When Hollywood needs a big dude — a really big dude — they can call on all sorts of former athletes. Few come with the heart and humor of Terry Crews.
An 11th-round draft pick of the Rams, Crews gave up his NFL dream in 1997 to pursue a different dream in Hollywood. He thought he'd turn his love of art into a job behind the scenes in special effects. Instead, he has stolen scenes on camera — from action movies like The Expendables to TV comedies like the Golden Globe-winning Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Maybe his most puzzling role: those surreal ads for Old Spice.
Crews has written a new memoir, Manhood: How to Be a Better Man — or Just Live with One. As he tells NPR's Tess Vigeland, "The book should've been called, Terry Crews Is an Idiot and This Is How I Survived. I'm serious! There was so much astounding immaturity in this book."
On living under an alcoholic father
As an African-American, there's a lot of things that — culturally we just don't talk to each other. Anything bad in the past is supposed to be suppressed. "Somebody had it harder than you! So just be glad you're eating!" That's the attitude. And then what would happen is he would bury all his problems in alcohol. It would come out one way or the other. He abused my mother. There was a lot of physical violence in the home."
On revealing his pornography addiction to his wife
She gave me another chance. She said, "Now that I know everything, I'm still choosing to love you." ... That kind of mercy, that kind of grace — it took our relationship to a whole other level, because this is one thing I never realized. ... I always thought if she really knew who I was, she wouldn't want to be with me. And that blew my mind!
Manhood used to be the Marlboro Man — my way, the highway, I walk alone! And the Marlboro Man is always by himself. Family, kids? Can't hang with him. They don't understand him. What happens is, that guy in his 60s, he's back there in his shed and he's crying his eyes out. He's alone. No one wants to be with him. And I averted that future.
TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
Thanks again for listening. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland.
When Hollywood needs a big dude, and I mean a really big dude, they can call on all sorts of former athletes. But they'd be hard-pressed to find many with the heart and humor of my next guest. Terry Crews has stolen quite a few scenes in movies like "The Expendables," and "White Chicks." He was the dad on TV's "Everybody Hates Chris." And his is currently a police sergeant on the Golden Globe winning "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
And maybe his most puzzling role, those surreal ads for Old Spice from a couple years ago.
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TERRY CREWS: Old Spice body spray will make you feel so powerful, it will blow your mind right in front of your face.
I still don't get those.
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CREWS: Pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, power.
VIGELAND: Anyway, the former NFL linebacker can now add author to his business card. Terry Crews has a new memoir coming out on Tuesday. It's called "Manhood.""
CREWS: It's all about my journey into being a man. The book should have been called, you know, Terry Crews is an idiot, and this is how I survived. I'm serious. There was so much astounding immaturity in this book. I have to say I've very ashamed of a lot of things that went down in my life. Like, I'm almost, like, how did I make it out of that?
VIGELAND: Your story starts in Flint, Michigan. Your father worked for the auto industry during this time of real sharp decline. And before work he was all business, and after work he was kind of an ugly drunk.
VIGELAND: What were the lessons about manhood that you were learning from your father at the time?
CREWS: Wow. You know, my father was a hard worker. I mean, that was his thing. But also he dealt with a lot of his past problems. You know, as an African-American, there's a lot of things that culturally we just don't talk to each other. Anything bad in the past is supposed to be suppressed. You know, somebody had it harder than you, so just be glad you're eating.
You know, and that's the attitude. And then what would happen is he would bury all his problems in alcohol. But what happened is it would come out one way or the other. He abused my mother. There was a lot of physical violence in the home. My father was addicted to alcohol and my mother was addicted to religion.
We were in a denomination that didn't allow us to go to the movies. We couldn't dance. We couldn't play sports. My mother couldn't wear make-up. It was damn near Amish, you know.
VIGELAND: You should have been in "Footloose."
CREWS: Yeah, exactly. All those things I just mentioned, I ended up doing except wearing make-up. But I do wear make-up on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." So it works out. It's kind of wild, because I ended up in all those worlds.
VIGELAND: Well, you got married pretty early in life to the single mother of a toddler.
VIGELAND: And, you know, as you mentioned, this was not your typical childhood where, you know, you go on dates. In fact, you didn't do that until your late teens. It seems like you jumped into the deep end of adulthood pretty quickly.
CREWS: You know, getting the married the day before my 21st birthday, everybody opposed it. They were, like, you don't even know what's going on. You don't even - I said, now I can be the hero. Because I always saw myself as a superhero.
I was, like, here is this single mom, and she was actually on welfare when I met her. And she had a baby who was only 6 months old when we met. And I was going to sweep her off her feet and take this family and do all these great things, and this is - I will be her hero and the whole deal. But I didn't even know myself. I had no clue.
And she suffered the brunt of a delayed adolescence. I was addicted to pornography at a very young age, so I would do that just in the cut, you know, even as I'm married and the whole thing. That cognitive dissidence things happen all the way. Oh yeah, I'm good, and I go to church and all this stuff. But then I turn around and I'm addicted to pornography at the same time. More stress.
VIGELAND: Well, your ticket out of Flint was a full athletic scholarship. You ended up making it to the NFL but you always had post-football life in the back of your mind. What did you think you would do?
