BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – At long last, Terrence Howard (search) could stop hustling and roll with the flow.
Love was all around the veteran character actor Wednesday night, as his low-budget drama, "Hustle & Flow" (search), was treated to the kind of Hollywood premiere usually reserved for big-budget flicks: large, lavish and loaded with big-name guests.
What "Ray" was to Jamie Foxx, they insisted, "Hustle & Flow" will be to Howard: the breakthrough, the star-maker, perhaps even the Oscar-winner.
No doubt, Howard was feeling the love.
"I am standing right next to Will Smith," he told AP Television News, as if in shock, only for comic-actor and Oscar host Rock to slide beside him and break into the interview.
"Terrence Howard!" Rock proclaimed. "This year at the Oscars, at the Academy Awards ..."
Howard: "You're going to do it this year?"
Rock: "If you are nominated, that will definitely go a long way to us doing that, I can tell you that! Jamie Foxx is going to hand over Terrence (the best actor statuette) at the Oscars, he is going to ... pass the heavyweight belt, and he will be the champ!"
Was Rock serious about returning to host the Oscars?
"Hey, If Terrence is nominated, it means at least I won't be the only black person there," Rock replied, smirking.
Produced on a shoestring for a reported $2.8 million budget, tiny "Hustle & Flow" has been looming large since January's Sundance Film Festival, when writer-director Craig Brewer was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and honored with the coveted Audience Award.
The film, which opened Friday, casts Howard as a streetwise Memphis hustler trying to find his voice and realize his long-buried dreams.
"I have been watching Terrence Howard for a lot of years and I have always known that he has something and he was coming," commented Smith.
"But (in) 'Hustle & Flow,' he is giving the performance of the year in this movie," he continued. "You have never seen the choices that this guy makes. He has his own thing, his own space and there is a fire that he creates and I am just sitting and watching him ... I have to get to work on my craft! I'm being really lazy!"
Also receiving solid notices is Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (search), who plays a music-biz hotshot who can make the Howard character's dream a reality.
The hip-hop superstar follows the acclaimed "Crash" (search) with what may be another hit — one that he says accurately portrays the music business.
"Everybody hears these songs coming from the hip-hop industry, but nobody really understands what it takes to make these songs — what people are doing in order to get the beats together, to get the hooks, to get the go-around," Ludacris said.
"You get to see the blood and sweat and tears that these people put in, and it gives you a firsthand look on how music is made, on how a lot of people hustle."