The name Terry Crews may not be familiar to everyone quite yet, but that doesn't mean the face isn't. Once a player in the NFL, Terry Crews has made the move to the big and small screen in a big way. In fact, in researching him for this interview, I was surprised to see just how many movies I had seen him in without even trying. Who can forget the tall menacing-looking athlete from White Chicks who sang along to Vanessa Carleton's "A Thousand Miles" or the tough-talking Cheeseburger Eddie in Adam Sandler's remake of The Longest Yard? Recently, he's been entertaining audiences on the small screen as Chris Rock's father on Everybody Hates Chris, not bad for someone who is three years older than Rock in real life.
Up next for Terry is a role opposite Eddie Griffin, Katt Williams, and a few Eddie Murphys in the comedy Norbit. Recently, myself and a few other journalists had the chance to have a party line interview with Terry on the phone from Miami, where he was taking in the festivities for the Super Bowl. Here's a bit of how that went down as he talks about everything from Norbit, to the little-seen Idicoracy, to his own personal aspirations in the business.
How did you become involved with Norbit and what sort of character do you play in the movie?
Terry Crews: Right after White Chicks premiered -- Eddie Murphy and I are at the same agency William Morris -- I got a call from Eddie's agent saying that Eddie is writing a movie and that he's interested in a role for me. I ended up going to his house on a visit, and we were watching a boxing match, and Eddie came up to me and said, "Hey man, I'm writing a movie and I have you in mind." I'm like, "Dude, whatever I can do, I'd love to work with you." Basically Eddie Murphy plays a guy who's married to the worst women in the world. She's also in the worst family in the world. Her name is Rasputia and I play her brother Big Black Jack, and we basically wreak havoc on this poor guy's life and he doesn't deserve it. It's just tragic. It's kind of a love story because she's so horrible and she's cheating on him. Then he finds the love of his life and the question is: what does he do? It's a great story and a great date movie. It's perfect for Valentine's Day.
If you had one word to describe your character in the movie, what would it be and why?
TC: One word. Repulsive. Big Jack is awful. Everything we do and everything about my character is just about furthering my lascivious goals. My goal in life is to open a strip club and it's just repulsive the way I treat people. If you've ever met a person who doesn't have any regard for anyone but himself, that's the only world that can really come up. You never want to be around this guy, steer clear. I've always known people who like being that way and walk into a room and be feared rather then loved. That's the way this guy is.
In the movie, Eddie Murphy wears a lot of different makeup. Did you have trouble getting into character with Eddie in all that stuff?
TC: No, actually that helps. It's crazy. You've got to understand that Rick Baker does all of his makeup and he has 8 Academy Awards, which is more then anyone. What he does is that he's the Leonardo DaVinci of makeup. When Eddie's inside, he's another person. You can put any prosthetic on anyone. Eddie's a master of becoming whatever he tries to do. There's an 80-year-old Asian man called Mr. Wong, I actually treated him differently. He was brittle and I talked to him differently than when he was Rasputia, a big 450 lb. mean woman. I treated her differently. And then when he was Norbit, it was a whole other thing. It was like acting with three different people completely. Eddie's such a great actor that he doesn't need to spend six months becoming a character and you have to call him by that name. To me, that's the sign of great great skill, when you make it look easy like that. It shows how good you are.
Between all the funny guys in the movie, did you have problems keeping it serious and getting the work done?
TC: Oh my God. I know there's going to be an unrated version. Wait 'til that version. I went to Brian Robbins who directed it, and was like, this is going to be PG-13, what are you doing? Because we would go off. The thing is that with a comedy, you can't be too stayed and if you don't feel that laughter when you're doing it, then your movie probably sucks. We had the biggest time. At times, what we'd do is play back other people's scenes just to get us in the mood, and we'd be like: we have to be funnier than that. It was like a competition. It was like Marlon Wayans' scene, and now we have to do our scene, and we'd go in and do our thing, then we'd watch Katt Willaims and Eddie Griffin, and it was funny because sometimes we weren't all there at the same time but the playback guy would make sure we had all this stuff to throw up and see. Then we'd watch Eddie do his thing, so it was so much fun. I know the spirit of the movie is there. We were all doing this for Eddie. Everybody, all the comedic talent in the movie, was because we were all there for Eddie. Eddie discovered Chris Rock and if it wasn't for Eddie doing that, I wouldn't have a job right now. Nobody wanted to let him down because he wrote it along with his brother Charlie, and it was his baby. Norbit was something that had been in his safe deposit box for a long time, and now that it's out, I just wanted to make him proud and everyone else wanted the same thing.
What made you want to go into the movies after your career in the NFL?
TC: I always wanted to go into the movies. I actually thought I'd be a special effects artist since I was an art major in college. I moved down to L.A. after I appeared in a little independent movie called Young Boys Incorporated in Detroit. It was absolutely horrible, but it showed me that it was what I wanted to do. This was while I was still playing football. We spent all our money and got kicked out of locations. It was so exciting though. The movie didn't go anywhere, but I was in love and I loved it more than football. I moved out to L.A., I thought I was going to be a filmmaker, and then I auditioned and I got the first thing I auditioned for, which was a show called Battle Dome, which was like American Gladiators to the tenth power. It was really nuts. I've been acting ever since. I'm still writing and planning on getting behind the scenes later on. I'm just a ham.