CREWS: No, when I met my life, while we were dating I told her that I was going to play in the NFL and I was going to move to L.A., and we're going to make movies. That's exactly what I told her. I had a love affair with entertainment. That was another release thing for me because once I got a little bit older, my mother got a little looser on the movie thing. You know what I mean?
VIGELAND: You could go to the theater.
CREWS: So, yeah. The first movie we ever got to see what "The Apple Dumpling Gang,"" with Tim Conway and the whole thing. And then she let us graduate. We begged and begged and begged, and I got to see "Star Wars." Changed my life.
I told her, like, film is better than church because you get your morality from movies. You don't get it from church. I'm, like, preacher's lying to me right here, 'cause I know what he's doing, you know, somewhere else. But the movies, it tells you what's right. The force is with you. This kind - you know, it's like...
VIGELAND: What was the morality from "The Apple Dumpling Gang?"
CREWS: Well, yeah. You know, I blanked it out real bad. No. And I said, this is where I'm learning life. And I said, I've got to be a part of this.
VIGELAND: I'm speaking with actor Terry Crews about his new memoir, "Manhood." We have an ongoing series on this show called My Big Break, and I wonder if you could tell us how your acting career got started. What was your big break?
CREWS: Well, a friend of mine invited me to an audition. It was a TV show called "Battle Dome," which was basically "American Gladiator" on steroids. OK. What they did..
VIGELAND: I remember.
CREWS: Yes. They put me in a cage, light the ends on fire and put me in with three contestants, and I was forced to battle my way out. We've sent people to the hospital. I mean, every day someone was going straight to the hospital. It was a circus with human beings.
I remember being an extra in "raining Day" and I was the guy who when Denzel's yelling at everybody in the neighborhood and King Kong ain't got nothing on me. I'm standing right there behind him. And the Oscar, when Denzel won the Oscar, it's me and Denzel on the screen. They showed his scene. If I never did anything after that, I was like, Mom, it's on the Oscars. I'm in the Academy Awards.
My family flipped. They're like you're on the Academy Awards.
VIGELAND: And by that time, she's OK with the movies.
CREWS: Yeah, she's good now. She's good. Everybody changed since then, you know.
VIGELAND: So you've had all this really radical change in your professional life over the years. And you have been with your wife for, what, it must be 25...
CREWS: It'll be 25 years in July.
VIGELAND: How is that relationship changed through all this?
CREWS: Wow. You know, the biggest, biggest change came on what I call D-Day when I had to reveal my addiction to my wife. And it wasn't anything like I got caught.
VIGELAND: Are you talking about your pornography addiction?
CREWS: Yes. Yes. And it was like, she's like, something's weird. You're not - there's something you're not telling me. And I told her. I told her everything. And I remember she was like, that's it, I'm out, it's a wrap, over, peace. And I was, like, oh my God, this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
And what was wild is that a little while later she gave me another chance. She said now that I know everything, I'm still choosing to love you. And I, let me tell you something. My marriage could have went either way. And she was right to make any kind of decision she wanted. If she wanted to go, nope, I don't want any more, she was justified and right to do that.
But she said, I'm going to love you. That kind of mercy, that kind of grace is a whole - it took our relationship whole other level because this is one thing I had never realized and one thing I never thought. I always thought if she really knew who I was, she wouldn't want to be with me. And that threw my mind. You have to know everything about the other person and if they still love you, that's all you can ask for.
VIGELAND: Would it be fair to say that's the greatest lesson of manhood, forgiveness?
CREWS: That is the greatest lesson. Manhood used to be the Marlboro man, my way, the highway, I walk alone. And the Marlboro man is always by himself. Family, kids can't hang with him. They don't understand him.
But what happens is that guy in his 60s, he's back there in his shed and he's crying his eyes out. He's alone. No one wants to be with him. And I averted that future. And now I'm going a whole other way. And my job is to tell other men and other women who deal with those kind of men how to understand themselves.
VIGELAND: That's actor Terry Crews. His new memoir is called "Manhood: How to be a Better Man or Just Live With One." And by the way, announced this week that he is the new host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." Congratulations.
CREWS: Thank you, thank you.
VIGELAND: Hopefully, you'll be a little less imposing than you were on "Battle Dome."
CREWS: Oh no, it'll be more. No, there'll be explosions. There will be explosions. If you don't get the answer right, I'm going to punch you if you don't get it right. How's that? No, I'm kidding. That won't happen. That's a joke. I love you.
VIGELAND: Terry Crews, thank you so much.
CREWS: Oh, thank you.
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CREWS: Can we edit that out?
VIGELAND: No. Absolutely not.
CREWS: I just said I'm going to punch the guests. I did. You're going to see the next thing, Terry Crews just fired from "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."
VIGELAND: It'll be in People magazine.
CREWS: The only man who had the job for 10 days.
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VIGELAND: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland. Tune in tomorrow...
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VIGELAND: ...when we listen closely to one of the most legendary sounds in movie history.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think that the Godzilla roar actually probably tops the King Kong roar in terms of iconicness. It leave a big footprint.
VIGELAND: Yeah, pun intended there. The new "Godzilla" movie is in theaters. I'll talk with the guys who designed the film's sound and try to pry out of them the secrets behind this.
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VIGELAND: You'll have to tune in tomorrow for that story. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great night.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.