An Interview with Terry Crews
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November 8, 2006
Being a TV Dad has given Terry Crews a new fan base, but most of them have seen the film roles he’s done, they would be scratching their heads. From being a gang member in “Training Day” and in “Malibu’s Most Wanted” to a song loving rich guy in “White Chicks”, Crews has played some interesting characters. In his next film, “Harsh Times”, Crews played a buddy of Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez who tries to buy a gun from them yet is short of cash. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Crews talks about playing a lowlife in the film, being in the NFL, and acting in “Everybody Hates Chris”.
You’re such a loving father on TV. Why are you playing this lowlife?
Terry Crews: Yeah, well, you know, it’s funny because I was a movie guy before I ever did TV; and played crazier characters than this. When a brother’s walking around on a beach in a speedo, that’s not TV dad territory in the beginning anyway. Or trying to rape a pimp in Friday After Next, that’s another thing too. So I’m used to wild, crazy characters and I jumped at the chance to work with David Ayer. For me, it’s more so who’s doing the directing, who’s doing the writing, who’s involved. I just want to be involved with the best talent. And I’ve been fortunate throughout my whole career to be blessed to be working with the best. Training Day was unreal. As a writer, U-571, Dark Blue, he puts together great, great work. I jumped at the chance. This was his thing. This was his baby.
Did he write it for you?
TC: No, actually, I auditioned. The script was there, I read it and I said I gotta do something, no matter how small, how big. I’m ready, whatever you want me to do. I was actually an extra in Training Day so I don't care. For me it’s really about serving the piece. If you see Terry Crews it’s like whatever, but I want you to see what the character is there for.
Since some black audiences think the loving father is more the type of role you should play, are you taking that into consideration?
TC: Not at all. People have these weird things where they see you in a character and you’re supposed to be that guy forever. Well, I’m all of those things. I can be very gangsta if I want to be. I’ve also been married 17 years and have five children all by my wife. So I can be very fatherly and very husbandly. So a lot of things you see, and I know one, I’m very funny. I’m a ham and I have a big, big sense of humor and sometimes it’s a sick sense of humor. Believe me, my wife always tells me, “Stop, calm down.” I’m that guy who does those embarrassing things and I don’t really care. It’s okay. So I can be all of those things and I can be none of those things. It’s kind of weird. I just kind of fall in where I get in. I always put myself into each one of those characters and I love each and every one of them for what they bring.
Do you understand his value system, that drugs and crime are fine but don’t disrespect your woman?
TC: Yeah, because he’s lonely. The cat is lonely. He’s alone. If he had somebody who loves him, he wouldn’t be doing that. But the thing is, when you see this movie, you realize this guy was harmless in a lot of ways. He may look like some uh-oh, but then you’re like oh, man. This is guy who checked out of life a long time ago and he had goals, he had dreams and all of a sudden something happened where it didn’t go right for him and he just decided I’m done. I’m checking out. It’s almost like what would you do if you woke up and you really didn’t have anything to look forward to? That’s him. That is Daryl. When he’s looking at Mike, played by Freddy Rodriguez, he’s like, “Yo, man, you got something to live for. You have something to look forward to. You have somebody to come home who actually loves you. Man, that’s foul.” So he could understand it if you didn’t have anything and you could be down here with me, but it’s one of those cats that it’s almost like the gangster in the corner, see the kid doing wrong and he’s like, “Yo, man. Don’t be like me. Go home. You have something more than this.”
Did you break that down to play the character or was it obvious in the role?
TC: It’s funny because the script is so good, these characters, because it’s character driven, it flows by itself. It’s like the decisions that are made, the way they talk and what’s going on, it put me in the mood. I knew this guy. Coming up in Flynt, Michigan, I knew a whole lot of Daryls. And there but for the grace of God go I. When I met my wife, and I got married literally the day before my 21st birthday, I could honestly say that decision was the best decision I ever made in my life in that I would never be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for her. It took me to a whole other level. I’d have been all right or I would have made some really, really bad decisions that could have messed me up forever that I probably wouldn’t have been able to recover from. But because I had a good woman - - a bad woman will ruin your life, period. But a good one can take you places to a whole nother stratosphere. And that in this movie is Eva. And Eva is pretty much the only thing that saves our guy Mike, Freddy Rodriguez. Her love is the only thing that keeps him from sinking all the way out from being manipulated by Jim and all these other forces. That’s true in a lot of ways. A good woman, like moms or wives, it’s always been, that love is the only thing that kind of saves a man, to be honest. For most men, they can always attribute that to somebody, a good woman.