Did your football career teach you anything about the Hollywood lifestyle?
TC: You know what man, football taught me a lot. That i was on 6 teams in 7 years. I would play play play and get cut, turn around keep going and work out and get picked up by a team workout for the team and then get cut again. This happened 6 times in 7 years, I kept my bags packed the entire time. Through that rejection I learned that if you just keep going they can't stop you. You'll eventually get another shot. I just wasn't smart enough to know that after you get cut a couple times, your supposed to quit.I just kept going and getting picked up. When I retired, I let it go because I loved entertainment more and I was like I'm done. I'd go on all these auditions and people were like no, your not going to work for this they'd reject me. The key is you got to take the rejection and collect your notes because the only way to improve is to go audition and have them tell you that your not going to work. The parties are the same way. I just went out last night with Shaq and all the entertainers, the actors and rappers and you know what it's really fleeting. When you look at, there's an old football player in the corner that no one remembers anymore. Back in 85, he was the life of the party but in now in 2007, he's one of the old guys, he may be invited but he's kind of on the outskirts and people are like "yeah, i don't think your on the list". You sort of realize that that's coming up for me one day. I see that watching that in football, it's the same thing in Entertainment. There are a lot of stars that at the time, they were great and now they are just fringe. In the end all you have is your family and your true true friends and your respect. When you sell that out, you're pretty much done. Look at Tom Sizemore. You turn around, I love that guy, look at the price he paid. Was it worth it, you know what I mean. I hope he survives it.
Aside from acting and football, is there any other field you'd want to go into in your life?
TC: Well, I'm from Flint, Michigan. That's where Michael Moore came from and he did Roger and Me. I basically lived it. We went from ten high schools all the way down to three. It was like a bomb exploded. I've been approached by a lot of different charities about getting behind them. One of my rules and one thing that I want to do as I've been getting more popularity and influence, because you got to get that first, is that I want to pretty much find one person and believe in them. Find one kid who needs a shot. I think a lot of times, a lot of celebrities, you know, a lot of people give a lot of money, and let me tell you that a lot of this money isn't getting to the people. A lot of hands touch the money before it actually reaches people. My take is that I'd love to find one person that I can bless all the way through college and give them what they needed. All they needed was a chance to make it. If they need books, if they need food, they need whatever, all they have to show is that they have goals and how I can help them achieve them. If I can find that one person to do that, then once I'm done, find another person, and continue to do it like that, you can change the world. That person might be the next Martin Luther King or that girl might be the next superstar. I like to take a much more personal approach to my charity.
Do you ever feel pigeonholed in a role because of your size?
TC: You know what cracks me up? We're going to keep you in this thing but you're a big black man who looks menacing, but is funny. Pigeonholed is when you're digging ditches and you can't do anything else, and you're not making money, and no one will give you a chance to do anything else. Stereotypes work in a lot of ways in movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like a bad-ass, so being that for his first 5 or 6 movies worked for him. The key to avoiding all that stuff, is looking like a bad-ass and showing your comedic side. Look at Eddie right now, he showed a whole other side of himself in Dreamgirls and there was humor involved, but he showed another side that really shocked everybody. The key is to keep working. I know a lot of actors who are like, "I'm not going to be stereotyped, I want to play a mountain climber and then I want to play a librarian in my next movie." Well what if the movie sucks? If both movies suck, then your career is over. I'd rather be in movies playing similar characters because look, I'm a big black man and I'm not going to play a little white woman, there's no way. I'm going to be who I am. The key is to provide different nuances to each character. In White Chicks, I was completely different than what I played in Friday After Next. In Friday After Next I played a guy who got out of jail and ended up trying to rape a pimp. In White Chicks, I'm the love-struck athlete who's in love with a woman who think's she a woman but turns out to be a man. There are similarities, because I'm the same guy, but it's a totally different character. One of my favorite characters of all time has to be the one from White Chicks because people thought I was going to be all hardcore, but here I was a big softy, which in a lot of ways broke a stereotype. I had a lot of people coming to me and say, "big is never funny and you broke that rule tonight." I personally don't know any big giant funny white guys. I try to do something different every time.
How long did it take for you to pay your dues as an actor and what advice do you have for younger actors?
TC: The first thing I ever auditioned for I got. The dues came later. I got my jobs and I was doing things and then all of a sudden the jobs stopped. The key is that you're going to get a break, you're going to get a shot, and the key is developing talent while you're working. A lot of times what happens is that there's almost like a riga mortis that sets in and you do the same facial expressions and you can carve out a living and that's your schtick. But then there's a moment where you have to decide if you're going to do more and you have to push a little bit more. You have to always be a student and open up and I never feel like I've mastered anything, because once you do that you have career riga mortus. So I decided to come into everything as if I was a rookie and if you do that, you're always learning and your eyes are wide open. You don't always do the same thing and there's always a difference in each joke or the setup or the movie. That's my advice for most actors out there: don't get complacent and always remain a student and stay humble. The first week in karate class, they make you bow to the teacher. Why? Because you have to be humble to learn. I'm a football player so I go with the coach.
