For the first three seasons, Janet Hubert played “Aunt Viv” on The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air, dealing out wisdom to Will Smith’s Philadelphia transplant. Aunt Viv remained a constant on the show, but starting with season four, Daphne Maxwell Reid stepped into the role, giving pop culture enthusiasts a new term for sudden recastings. But to actors who replace other actors, the term “Aunt Viv” might have negative connotations.
At least, that’s the impression viewers get when watching Don Cheadle‘s reaction during an interview with GQ. “It’s famously known online how you ‘Aunt Viv’d’ Terrance Howard for the role of Rhodey,” the interviewer observed, prompting a look of shock from Cheadle. “I ‘Aunt Viv’d’ him?” he asks with incredulity, before clarifying, “I did not move Terrance out of a role.” However, he stumbles when trying to explain exactly what happened. “That’s… they had decided they weren’t… that was not happening,” he said, referring to Marvel. “And it was an open part.”
To be sure, some of Cheadle’s reticence comes from deference toward a fellow actor, but also because the details aren’t exactly clear. We do know that when Howard was cast as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, best friend to Tony Stark and military liaison to Iron Man, he had just come off of an Oscar win for Hustle & Flow. Conversely, Robert Downey Jr. was still on the climb back to respectability after a long struggle with drug addiction. Thus, Howard was given a sizable contract of $3.5 million for the first film, while Downey made $500,000.
We also know that when Downey Jr. renegotiated for Iron Man 2, convincing Marvel to pay him someplace around $10 million plus bonuses, Howard did not receive a similar offer. Some rumors have suggested that Howard’s salary was slashed to just $400,000, while others claim that Howard expected his salary to remain higher than Downey Jr.’s for the second movie.
The years that followed the release of Iron Man 2 in 2010 have only made things less clear. Marvel is well-known for underpaying its creatives, especially while under the leadership of the famously ungenerous Ike Perlemutter, who remained in charge of the Studio until 2015. However, Howard does not have the best reputation, especially where math is involved.
Whatever the reason, Howard did not return as Rhodey for any of the sequels or connected films, with Don Cheadle taking over the role and even becoming the superhero War Machine. In this part, Cheadle has not only added to his Oscar nomination for Hotel Rwanda by getting an Emmy nomination for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier but has also become a fan favorite. His Rhodey will finally get the star treatment for the upcoming film Armor Wars. Originally planned to be a Disney+ series, Armor Wars has recently been upgraded to a feature film, which will give Cheadle the opportunity to better develop the character.