Tyrese Gibson and Terrence Howard are teaming up in an action-packed thriller titled The System, which, according to the film’s official synopsis, follows a soldier (Gibson) who is recruited by authorities for an undercover mission at a dangerous prison facility after he comes home from war. Then, realizing an underground fighting ring is being held with the prisoners, the soldier is forced to compete for his freedom.
In this fun and exclusive conversation with REVOLT, the renowned entertainers chat about their chemistry on set, what Gibson brought out of Howard during filming, and other stories they would like to see on the big screen. Read up!
This is the second time you starred in a movie together. The first film was Four Brothers in 2005. How was the energy on set this time around?
Howard: The best part about coming together as an actor is seeing people you haven’t seen for many years. When I first became aware of [Tyrese], I was an unknown actor at the time, still earning my stripes. At that time, I heard Tyrese pop up as this beautiful singer with charisma, so seeing him on set for this film as a mature, grown, responsible man, it’s been wonderful to see the development — the brilliance he has as an actor and as a human being.
Gibson: I remember I was able to go to the screening for Hustle and Flow, and I was excited to dance again with Terrence finally. I have never worked with Jeremy Piven, but I was excited to work with him because sometimes we can be typecasted — it was great to see him do his thing as a dramatic character. It’s also great to see Terrence take off those “Empire” clothes, put on this new uniform, and dance with me. We all made each other uncomfortable — shooting in a real prison with real inmates and moving them out of specific cells to put us in there. We were in the yard, and the prison would have to lock down particular rows where there was an influx of inmates, so we could walk in and out. It wasn’t much acting required as it was very uncomfortable — we were happy to get out of there safe. We could tap into the environment we filmed in, and it was an honor working with both Piven and Howard on this journey. This will be a very uncomfortable film to watch and hopefully inspire the audience. It’s all about prison reform and ensuring the conditions the inmates are housed in become different — that sh*t was uncomfortable.
Name one thing Tyrese brought out of you as an actor during filming.
Howard: Sincerity. To watch Tyrese’s character and the emotional turmoil he suffered through — years of abuse and disenfranchisement, all of the things that contribute to a lack of self-esteem. Seeing how honest Tyrese was playing the role of Savage and the depth he added to the character brought sincerity and made you care about that person as a Black man and a human being.
Hollywood tends to stick to a specific formula when it comes to the kind of Black stories that are told on screen. What other stories would you like to see told to “break” the system?
Howard: I would like to see more white stories (laughs). No, but I would like to know the ability of men to be men and people to be people. The man has been demonized — the strength in character and faults that come with a man are necessary for balance. With the new formula, most men are made to be effeminate and not have their power or sense of strength — they allow white men to be able to be strong, but when it’s Black men, it’s seen as a threat. I don’t want to remove a few chromosomes to fit in someone’s story, so I feel they need to expand their stories to allow men to be men and simultaneously appreciate a woman’s beauty.
Did you learn anything about the prison system or prison reform as you prepared for the film?
Howard: I learned it’s a failed system, and it will continue to fall because they are not reforming or rehabilitating — doing the necessary things to help someone be more productive. You go inside a prison, and you become worse than when you went in. They need to have a psychologist visit a prisoner weekly to make adjustments. There has to be some mental and psychological accountability if they’re there to help them — unless you’re keeping them there to use them.
Gibson: First, I hope I never go to jail, and that’s the bottom line. We all fall short, and people make mistakes. I feel prison serves its purpose in a specific capacity — some people go there and have way too much fun, while others make families there. Jail is not for fun, and privately owned prisons are corrupt. Many people who go there for a warrant end up getting jailed for life due to getting into certain situations and predicaments where they have to protect themselves. There will be many people uncomfortable as they watch what we expose in the film.