Actor Terry Crews

The co-star of the Golden Globe-winning sitcom, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, talks about his turn as game show host and his memoir, Manhood.

From the NFL to commercials to film and TV, Terry Crews knows how to mix it up. The Michigan native received a full-ride athletic scholarship to college and, after earning All-Conference honors and helping his team win an NCAA Division championship, played pro with several teams, including the L.A. Rams, which drafted him. He retired from the sport, pursued an acting career and has accumulated a list of credits that include Old Spice commercials and work on TV in Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and in film in the Expendables franchise. He's set to host the game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and has just penned a memoir, Manhood, with his insights on spirituality, work and family.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Terry Crews who came to his acting career by way of the NFL is currently starring in a critically acclaimed comedy series, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” on FOX and has not one, but five – is that right? Five movies out this year, including the upcoming “The Expendables 3″ in which he costars with Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Wesley Snipes, among others.

He’s also found time somewhere and somehow to write a book. It’s titled “Manhood: How to be a Better Man or Just Live With One” and he was just named the new host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” I ain’t mad at you, Terry Crews [laugh]. You’re working like a Jamaican, man [laugh].

Terry Crews: Hey, man, I want to be a millionaire [laugh]. You know, that’s the show. That’s my life right now.

Tavis: Good Lord! Congratulations.

Crews: Thank you so much, Tavis.

Tavis: Why would you want to host a show like “Millionaire?”

Crews: You know, I thrive off live energy. And another thing is, you know, they came to me. When ABC came to me ’cause Cedric wasn’t gonna come back and I just said, you know, first of all, I look at daytime TV and a lot of it is really bad. You know, there’s a lot of “You are the father!” “No!” and all this, and drama and people hitting and fighting.

I said wait. I get a chance on daytime TV to give away money during hard times and really enjoy and speak into peoples’ lives and let them play the game with me and the whole thing and get that live energy that I always wanted. And I just jumped at the chance, man. I’ve already finished 75 episodes already.

Tavis: 75 already.

Crews: I’m not playing.

Tavis: When you come from a sports background – you may know where I’m going with this. How important is it for you in the decisions that you make for people to see you in the full complexity of your character, intellect included?

Nothing wrong with doing the white chicks and the funny stuff. I love that and none of us should be boxed in. I remind people all the time, Marvin Gaye sang “Let’s Get It On,” but he also did “What’s Going On.”

Crews: That’s right.

Tavis: So we’re complex individuals. Does that ever factor into the decisions that you make? I only ask that because “Millionaire” is, obviously, the higher you climb, that’s a really smart show.

Crews: Yes, yes. Now for me, you know, every label that someone tries to put on you is a stamp so that they can put you in a box and put you over here. Well, I have totally decided you will never be able to label me. You will never be able to define me. Every individual on this earth is way too complex to put in whatever box it is. It’s kind of funny because we as African Americans tend to do that to ourselves.

And a lot of times, I’ve had people say, “Man, Black people don’t do that.” I jumped off a cliff in Reo and people were like, “Man, Black people do not do that!” I said, “Well, I did it, so what does that mean?” I guess we just busted through this whole thing.

It’s weird because I’m African American by my culture, not by my color. So what happens is, when you’re talking about culture, culture should always be celebrated. African American culture is the most beautiful, most celebratory thing. You should always love it, but because I am dark-skinned, a lot of times people will say, “Well, you should be here” and I decided I was gonna leave the race.

And when I say race, what I’m talking about is when they determine you are Black. What happens is you become there’s white, there’s yellow, there’s red, there’s brown and there’s Black. Now who is always on the top of that? It’s white.

That’s the race because the race is all about determining who’s first. The race is literally a sport. It’s like the race is white people finish first, Black people always finish last. And what happens is, you grow up with that.

Have you ever seen that one article when they interviewing kids and they picked out which doll they wanted to get? Always, the Black one is bad. That’s really what this race thing is about. I decided I’m gonna step out of that.

If you cheered when O.J. Simpson got off or if you cheered when Zimmerman got off, you’re part of the race. You have decided I’m in the race. If you step back from the race, you just see a teenager with a bullet in his chest and you see a mom who got her throat slashed. Now when you separate from that, you see things as they are for real.

Tavis: So you’re talking about humanity, not about race.

Crews: I’m talking about humanity. Now by stepping back, I had to step out of the athlete tag because African American athlete has a tag. And I said I don’t have to be by those definitions. When you step out of that, you decide I’m African American, yes, love it. But you can’t define me that way. So I started to take on things that people said you can’t do.

And with every challenge, I started to find out I was actually doing this stuff. Not only doing it, but I was excelling at it and I realized there was really no obstacle. I started to run into problems instead of running away from them. You know what I mean? And by running into things, things just kind of started to disappear. Obstacles started to go away.

Let me tell you, my thing is always to lead other athletes, other African American athletes, out of that same old problem that we’ve always grew up with in regards to, you know, being defined by our sport, defined by that and our intelligence being defined by, you know, what everybody thinks we should be.

Tavis: But not unlike most of us, you grew up in some pretty serious dysfunction.

Crews: That’s right.

Tavis: When I got into this text – I wrote a book some years ago and talked about my relationship with my father which now is a beautiful thing. Love him, hardest working man I’ve ever known. I don’t let anybody put daylight between me and my father now because of the truth that I told in the book about what happened between my father and me. I don’t let people do that.

To your point, nobody’s gonna define my relationship with my father now. But there was a truth that had to be told about what our relationship was when I was 12 or 13. You do the same thing in your book.

