Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., was more than a successful comic book film. It spawned the MCU and allowed Marvel to become the monolithic entity it is today. Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic portrayal of Iron Man helped the film succeed at the box office and with movie-goers. Not to be forgotten were his co-stars, especially Terrence Howard, who starred as James Rhodes, aka War Machine, before the recasting.
Howard gave a solid performance. As Tony’s best friend, he was loyal but close enough to Stark to give him an honest word. He didn’t flatter Tony’s ego like most others. While Iron Man was reckless and played by his own rules, Rhodey was firm and followed the rules, especially government and military rules. As a marine and Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Rhodes is a skilled pilot; he follows orders, unlike his mate Tony.
Iron Man’s success was also attributed to Downey’s chemistry with his co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau, who played Happy Hogan and Terrence Howard as Rhodes. Rhodey, as Tony affectionately calls him, eventually becomes War Machine. The film enjoyed tremendous success. It received praise for its effects and storyline, as well as for the cast.
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When the sequel was announced forIron Man II, fans of the first film were surprised and some shocked that Terrence Howard was not recast as his James Rhodes/War Machine character. The sequel featured Don Cheadle as Rhodes and War Machine instead. Over the years, there was speculation over the recasting. A few years after the mini debacle, Howard mentioned the drama that happened behind the scenes.
In a 2013 appearance on Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live,the actor revealed that he was fired due to a salary conflict. When asked about the situation with Iron Man, Howard is reticent and says, “…this is gonna get me in a lot of trouble, but..it turns out the person I helped become Iron Man, when it was time, to do the second one [Iron Man II], took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out.”
When the film was released, Entertainment Weekly reported that Howard was the highest-paid actor in the film [via Afrotech]. He earned a respectable $4.5 million. Business Insider revealed that Howard agreed to a three-picture deal with Marvel and was supposed to earn $8 million for the second film. The actor claimed that Robert Downey Jr’s massive salary increase after the first Iron Man meant that Howard’s salary was drastically cut. In the Cohen interview, Howard also mentioned that he helped Downey land the role of Iron Man.
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Behind all the salary drama was another, fueled by Ike Perlmutter, former chief of Marvel Entertainment. Disney fired Perlmutter earlier this year; they claim it was due to cost-cutting measures. However, in a Wall Street Journal report; Perlmutter rejected their claim and said he was fired over creative clashes with executives.
The new book, MCU: Rise of Marvel Studios, accuses Perlmutter of making discriminatory remarks in the wake of Terrence Howard’s recasting. The book states, “Ike Perlmutter’s responce to this recasting stands as one of the ugliest moments in Marvel history. He reportly told Andy Mooney, then chairman of Disney consumer products, that nobody would notice because all black people, ‘look the same.'”
The book accuses the former studio head of ‘overt racism’ and says that most employees looked the other way, “accepting it as the downside of a dream job, or even excuses it.” Way back in 2012, The Financial Times reported that Perlmutter uttered these alleged racist remarks to Mooney. At the time, a Marvel spokesperson told FT in a statement that”Mr Perlmutter and all of Marvel have a long record of diversity in the workplace and on movie sets around the world as evidenced by both Mr. Perlmutter’s own history and Marvel’s management team.” [Via Deadline].
Perlmutter was a central figure at Marvel Studios; whether he uttered these words or not, he was crucial to Howard’s replacement. The book and media reports have created a negative image of Perlmutter and offered a look into the negative side of Hollywood. Mr Perlmutter should set the record straight once again, it seems. It’s a pity Terrence Howard was replaced and that he had such a negative experience. However, Don Cheadle was a worthy replacement, making the character one of the most important in the MCU. Hopefully, Hollywood can learn from incidents like these and pay actors fairly, as well as reject all forms of racism.
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