LATEST GIGS: Star-making movie turns in Crash and the upcoming Sundance sensation Hustle & Flow
•The Next Big Thing: The New York Times in 2001 called Howard "the best actor you never heard of." Well, listen up now: He wowed critics as a humiliated TV director in Crash and turns in another powerhouse performance in Hustle, out July 13, as a pimp turned rapper. Onscreen "he has so much depth," says Hustle producer John Singleton. "You know there's something going on in his head."
•Big Pimpin': Howard, who in real life writes romantic guitar ballads, almost passed on the Hustle role. "That Superfly stuff is not me," he says. But he spent months learning the ropes from rappers and pimps. "I lend my flesh to a role," says the actor. "I'm not going to just lend the bones."
•Sweet Reunion: He married wife Lori, 34, for the second time in February. As a struggling actor in the '90s, he says, he drank too much and was unfaithful. She left him; he cleaned up his act and spent six years winning her back. "I was a boy in a man's frame," says Howard, who has three kids with Lori—ages 11, 9 and 8. "Now I feel like I'm in the process of becoming a man."