a bad person is the bare minimum of what a Terrence Howard profile should tell you, though, and to Hedegaard’s credit, he appropriately humanizes a person who is frequently inhumane, tracing Howard’s violence back to an awful childhood.
When Howard was a kid, his father stabbed a man to death while his family waited in line for a mall Santa. His parents divorced when his father returned home from prison; his mom moved to Los Angeles. While living in Cleveland, Howard was frequently beaten as a kid for being light-skinned, which necessitated his uncle teaching him how to fight back. He says that he stripped wires in his dad’s electric razor so that he could shock his own face in order to restore feeling in his right eye after being diagnosed with a nerve disorder. That Howard emerged from all this as a successful (though not necessarily solvent) actor who brought the trauma that formed him to the characters that made him famous is the sort of story movies themselves exist to tell.
But it’s mostly hard to remember that Terrence Howard is a real person when he starts doing things like explaining why 1x1 does not equal one:
“How can it equal one?” he said. “If one times one equals one that means that two is of no value because one times itself has no effect. One times one equals two because the square root of four is two, so what’s the square root of two? Should be one, but we’re told it’s two, and that cannot be.” This did not go over well, he says, and he soon left school. “I mean, you can’t conform when you know innately that something is wrong.”
This is a good reminder that to make it in Hollywood your brain often has to have a specific sort of deformity that allows you great delusion.
Howard’s theory about multiplication is not limited to arguing with math professors. Instead, Hedegaard writes, it’s a worldview that encompasses his entire life:
He continued to love himself by buying scissors, wire, magnets and vast numbers of sheets of plastic. He had a theory. It might seem crazy, it may even be crazy, but a long time ago he’d gotten hold of this notion that one times one doesn’t equal one, but two. He began writing down his logic, in a language of his own devising that he calls Terryology. He wrote forward and backward, with both his right and left hands, sometimes using symbols he made up that look foreign, if not alien, to keep his ideas secret until they could be patented. In 2013, he got married again, to an L.A. restaurateur named Mira Pak, and the two would spend up to 17 hours a day cutting shapes out of the plastic and joining them together into various objects meant to demonstrate not only his one-times-one theory but many others as well.
Currently, Terrence Howard’s Chicago penthouse—which he says is actually being financed by Pak, because at the time of the interview his Empire salary was embargoed due to the settlement with his previous wife—is adorned with plastic sculptures created by Howard that convey his specific language.
The place is filled with his fantastical plastic assemblages. They bear a similarity to building blocks but the shapes are infinitely more complex, in two dimensions and three, tied together by copper wire or held in place by magnets. There are hemispheres, cubes, tetrahedrons and flighty wings. Some of the objects are as small as mice, others as big as fire hydrants; some are hanging, some free-standing, a few larger ones lit from the inside with LED twinkle stars. They are gorgeous and otherworldly. He has no name for them. They just are. He loves them just as much as he loves himself and his infant son, Qirin, who is sleeping nearby and will one day inherit U.S. patent 20150079872 A1 (“Systems and methods for enhanced building-block applications”), among others.
Later, Howard tries to explain exactly what the trinkets mean:
He picks up one of his intricate plastic what-is-its and holds it to his eyes. “Like with these things,” he says. “In those four years where I was shunned and walked away from everything, look at what I’ve created. But I was not trying to make this when I made it, I was just trying to find the four forces, so I took four planes and put them together where they fit naturally, an equilateral triangle, and it created a circle, a triangle and a square, and from there everything else was created just following my hands leading to a good place.”
Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, enjoy Empire!
[image via Getty]