Has the success of Everybody Hates Chris affected your career?
TC: It has. I was always that guy that when people saw me on the street, they'd be like, "Hey that's the guy from White Chicks!" or "That's Cheeseburger Eddy!" They'd always call me by my character's name, where the TV show's changed my life and people actually know my real name. I can go out now and they'll be like, "Terry Crews!" and I'll be like, "Hey man! Wait a second, I don't know you." It used to be when you called my name, you actually knew me. Now, I've got my name out there. There's something to be said for being on television every week, because you tend to permeate people's psyches. The difference between movies and television is that it takes a whole lot to get someone to get out of their home, get in the car, go to a movie theatre, pay 20 dollars, get something to eat and a movie ticket, make them sit down, and watch you. It's much more aggressive, while TV is much more passive -- you can just turn it on and watch and let it soak in. I notice that everywhere I go I've been seen, and I'm actually in Miami right now for the Super Bowl, and the difference year to year, and it was cool, but this year it's a fever pitch and everywhere I go it's either "Hey, I love that show!" or "I hate that show!" So either way, the presence is there. I'm really thankful. As an actor, you can't really ask for much more.
You shot one of your films up here in Vancouver. What was that experience like for you?
TC: I love Vancouver, man. I was at the Sutton Place Hotel for about a year of my life. When we filmed White Chicks up in Vancouver, that was one of the best experiences of my entire life. The city just took care of us. We were welcomed. I loved it. It was a very healthy atmosphere -- I worked out, I got in shape, I was in the best shape of my life in Vancouver. I ate well. It was funny, because I was away from my family -- I have a wife and 5 kids -- but I was away from my family. Usually I'm miserable, but it's kind of like the city took care of us. The time I was away from my wife and kids, everyone was so nice. It really, really effected me. I've brought my family up there. We went to ski. We didn't do the whole Whistler thing, but we did the Grouse Mountain thing, cause I'm a tee-toe kind of guy on skis.
You were in the Mike Judge film Idiocracy, which unfortunately got buried by the studio. Why do you think the studio buried the movie?
TC:. Nobody knows why for real, but this is my take: It was just the corporate machine. In that movie, he named names. It really left a lot of companies with egg on their faces that didn't take the joke, you know? It may hurt their bottom line. You know, Starbucks is mentioned in the movie, but Starbucks has an entertainment company which is making movies and music. They're talking about world domination. The whole thing is, that when you put them out there like that, I think Fox itself is probably thinking that this is not a good business decision, which you've got to understand the companies' point of view too. They might do a joint venture with Starbucks and make a whole lot of money, but then somewhere along the line Starbucks is like, "Nah, Mike Judge made fun of us in his movie, we're going to take it over to Paramount." So there's a lot of alliances that had to be kept. Unfortunately, Mike kind of got buried in the whole thing. I think it was a gutsy move on Mike's part and it shows how brilliant he is. That's his baby. People forget we did that movie three, four years ago. That was a long time ago and it just literally comes out on DVD, and he spent years of his life on this. I don't think he wanted it to be buried, he didn't try to make it happen to be edgy, he was just doing something smart and I think he got punished for it. Again, it just sort of plays right into the movie's theme that it's so nuts, whereas they feel that this movie is too smart for you to enjoy. That's the whole theme; you need something dumber like Beerfest. Beerfest gets wide release, Idiocracy, no no, you guys can't handle that one. It's okay though. Idiocracy is out on DVD. People seem to forget that movies don't go away. It's a Wonderful Life was actually a big failure when it first came out. It bombed. It got panned, and now it's on 24 hours every Christmas. The influence of a film lasts way after it's been in theatres. It's not a problem, it's one of those things we're going to have to wait on. I think time will tell how good a film it is.
What do you think the most important part of a movie is and what makes a movie successful to you personally?
TC: I enjoy pretty much every type of movie I've ever done. Every movie I've ever done, I love. Be it a drama, a comedy. The movies I didn't like, were movies that didn't serve their purpose. If it was supposed to be a funny movie and it wasn't, or if it was supposed to be a great drama and it just ended up okay, I'm devastated. One thing about The Longest Yard was it was a great action movie. No Academy Awards, but you can't deny it was a big time action flick and the audience was satisfied. People came out cheering and hollering and yelling things from the movie. It just makes you feel good. The mission was accomplished. I go into every movie like it's a war, and you have all these generals and captains and soldiers and the crew, everyone going into war. The key is you got to achieve the goal and if you don't you've missed it. I've been in some comedies that weren't funny, and in the end everyone's left with a deep little hole -- I put all that time and energy into something that fizzled and it just crushes you.
Special thanks to Terry Crews. Norbit opens in theatres Friday, Ferbruary 9th from DreamWorks Pictures through Paramount Pictures releasing. Visit www.meetnorbit.com for more information.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.