2008's Iron Man ushered in the Age of Marvel, and the movie business hasn't been the same since. Director's Jon Favreau's blockbuster origin story was a near-perfect introduction to the now-established Marvel Cinematic Universe and not only cemented the comeback of star Robert Downey Jr., but launched him into superstar status. Downey's billionaire, playboy, genius, philanthropist Tony Stark would be joined by other charismatic stars in the form of Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Chris Evans as Captain America, but Downey remains Marvel's most popular - and highest paid - poster boy.
Downey's co-star in the first Iron Man was Terrence Howard, a fine actor who had been nominated for an Oscar for Hustle & Flow following his acclaimed turn in Crash. Howard played Stark's best friend and ally Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes, a character who - in the comics - took over for Stark as Iron Man and eventually became a superhero called War Machine. Howard was replaced by his Crash co-star Don Cheadle in 2010's Iron Man 2, and like Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, many fans didn't seem to mind.
There were brief rumblings three years ago regarding the change-up, but some of the details remained unknown ... until Terrence Howard answered a call-in question on Bravo's late-night chat show Watch What Happens Live and dished some surprisingly candid dirt laced with a palpable amount of vitriol. Watch the segment HERE.
On why he didn't return, Howard said:
"It turns out that the person I helped become Iron Man ... when it was time to re-up for the second one, (he) took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out."
The unnamed "he" is Robert Downey, Jr. , of course. Howard elaborated after host Andy Cohen commented that "The word was that you wanted the same money as Downey." According to Howard:
"We did a three-picture deal, so that means that you did the deal ahead of time. It was going to be a certain amount for the first one, a certain amount for the second one, a certain amount for the third. They came to me with the second and said, 'Look, we will pay you one-eighth 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 - that I helped get the first job - and he didn't call me back for three months."
It's been years since then, though - Cohen asked how things are between Howard and his "friend." Howard's response was as dry as a post-apocalyptic wasteland:
"Oh, I love him. God's going to bless him."
In an industry where salary details - especially those concerning huge blockbuster movies like Marvel's - are generally not broadcast, Howard's revelations are surprising. Besides virtually guaranteeing that he won't be getting a Christmas card from RDJ this year, what else can we glean from Howard's story?
A day later, Showbizcafe.com's Tony Rico appeared on NBC's Today and provided the monetary amounts Howard was referring to. Essentially, rather than pay Howard the $8 million for Iron Man 2 per his contract, they offered him $1 million instead. According to Howard, the money promised to him went to Robert Downey Jr. instead.
Many franchise roles - especially the ones based on comic book superheroes - are recast between films (Mark Ruffalo replaced Ed Norton as the Hulk, for example), and while Rhodey intervened at key points during the first Iron Man, that film was first and foremost the RDJ show. Howard was pretty solid in the role, but it was really Cheadle who put his stamp on the character in the two sequels - there is no hard report on how much Cheadle got, but according to his IMDb.com page, his salary for Iron Man 2 was the one million dollars Howard refused.
Just how much of this can we take at face value? Given Marvel's by now well-documented practice of low-balling their actors, probably a lot. We already know that RDJ reportedly received upwards of $50 million for appearing in The Avengers (that includes a backend deal, of course), and while negotiations between Downey and Marvel for The Avengers: Age of Ultron were anything but easy, he finally signed on for that film following the billion-dollar success of Iron Man 3.
Terrence Howard is evidently still quite bitter about the whole deal, that much is clear - what's less than clear is just how Howard "helped" Downey win the role of Tony Stark. While we know that other actors - like Sam Rockwell, who would appear as Justin Hammer in the sequel - were considered for the role, not much is known about the process otherwise.
Howard is miffed about missing out on such a lucrative franchise, but it's not as if he's not working - he was in Lee Daniels' The Butler, turned in a powerful dramatic turn in Prisoners, and is currently on the big screen reprising his role in The Best Man Holiday. Given the amount of respect he's earned in Hollywood, he won't be hurting for roles anytime soon.
On one level, we can't blame Howard for his bitterness. On a whole other level, it's difficult to empathize with the petty squabbling between millionaire movie stars... Howard's face as he tells Cohen that "God will bless" Robert Downey Jr. is still priceless, though. Perhaps his best move would be to campaign for a role in the DC Movie Universe, maybe?
Terrence Howard can be seen in The Best Man Holiday, which is currently in theaters. Robert Downey Jr. will return as Iron Man in The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1st, 2015.