Now it makes sense why you play such wild characters.
TC: Yeah, I really have been fortunate to play some great, great guys. But my first and foremost mission is to serve the piece. To serve the film or serve my show because I want- - see, people love Julius. They love that character and I don’t want to mess that character up for anybody. You will never see behavior that’s incongruent with Julius. But also, if we do another Friday, you’re gonna get Damon all the way. I’m going to do what it takes to be Damon all out. If I ever do another White Chicks, it would be that way or any other character that I do from here on out, I give it all I have. There’s no excuse for no passion. That’s really, I mean, you can excuse a lot of things. You can excuse an accident, a mistake but you can’t excuse a lack of passion. David Ayer mortgaged his house to do this movie. What else can I say? This is somebody’s baby. This is somebody’s child. And for me to come at this anything less thinking about my fatherly image and this and that, I’m like you asked me to do this and I said yes, then you are gonna get everything I’ve got. Whatever you need, I’m with it because it’s just that serious. It’s hard to make movies now. It’s really hard. Independent films, it’s a very, very difficult thing. What he’s done is a minor miracle. I would call it a major miracle but to get a film made is crazy and the caliber of people that are involved here. It was Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, I knew I had my chance to just be in great company. I’ve been waiting to do something dramatic for a long time and even though I am a bit of the comedic side of this dramatic piece, I get in where I fit in. If that’s what I’m supposed to do then that’s what I do.
Not easy to have a hit show either. Why has Chris caught on?
TC: It’s just because we don’t insult your intelligence. People have watched 1000s and 1000s of hours of entertainment. They’re smarter than everyone gives them credit for. They know when someone’s being manipulated. They know when you’re- - they know when it’s not real and they know when oh boy, this is manufactured. People are really, really savvy to good entertainment and bad entertainment. So that’s the way it is right now. Just as of late, the little three cameras with the couch sitcom thing just hasn’t been working lately because you’ve seen a lot of it. And there’s been a lot of bad ones, but when you make something good, it stands out. I’m proud of my show. I’m extremely proud with it. We sit and we talk about the things we get to do, Tischina and I. We’re so happy because we get to say these lines. The same thing with this kind of show, with Harsh Times, David Ayer lived this. It’s like you knew, this guy knows this world. Just by him knowing exactly- - you would have sensed anything funny in it, but you can’t say that. You may not like it, but you’ve got to respect it. That’s the deal about Harsh Times. You may not like this movie, this may not be your type of thing, too intense, whatever, but you better respect it because this is what’s really going on. This is how it goes down in south central Los Angeles. This part of Los Angeles, this is what’s up. If you don’t want to see it than my God, close your eyes because this is true.
It’s scary because there are people like Christian’s character out there.
TC: By all means. I mean, I’ve been hearing rumors about people coming back from Iraq and getting back into gang life, but now they know more about how to really put on an offensive. They know all the weaponry. They know everything. This is the real deal. This is life. People from the Gulf War are coming back and running gangs. Remember, people don’t remember this, but he wrote this movie 10 years ago. People think, “Wow, it’s just a statement on what’s happening now.” No, this happened 10 years ago. In his mind, this all went down here. It took him 10 years to make it so I jut think it’s a testament to the screenwriting and directing ability of the guy who could- - this story still remains fresh and still remains new. Like I said, it’s the truth.
Do you consider yourself a role model?
TC: Oh yeah, yeah. This is the way I think of myself as a role model. Not in regards to someone should be like my characters, but in that you should do 100% when you go out. One thing I want to be said about my career, because everything has an up and a down and there’s a good time and a bad time, but you would never say, “He mailed that in.” I don’t ever want anyone ever saying that about me. “Oh, he really didn’t care. Oh, that was a paycheck.” It’ll never be a paycheck for me. It’s always about the love of the craft because I love film and I love entertainment too much to treat it lightly.
