After closing out a respected career as an NFL lineman relatively intact, Terry Crews started seeing action the easy way as an actor: film set safety, a machine gun full of blanks and a stuntman to take on the really dangerous stunts. So why in the world, at age 44, would he willingly put himself through military boot camp?
In the same week that his latest film “The Expendables 2” hit theaters, Crews returned to television – where he’s appeared on shows like “Everyone Hates Chris” and “The Newsroom” – in NBC’s new reality competition "Stars Earn Stripes," which puts the actor and fellow celebrities like Nick Lachey, Dean Cain, Laila Ali and Picabo Street through a series of rigorous – and sometimes very dangerous – challenges inspired by real-life military training exercises. Never one to shy away from testing his own limits, Crews admits the series with the out-there-premise had a profound impact on his psyche. “I'm totally changed,” admits Crews. “From the moment I started the show to the last day, I am a different person.
“One thing about this show that blew me away was that I came up with relationships that I'm going to have for the rest of my life – bonding with these celebrities, facing these challenges,” Crews explains. “And it wasn't so much physical, which was just crazy. It was the mental things – you're on the edge of that helicopter and you have to think, like, OK, I'm about to jump, and everything in your body and in your mind says don't do it. And you have to beat that mental challenge with everything.”
“When you're picking up this rifle, this military rifle and it's firing real live rounds – I mean, I'm the movie guy!” he laughs. “ I get a fake gun with fake bullets and they put oil on my arms and make sure I look good, and then it's like go and action and then cut. Well, somebody could really get hurt at all times.”
Crews also gave PopcornBiz an exclusive look at his much-anticipated return to the big screen alongside Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham in the latest “Expendables” film as well as his unexpected stint in Aaron Sorkin’s onscreen bullpen, and reveals how a defensive lineman from Flint, Michigan, became an unlikely Hollywood star.
Your “Expendables” role looks like the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do you get to work with all these action guys again, but you're getting more action movie stuff, yourself, right?
Yes – all this stuff is a miracle. Every time you make a movie it's a miracle; getting it from the script to actually putting it on film is a miracle. Then you're talking about trying to make it hit. Then that's a whole other game. There was a lot of buzz about what the first 'Expendables' was going to do, but again, the Internet – you can't trust it! After 'Snakes on a Plane,' you can have all that buzz you want and that does not translate into sales. You have to sell this movie, and when it came out and took over as the number one movie in America and then it came back number one the next week, people just couldn't get enough of it. It did wonderful on DVD. And now the hype with this one, to be able to come back and do it again? Scheduling, budget-wise and it's bigger and huger. I feel like I'm living in a miracle right now, to be in a franchise. They're already talking about the possibility of ‘Expendables 3.’ All I know is if they're doing an 'Expendables' cartoon I'm doing it! [Laughs] I said, 'I want to be on the lunchbox, the whole thing. There's nothing "Expendables"-related that I don't want to be a part of.
What made you believe that you could take a shot at Hollywood? Made you feel like you had a chance after your NFL days?
Well, I would've done anything to be in the entertainment industry. That's the truth. I told my wife when I met her 24 or 25 years ago, I said, 'We're going to play in the NFL. Then we're going to move to L.A. and make movies.' This is something that I never get tired of – ever! So we moved after I retired. I was trying to write and get behind the scenes and the whole thing. I ended up doing security on movie sets. A friend of mine invited me to an audition – the first thing that I ever auditioned for – and I get it. It's a TV show called 'Battle Dome,' which is kind of like 'American Gladiators' to the tenth power. We were putting people in the hospital – it was crazy!
Then the first movie that I get was a movie called 'The 6th Day' with Arnold [Schwarzenegger]. I play the goon and the whole thing. I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew, 'I am in! Whatever I need to learn, I'm going to learn. Whatever I need to be, because I just never wanted to leave the industry and it kept going. I think with me not being from Julliard and that kind of classically trained actor, I had no expectations. There was nothing to lose, so I could try everything. There was nobody to judge me because, like, I ain't supposed to be here anyway. So the fact that I'm ending up doing 'Stars Earn Stripes,’ people are like, 'Why are you doing a reality show?' I started out in reality. I did 'Battle Dome’ – that was my first thing. I did 'Family Crews' – I put my family on BET for a couple of years. Now I'm in 'The Newsroom' with Aaron Sorkin. I went for it and he was like, 'I love you, you're in.' I'm going to his house to watch the new episode on Sunday – this is crazy! Then to be in 'The Expendables' – Dude, I realize there are just no rules. I did push myself. My thing is just go for it, but do your best. Always do your best and see what happens.
You also found that certain niche in comedy right away. Were you always funny?
Let me tell you: I loved making my family laugh when I was a kid. We had a very fun household where I was the guy who would get up in front of the family and do the skits and do the funniest things, and then you go to the locker room, and the thing about the locker room in the NFL, or even in college, is that they're merciless. Like, if you don't know how to take a joke you're going to have a problem. If you're sensitive, they're going to get you. They'll go into you even more. So it gets you ready for comedy because in comedy, the rule is that you have to bomb. The rule is that you learn by bombing. You don't learn by making everybody laugh. You learn by, 'Uh oh – you suck. How do you get better?'
My thing was that I learned to just go for it. Don't be concerned with how you look. Don't be concerned with trying to be cool. I was already married, and so I wasn't trying to get girls or be sexy and this kind of thing. I could afford to make fun of myself. People got it. It's very rare air that I'm in right now. You look at Dwayne Johnson, guys like that who can do comedy and action at the same time, and I love, love comedy. That's not going anywhere for me. I just finished a movie called 'Aztec Warrior' with Luis Guzman, a very funny take on the Lucha Libre movement in Latin America. I will always go all over. The great thing about 'Expendables 2' is that it has a lot of comedy in it. It's very funny, I think it's a fun time for everyone.