Former NFL football player Terry Crews traded in his helmet and cleats in 1997 to pursue an acting career while simultaneously becoming the ultimate family man. He is now more commonly known for his natural wit, comedic timing and versatility.
He is the spokesman for the very successful “Smell is Power” campaign for Old Spice. And he’s a contestant on the new NBC reality series “Stars Earn Stripes.”
He stars in the TBS series “Are We There Yet?” produced by Ice Cube, which will continue to air this fall. He plays the role that Ice Cube originated in the film version of the sitcom. In addition, he is a cast member on HBO’s new hit “Newsroom.”
Crews previously appeared on the television series “Everybody Hates Chris,” where he played Julius, the father of a young Chris Rock.
He was also seen in the following films: “Friday after Next,” “Deliver Us from Eva,” “White Chicks,” “Soul Plane,” “Idiocracy,” “Inland Empire,” “Street Kings,” “The Longest Yard,” “The Expendables” and “Bridesmaids.”
Born and raised in Flint, Mich., Crews attended Flint Southwestern Academy. He earned an Art Excellence Scholarship to attend the Interlochen Center for the Arts and then Western Michigan University.
While completing his studies as an art major, Crews was a key member of the WMU football team, where he earned all-conference honors as a defensive end. He was subsequently drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
He proceeded to carve out a pro career that lasted six seasons, including stints with the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. While in the NFL, he put his artistic talents to good use, painting a line of NFL- licensed lithographs for Sierra Sun Editions.
Crews now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Rebecca, and their five children. Here, he talks about reprising the role of Hale Caesar in “The Expendables 2.”
What interested you in a second round of “The Expendables?”
Well, it’s so much fun just to be a part of something like this. We all know the fact that if a movie even gets made it’s a miracle.
Here, you have one with some of the biggest stars in the world. We were able to get the first one out. On top of the miracle of getting it done, it was a hit. Then, you get another miracle in a chance to do a sequel, but this time much bigger and better, adding Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth and a female “Expendable,” Nan Yu, to the mix.
I think this is the movie Sly [Stallone] originally wanted to make if he had his wish list. It’s so awesome to be in this spot. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I really do.
How hard is it to get elbow room to do your thing in a film when you’re sharing the screen with so many other matinee idols: Stallone Schwarzenegger, Willis, Jet Li, Jason Statham, etc.?
I liken the whole experience to my time in the NFL. When you’re a rookie, you see all these great names that you’ve admired. But once you put on your uniform, and go from the locker room to the field, you’ve got to be ready to hit your greatest heroes in the mouth when they blow that whistle. [Chuckles]
In fact, you have to do more than that. You have to slam ‘em to the turf. And acting is sort of similar. It’s a jousting match where they want you to bring your A-game. Timidity has no place in a major action movie. You have to know how to take your moments. Sometimes walking out the door is just walking out the door.
But when it’s your moment, you have to go for it. I’ve learned by watching these guys: Arnold, Sly, Bruce, Jean-Claude and Chuck. They know how to take their moments, and they do it right.
I’ve observed and said to myself: That’s how you do it! You only have but so much time to make an impact or people will forget you. My goal always is to make the biggest impact possible. A lot of my colleagues are content to be character actors who are always in the background. I’m not that guy. I’m the guy who wants the limelight. Gimme the ball and I’ll run it through a brick wall for you. I’ll be your biggest soldier.
What message do you think people will take away from “The Expendables 2?”
It’s just a fun, fun throwback movie with cartoonish violence. It’s almost like cowboys and Indians in a lot of ways.
Which is your favorite genre to work in, reality shows, TV shows or film?
Oh, movies! Let me tell you, “Expendables 2” is the dream experience of my life. Here I am, a poor kid from Flint, Mich., and I’m acting next to the biggest stars in the world. Only in America could something like this happen.
This is not about luck. This is about hard, hard work. I’m not guaranteeing that if you work hard you’ll be able to duplicate my success. But in America, if you work hard, you just might. I’m a perfect example of that.
Tell me a little about your new reality series, “Stars Earn Stripes.”
I have so many fans in the military, I said, “Man, this is a show I would be proud to be a part of.”
This is not one of those reality series where they put all the contestants in a house and have them argue with each other. The idea here is to give us a chance to experience what members of the military go through on a daily basis and to give them the recognition they deserve.
We have every kind of American military special op force represented, and they team up with the contestants and take us on combat missions. We basically get to do what they do out in the field while raising money for charity. Mine is the Pat Tillman Foundation.
That’s a great cause. Let me ask you about the “The Family Crews.” Does having cameras following you around 24/7 alter the family dynamic?
It does. I think it has strengthened us. My wife and I just celebrated 23 years of marriage, and I’m ready to go another 50 with my baby.
Congratulations, Terry! What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
I was broke when I first moved to L.A. My best business decision was to humble myself and to take a job mopping floors at a factory. I had left the NFL and we didn’t have any money. That experience let me know that I would hold onto my principles and be willing to do anything that was legal to support my family.
I’ll never forget my worst business decision. I bought a Nissan Pathfinder with my first signing bonus. I didn’t even have a place to live, but I bought a car. [Laughs] My wife was like, “That’s kinda silly!” And she was right, because when I lost my job, we couldn’t live in the car. Not a smart move but, believe me, I learned from that mistake.
What is the best thing about being a parent?
That you get to see yourself as a child. My kids will tell you: I’m not that grown. [Chuckles] I’m not in the business of trying to prove to them that I know everything. You have to empathize with your children.
If you love them, you never really get too angry with them when they make a mistake, because kids are expected to make mistakes. Having children, you start to see yourself through them.
What excites you?
Going to see a great movie. I just watched “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith again, and it still gave me goose bumps.