Filmmaker Orson Oblowitz was able to attract such a strong cast to his low-budget film “Showdown at the Grand” because it came down to “actors who were willing to sit in a basement rather than have motorhomes and eat tacos.”
And one of those actors ended up being Oscar-nominee and “Empire” star Terrence Howard who plays a proud movie theater owner who must defend his family and business from evil corporate developers. “Showdown at the Grand” is available on digital platforms.
Oblowitz explains that getting Howard to agree to be in his film was a matter of luck. One of the producers of the film knew Howard’s wife.
“It was just an email. There were no agents. No managers. Nothing,” Oblowitz says. “Then it was a conversation, and we were like ‘we are doing this together.’ He said ‘don’t worry about it, we will figure it out’.”
And that is what they did. Howard took on the role of George Fuller, a fan of not only cinema but of the theater where the movies are shown. Movies helped him get through his childhood and now they have become his life. That is why he is ready to defend that world when it is threatened.
It was the sensible nature of Fuller that was such a big attraction for Howard that he agreed to take on the film.
“He loved his simple world,” Howard says. “All he wanted to do was maintain the status quo and the traditions of his neighborhood. He didn’t care if he had enough money to have a mansion. He was very happy with the things that he had and what life had given him and didn’t mind sharing that with his community.”
Howard’s explanation of his character in “Showdown at the Grand” sounds a little like he is talking about himself. The Chicago native has been sharing his acting talents with TV, film and stage audiences since the mid-90s.
Along with the role that earned him the Oscar nomination, “Hustle & Flow,” Howard’s credit includes “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Big Momma’s House,” “August Rush,” “The Brave One” and “Iron Man.” His most notable work on TV was as Lucious Lyon in “Empire.”
“Showdown at the Grand” also allowed Howard to play the kind of strong character he has looked for in past projects. Howard calls himself a “bit of a dinosaur in this business” when it comes to the way he thinks.
“I believe in what Rick Bentley Jordan Peterson said in that men are supposed to be dangerous,” Howard says. “That men are supposed to be unpredictable and what virtue is there is in being a gentle man if there is not the threat of you being a violent man.
“The virtue is being able to maintain yourself and not turn to the violence. I loved that about George.”
One way Howard was able to show the vulnerable and strong side of Fuller was through the wardrobe. Through much of the film, Howard wears a look that is best described as an urban cowboy. It reflects Fuller’s youth where he would play with a toy gun and the strength he has to show as an adult to protect the world that he loves.
It all started with the selection of the cowboy hat that Fuller would wear. Once Oblowitz handed Howard that piece of wardrobe he knew that once he put on the hat, he would have to have the right pair of boots.
Howard’s attention to detail was so precise that when Fuller would have his pants legs tucked into the boots, he was ready to present to moviegoers his world. Once the pants became untucked, Fuller was ready to go to war.
“Everything played its part,” Howard says. “We only had one gun belt and it was the same gun belt we used for the little boy [playing the young Fuller]. It was the belt that he had when he was 8 years old. The fact that he wore that same belt let me know he was high-functioning autistic.”
Oblowitz not only landed the big cinematic fish with Howard but he also was able to lure veteran performer John Savage and action genre icon Dolph Lundgren. The task fell to Lundgren to pay the fading action film star who has been an obsession for the movie theater owner for years.
Producers kept suggesting other actors for Lundgren’s role but Oblowitz – who also wrote the script – had always envisioned Howard in the role.
“I’ve been a lifelong fan,” Oblowitz says. “I can remember seeing ‘The Punisher’ for the first time when I was a kid. I remember sitting in my living room seeing it on TV. ‘I Come in Peace’ is one of my favorite action films.”