Lock eyes with Terrence Howard and you truly don't know what's going to come out of his mouth next. He can be candid, thoughtful, obtuse and bizarre — often in the space of one answer — as we found out when we caught up with the Oscar nominee, who was promoting his new flick, "The Hunting Party."

Howard holds his own, and then some, against Richard Gere in this unusual true-life tale of journalists searching for a notorious war criminal in postwar Bosnia (in theaters Friday). Yes, we squeezed him for every detail we could about his turn as Iron Man's best friend next summer (see " 'Iron Man' Details Ironed Out: Hilary Swank's Cameo, Terrence Howard's Evil Future And More"). But clearly, he had his war movie on the brain.

Terrence Howard: Incoming! [He suddenly ducks down in his chair.]

MTV: Oh, my. What just happened? Did I miss something?

Howard: We're all right.

MTV: You think you're still in "Iron Man"?

Howard: No, Bosnia, man.

MTV: Oh, I see.

Howard: The Serbians, man. The Serbs are no joke. [He laughs.]

MTV: So what gets you signed on for something like this?

Howard: [Director] Richard Shepard doing "The Matador." Harvey Weinstein, who is notorious for letting the actors and the director do their movie. And then Richard Gere standing there with you, being your lead.

MTV: There are a lot of tones to negotiate in a film like this. There's action and some dark comedy. ...

Howard: Yeah, you don't know which one you're in. And Richard [Shepard] does almost 30 setups for each scene because he wants to catch every potential angle where the great happening might have happened, so it's a lot of patience. Each one he wants you to do it differently. And you have no idea how he's going to mix all these together.

MTV: And you had total confidence that he'd be able to make it all mesh together?

Howard: He did it. If you can make Pierce Brosnan [in "The Matador"] substantial and real? I love Pierce Brosnan now. I'll see anything he's in now because of what happened with him and Richard Shepard. And I wanted Richard Shepard to have that effect on me. And he had that effect on Richard Gere. You saw how loose Richard Gere was. That's the genius of Richard Shepard, because he can take a man like Richard Gere who's been in this business 30 years and bring something new out of him.

MTV: This character takes the safe path for his career and life in the early going. With the success you've achieved recently, do you find that you have to check yourself to not go down the safe road?

Howard: No, you don't. The only fish that swim with the stream are the dead ones. You've got to swim against the current if you want to get anywhere. I'll be the first one to take the risk, and I'll be the first one to fall. What I'm looking forward to is the role I can't accomplish. I'm waiting to fall on my face. And then I can get up and say, "Damn it. I tried."

MTV: Let's talk "Iron Man." How is this film possibly going to live up to the hype?

Howard: It lives up to the hype. My character, the potential for War Machine? That's hot. But what Robert Downey Jr. created in Tony Stark without special effects, what he's done as an actor has laid down the groundwork for 10 sequels.

MTV: What are you anxious for an audience to see?

Howard: A modern-day comparison to what took place in 1973, when this Tony Stark character was invented, what was taking place in Vietnam and the accountability of the American people to the government and the government to the American people. We have a resurgence of that in 2007 with what's taking place, misappropriation of funds and lying to the public.

MTV: But does a summer audience want that kind of commentary from their popcorn film?

Howard: We're a little more savvy than people used to imagine. We're no longer limited to the ABC, NBC and CBS news. We have the Internet; we've got the Google machine. We can pick up any bit of information. You can fart in Sarajevo and catch wind of it in the next 20 minutes.

MTV: Who's the bad guy in "Iron Man"? Jeff Bridges sure looks like a bad guy to me.

Howard: Jeff is a beautiful father figure in this movie. But you know the comic book. You know what the comic book is about. You know what has to take place between Tony Stark and [my character] James in order for them to reach that level of camaraderie.

MTV: Are you ready to put on a bulky costume for a sequel?

Howard: Have to.

MTV: Samuel L. Jackson is reportedly playing Nick Fury in the film. Did you film any scenes with him?

Howard: Can't say.

MTV: Does he have an eye patch? Give me something.

Howard: I can't say, man! I want to keep my job! Do you know what I get paid for the next one?

MTV: The eye patch? You can't even give me that?

Howard: I can't give you nothing. I can give you the date it comes out, May 2.

Check out everything we've got on "The Hunting Party" and "Iron Man."

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