Actors, take note: Don't get too attached

Hell hath no fury like an actor scorned.

Anyone who's talked to Terrence Howard recently knows that the actor is still fighting mad six months after being replaced in the upcoming "Iron Man 2."

"It was a very, very bad choice," fumed Howard, who played Iron Man's Army buddy Lt. Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes in the first film, to Parade magazine about Marvel Studios' decision to reboot the part with Don Cheadle in the role. "You don't make $800 million and then try and shake everyone down. That's not nice," he said to MTV News, exaggerating the film's worldwide box-office gross by a mere $200 million. "It was the surprise of a lifetime," he told NPR. "There was no explanation. The contract just . . . up and vanished."

Howard, whose film "Fighting" opened in third place this weekend with an estimated $11.4 million, has joined a long, and not always illustrious, line of actors who've been booted from franchises or dropped out by choice (or some combination thereof), only to be replaced by another actor stepping in to take over the character. You can call it getting "Darrined," after Dick York, who was replaced by Dick Sargent as Darrin on the TV series "Bewitched." Or perhaps being "Baldwinized" is a better term, for Alec Baldwin, who starred as Jack Ryan in the movie of Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" but was replaced by the far more popular Harrison Ford for the next two installments.

Hollywood might be experiencing an upswing in movie attendance, but that hasn't stopped the studios from attempting to scale back on star salaries. Concept is king at the moment, and conventional Hollywood wisdom states that the franchise is bigger than any one actor -- particularly if the character lives on in another medium such as comic books or toy lines -- although that adage becomes less true for characters born on the big screen, such as Indiana Jones.

But singling out the specific element that made a movie successful is hardly an objective exercise. How does one account for the unexpected success of the fourth in the "Fast and Furious" franchise -- a concept-driven movie if there ever was one -- in which original stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker reassumed their roles to a thundering box office take?

"I don't think No. 4 would ever have been as big without these actors in it," says "Fast & Furious" producer Neal Moritz, who notes that changing key elements in a franchise can be a risky proposition.

Mace Neufeld, longtime producer of the Jack Ryan movies, also cautions against cavalierly assuming that actors don't matter as much as the characters they play. Replacement actors "have to remake the film as their own," he explains.

Of course, it all depends on who gets replaced and his or her importance to the franchise. Maggie Gyllenhaal took over for Katie Holmes as the Caped Crusader's love interest, Rachel Dawes, in "The Dark Knight," and no one protested. But it was a shock when Jodie Foster declined to reassume her Oscar-winning part as Clarice Starling in "Hannibal," the sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs." Yet "Hannibal" proved to the more popular film at the box office, earning $352 million to "Lambs' " $272 million, suggesting perhaps that it was Anthony Hopkins' malevolent Hannibal who was the indispensable audience favorite.


Now: the audience

In the case of Howard, it will be up to the audience to decide how much he mattered (or didn't) when "Iron Man 2" hits theaters next year. Both Marvel and Howard declined to comment for this article. But a source, who requested anonymity because of his proximity to the project, said there was much hand-wringing at Marvel over whether to bring Howard back for the second installment. In the case of "Iron Man," like many of the comic-book franchises, Marvel had options on all the key actors for three movies, so as not to be forced into handing over astronomical paydays if the film was successful.

Interestingly, Howard was the highest-paid actor in the first film, but according to press reports, Marvel offered him a significant pay cut for the second film, in line with what the other supporting characters were making. Howard wasn't willing to walk back on his fee, and an impasse was reached.

Howard, who was nominated for an Oscar for "Hustle & Flow," isn't the only one to tussle with the studio over money. Samuel L. Jackson nearly walked away from a deal signing him to play superhero Nick Fury in nine (yes, nine) separate Marvel films. Though Jackson and Marvel ultimately came to terms, Howard was not so lucky. It didn't help that, as some critics pointed out, Howard struggled to hold his own against the razor-sharp comedic stylings of Robert Downey Jr., who played Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man.

Adding to the stakes was the fact that whoever played Rhodey could conceivably have wound up with his own franchise. It's no secret that Marvel has plans of world domination, creating an entire cinematic universe where comic-book characters from one movie appear in other films before spinning off into their own movies (hence Nick Fury showing up briefly at the end of "Iron Man"). In the comic books, Rhodey eventually becomes the superhero War Machine, who was also part of the "Avengers" ensemble series.

Losing a part in a movie juggernaut often can put the chill on a career, but it's hardly a career killer. Alec Baldwin's stardom sputtered briefly after he walked away from "Clear and Present Danger," but it didn't take him long to land the next marquee role.

For Howard, it seems that he's already fantasizing about another superhero gig. He's angling to star as Black Lightning, the first African American superhero from Marvel rival DC Comics. As he said to one newsman: "I don't think he's really been explored."



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