Were you an athlete?
TC: Yes, I was. I played seven years in the NFL. All over. Rams, Packers, Chargers, Redskins, Eagles. I just ???. I was a journeyman and I traveled with my wife and kids and we never unpacked. We were on team after team after team. I learned a lot doing that. It taught me a lot about perseverance and transferred into Hollywood because you face a lot of rejection in Hollywood, so as I got cut, I learned that you can come back. You’ve just got to keep going. I’m amazed right now at the spot I’ve been in lately just with who I’m acting with and who I get opportunities with. Believe me, I’m very shocked all the time. Every day gets better.
How long have you been acting?
TC: Since 1999.
Did you ever see Playmakers? Is it anything like that?
TC: Yeah, it was interesting but the problem is it was too sad all the time. Dude, you’re in the NFL. You’re happy. I make millions of dollars when I play a game. It was pretty chipper. They made it like it was like Oz. I was like, “No, man. What are you talking about?” It was really weird. I was like, “Okay, it’s not that bleak. People in the NFL are having a good time.” Now, you have people on drugs. You have people who have a lot of issues with anger and they were beating their wives. They were doing a lot of crazy stuff, yeah. But you were in the locker room, you’re like, “Woo, I’m here. I’m happy I’m here.” So they were all like brooding and moody. I was like, “Yo, man, that’s not a locker room.” So that was my only note.
What’s your reaction to TO going off?
TC: I love TO. I’m gonna tell you, TO tells it like it TI is. You can quote me on that. Let me tell you, he is one of those guys, because the NFL has such a stranglehold on individuality, he really saw his chance to kind of come out and become- - because you have to. The problem is, there’s a fine line when you become Jordan or Dennis Rodman. You can promote to the point where you’re overpromoted. Then there’s a backlash and that’s all. But he’s trying to do his thing. And he goes and proves it on the field every day. He goes in there and it’s amazing. He goes and he does his thing. It’s amazing.
Were you acting while playing football?
TC: No. I actually was an art major in college, art scholarship to my college and I walked onto the football team. I thought I was going to be special effects artist in Hollywood because I love movies so much. While I was on the Redskins, I shot an independent film called Young Boys Incorporated. It was terrible, never went anywhere but I was hooked. I said, “I always want to be involved with film for the rest of my life.” So, I retired in ’97, moved out to Los Angeles and started from scratch, struggled for two years. A friend of mine invited me to an audition for a TV show called Battledome which was like an extreme sports show kind of like American Gladiators. First thing I ever auditioned for and I got it. Been acting ever since. That’s the story. Very quick.
What’s it like to audition now?
TC: It’s funny because auditioning is a skill unto itself. It’s a whole nother medium. You have to become a professional auditioner. I knew guys that were better than they were at the audition. So if you give them the part, all of a sudden it’s amazing. But I knew that was my only way in. I’d have to audition well. But I went through so much rejection. You have to bite the bullet. It hurts. It’s painful when people are like, “You’re no good. Nope, sorry, try something else.” I was told that many, many times.
As an actor or football player?
TC: No, as an actor.
But you got your first part?
TC: I did, but after that, you gotta go out and do auditions. I got that show but that show wasn’t considered an acting show. It was like American Gladiators. So they put you in but they didn’t know if you could act. It was like a circus. So then I had to audition, audition, audition and man, it was so- - there were so many times I got close to a role, didn’t get ‘em and you just feel like why am I doing this? But my wife asked me, she said, “How long will it take for you to go until you think this is not for us?” And I said, “We’re never leaving. We’re never leaving Hollywood. We’re never leaving LA. If I’m 90 and it hits then, I’ll be that 90-year-old superstar that’s doing it.” And it didn’t take that long for me to actually achieve some success. I know I’ve done a lot more than a lot of other actors and I would call it a success but there’s more I want to do and I’m just going to keep going, keep learning. That’s the big thing, just keep growing and learning because you have to just keep growing. My intent is to do that.
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