The Oscar-nominated actor spoke to Moviefone about channeling his own anger for the part, how creating back stories for your character is "bull," and what would have happened if he and Colin had switched roles.
Sidenote: Howard wore driving gloves during the interview. He explained he didn't want to catch a bug because he's a new grandfather.
Moviefone: Colin's character puts yours through a war of nerves. Do you think your character deserved it? Howard: What did they say in "Unforgiven?" "We all got deserves." Everyone is a sinner to some degree and you have to pay for things. My character did a lot of good things, but a lot of bad things, too. So yeah, at the end of the day, I can say from an outside perspective he deserved it. But from the character's perspective, everybody wants mercy.
The director, Niels Arden Oplev, made the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Had you seen that before you signed onto this movie? No, I saw it afterwards. I thought the director had a unique perspective and eye and I was anxious to play with him.
Your gangster is very stylish in this one. Did you help develop his look? The whole thing for me in the character was the hair. That was my decision with the director. When he's trying to conduct business, he wants to be a goody-goody boy, so he combs his hair and gives it a little Superman swirl and all of that. But when he gets ready to go and be a bad guy, he goes back to that slicked-back hair and that monster he was when he was 19, 20 and making his bones on the street.
Do you create a whole biography or back story for your characters? No, you find a foundation for what happens. Yeah, you can go and say, "Oh, he went to this school..." No, bull. Look, this is who I am right now, doing this. Why would I make these choices? But it's still based around my own core principles. And bullsh*t what any actor says: "I just made a character out of scratch." No, you didn't. We are too selfish in our nature to let go of our nature.
What part of you is coming through in this role? The anger of having made mistakes and the anger that you have to pay for them. I don't have enough God in me to take the hit on the cheek and not swing back, so I'm cutting off heads.
What would this film have been like if you and Colin had switched roles? [Laughs] That's a tough one. I think Colin was magnificent in the choices that he made. I don't have Colin's steel of nature, so it would have been a little bit more jumpy, a little more Sam Rockwell-ish.