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Why Alphonse From Dead Man Down Looks So Familiar

In the 2013 crime thriller "Dead Man Down," criminal kingpin Alphonse is tricked by someone he believes is one of his own men. Victor (Colin Farrell) has infiltrated Alphonse's empire to exact revenge for the killings of his wife and daughter two years earlier. And as he goes about his convoluted plan to bring Victor down, he's observed by Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a neighbor who has her own motivations but ends up being taken hostage in an attempt to control Victor. 

The film isn't exactly considered a classic — it's been forgotten in many ways and stands at a rather dismal 41% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it may very well be getting new life on Netflix, where it is now available for viewing. If you're watching it, you might realize you've seen some of the actors before but can't quite place them. One of these actors plays antagonist Alphonse, in fact. Terrence Howard is a veteran actor with a long list of credits — his first acting job was on "The Cosby Show," according to NPR, and he got his breakthrough role in 1995's "Mr. Holland's Opus." Howard's list of credits include "The Best Man," "Dead Presidents," "Glitter," "Big Momma's House" and "The Princess and the Frog." He's made a name playing supporting roles and anti-heroes.

"Terrence is just so watchable even when words aren't coming out of his mouth," said producer John Singleton (via the AP in 2005), who worked with him in "Four Brothers" and "Hustle & Flow." "For years he's been that guy in the background, that you were always watching, always looking over the shoulder of the main guy looking at Terrence."

So, you may have noticed him in previous roles without really registering who he was. Read on to find out where you've seen Terrence Howard before.

You may know him as War Machine from Iron Man in 2008

Back in 2008, Terrence Howard originated the role of War Machine, or James "Rhodey" Rhodes, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's kickoff project, "Iron Man." It was a high-profile hiring, as he was reportedly paid more than Robert Downey Jr. himself. And then he was fired, an event that resulted in the actor never actually getting suited up in War Machine's gear, since he didn't make it to "Iron Man 2." Terrence, who has sometimes been described as hard to work with, claimed the firing resulted from a wage dispute in which he was offered one eighth the amount promised in an earlier contract. However, there was also some talk at the time that director Jon Favreau was not happy with Howard's performance and spent a lot of time cutting and reshooting the actor's scenes. 

Afterward, Don Cheadle took the part, and the rest is Marvel history. Howard seems to have put the incident in his past, even though it lost him a lot of income and prestige following a stellar career run in the 2000s. He told "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" in 2018, "You know what's so funny? Even though I love Don Cheadle so much and I love what he's done, I still hear a lot of fans asking, 'Am I going to come back and be War Machine?' Yeah, am I going to come back and be War Machine? I think they could have a huge franchise off of it, but f*** 'em." 

Looking back on it from more than a decade later, Howard's career has not seemed to suffer from the lack of War Machine. However, if you're a fan of the MCU, this may very well the project that you know him from.

He played a pimp with big dreams in Hustle & Flow

In 2006, Terrence Howard was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the pimp DJay in the film "Hustle & Flow," which ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song. This was an underdog of a movie, which producer John Singleton financed with his own personal fortune when production companies wouldn't bite. "This film was turned down by every studio for two and a half years," Howard told Roger Ebert. "They told him, if he would cast a rapper in place of me they'd give him five or ten million dollars to make the movie. But John bet on a dead horse and reached inside his pocket and put $3 million on the line and made it."

Ultimately, the bet paid off, with a bidding war for the film ensuing after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005 and "Hustle & Flow" eventually bringing in about $22 million at the box office (via the Chicago Tribune). Howard says that no actor on the set took more than $5,000 to be in the film, so it was a passion project with a universal message. He said, "I've had 60-year-old middle class women coming to me after 'Hustle & Flow' and saying they had no idea they had so much in common with a pimp. Everybody has lost a dream along the way, and seeing Djay try to find his is what people appreciate."

While Howard did not win the Oscar, he won other Best Actor recognitions for the role, including trophies from the Austin Film Critics Association, the BET Awards, the Black Movie Awards, and the Black Reel Awards.

He played a movie director experiencing racism in Crash

Around the same time as he was working on "Hustle & Flow," Terrence Howard was also working on the 2005 crime drama "Crash," another film that raised his stock in Hollywood considerably. The movie with an ensemble cast focused on intersecting stories involving racism, sexism, and classism, as well as law enforcement, all in a post-9/11 environment. Howard plays Cameron, a movie director who's spent much of his career accommodating the white gaze and who watches his wife (Thandiwe Newton) get sexually assaulted by a cop during a profiling stop.

Howard told the African American Literature Book Club, "Cameron had made so many compromises in his life leading up that moment, that he'd long since lost his self-confidence, because he didn't have anything true to draw on. So, I think it's just something that naturally occurs when you're in a place of conflict with self and dignity. Even though you only see that one incident, apparently he had been forced to make those same sort of compromises for years in that same environment. Every day, his integrity was stripped away from him. Or he handed it to them, so he could receive a paycheck."

While the independent film from Paul Haggis was considered controversial, it also did very well critically in its time, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 2006, along with numerous others — including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Howard played a member of the Lyon family in Empire

In addition to movie projects, Terrence Howard has done his share of television, including turns on "Sparks" and "NYPD Blue" in the late 1990s, "Street Time" and "Soul Food" in the early 2000s, and the TV movies "Lackawanna Blues" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God." In the 2010s, he had guest spots on TV projects such as "Law and Order: LA," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," and "Wayward Pines." However, he also had a major regular role on the Fox show "Empire," which focuses on the Lyon family that controls Empire Entertainment. Howard plays mogul Lucious Lyon, who finds out he'll die early from a medical condition and decides he'll choose a successor. 

As it turns out, co-star Taraji P. Henson, who played opposite Howard in "Hustle & Flow" and plays Lucious' ex-wife Cookie in "Empire," was responsible for this casting. "They came to me, and I said, 'The only person I'll do it with is Terrence,'" Henson told Rolling Stone. "Cookie and Lucious sometimes hate and love each other in the same scene. There's an unspoken connection that you can't fake. My boy Terrence and I have that. So I said to Lee, 'If you can make it happen with Terrence, call me back.' "

Rolling Stone called "Empire" "the biggest hit Fox has had in nearly a decade," proving that, despite the ups and downs of Howard's career — including a recent legal beef with Fox over the use of his image — he's still got the skills to pay the bills. Despite the fact that he announced he was "done with acting" after "Empire" ended in 2020, we're guessing we'll see him in plenty more projects in the future.