I thought my father and I had some tough times until I read your book and I saw the story – I don’t want to give the book away, but there’s a moment in the book where I can’t believe – I mean, you and your brother get into a physical altercation with your dad.

Crews: Yes.

Tavis: And because your dad had put hands on your mama, you and your brother beat your dad to a pulp.

Crews: We beat him down.

Tavis: Beat him down. Your daddy! You can’t beat your daddy, man!

Crews: You ain’t supposed to.

Tavis: Yeah.

Crews: And we did. And let me tell you, when I was doing it, I thought I would feel – ’cause you got to understand. That was the earliest memory in my household was my father putting hands on my mother and my mother going down in tears. And I literally was five years old and I was like, man, if I could do something. You have to understand the helplessness that you feel and you grow up with.

I mean, it’s one of them things where I had all kind of problems. I mean, I peed in the bed until I was 14 because it’s one of those things where you don’t understand what’s happening and you can’t control your situation. This lack of control creates all kind of other problems. But once I got to be an adult and not only an adult, but a big adult, a strong adult, and he did it one more time.

I called my brother. I said, “Oh, it’s on. Now I’m gonna get all this that’s been in me for years and we’re gonna do it.” And let me tell you something. I felt nothing afterward. There was not one bit of redemption. There was not one bit of like that’s what he get. I felt empty. I was in tears because you ain’t supposed to do that.

Tavis: He’s begging for mercy.

Crews: He’s begging for mercy.

Tavis: Your dad’s on the floor in the corner curled up in the fetal position begging y’all to stop.

Crews: And it made no sense. And I realized – Einstein said, “You could never solve a problem at the level of thinking in which it was created.” So his violence cannot be met with that same kind of violence ’cause just what happens is it goes back and forth and you got him back and I got you back and whatever. What happens is it’s endless.

What I really had to do was forgive and step above this whole thing. And that doesn’t mean forget. That doesn’t mean excuse, it doesn’t mean just let things go, but it does mean not allowing anything he did to have any effect on my future.

Tavis: Before you and your father had this altercation, when you were just a kid, tell me very quickly – I love the story. Maybe love’s the wrong word, but anyway, I was blown away by the story of you when you were just a kid, you wanted to be a superhero.

Crews: That’s it.

Tavis: And one day you had your superhero moment.

Crews: Yes!

Tavis: And I been dying to get close to you to see your bottom lip.

Crews: Yeah, there it is.

Tavis: I see it now.

Crews: You see it?

Tavis: I see it now. I see it now.

Crews: You see it right there?

Tavis: As many times as I’ve seen you – we’ve hung out over the years – I’ve never noticed it.

Crews: That’s right.

Tavis: Tell the story about your bottom lip.

Crews: I was like two or three years old and I put an extension cord in my mouth. You know, we stayed in a little hood apartment, the whole thing and the electricity and things plugged in and extension cords and the whole thing. I put this thing in my mouth and, pow, it exploded. And my mother said she saw me and I was just bleeding and laying there, but I never said a word. She said I just sat there and looked at her.

Tavis: Your bottom lip, though, is on the floor.

Crews: It’s on the floor. Lip had fallen off.

Tavis: It’s exploded. It’s on the floor.

Crews: It’s the explosion. It’s a piece of meat just sitting there on the ground. She screamed, she ran, took me to the hospital, the whole thing. The doctors thought she had abused me and all this stuff and they finally cleared her on that.

But with that story being told, I always thought I had super powers. That’s like the origin story of Batman, Superman, The Hulk, the whole thing.

Tavis: And here you are in “The Expendables” [laugh].

Crews: Yeah, and I’m a real life superhero! You know what I mean? I made it, you know.

Tavis: Yeah [laugh].

Crews: And it’s funny ’cause, you know, these things – you know, as young men, we always have that desire. We have the desire to save the damsel in distress. I had a desire to save my whole family, save my mother, to save my brother, to save my sisters, save everyone in my community, you know. And it’s weird because that desire, it should be in you.

Tavis: What did the NFL teach you about acting? How did the NFL help you with acting?

Crews: Well, because you start to realize that a business is a business and one thing that you learn through sports is that it’s on you. It’s on you. There’s no one else to blame. There’s no one else to put it on.

I took that whole sports thing and I applied it to my acting and I realized that I was the only guy who was gonna improve myself and I had to do the work. You have to do the work. You have to do the practice to the point where it gets easy. I took that and put it right into the acting world and it’s really paid off.

Tavis: Is your conception of manhood which is what this book is really all about – what the book is really about is these stories that he – all true, obviously – lived through, stories he’s endured, stories he has learned from, examples in the book that have helped you become a man.

Crews: Yes.

Tavis: I want to close by asking whether or not your definition, your understanding of manhood, continues to evolve?

Crews: Oh, all the time. There are three stages to every man. The first stage is a fool, okay? A fool gets mad when somebody tries to help you. You know what I mean? I was in that stage. I moved my whole family in with my parents and I’d go buy a new car. That’s the definition of a fool [laugh]. I mean, fool. It’s like, man, what are you doing? I’d say, man, leave me alone. I know what I’m doing, and you don’t know.

Tavis: But it was a nice car, though.

Crews: It was an unbelievable car! But then I turn around and then you move to the next stage because being a fool, you mess your life up. You move to victim stage. Victims stage is, man, my life is messed up. I blame my wife, I blame my parents, I blame their father, I blame being Black. I blamed everybody, but then there’s another stage.

And this is the stage that manhood is in, when you think like a king. Fool, victim, king. King, however, is when you take full responsibility for everything in your life. There’s no one to blame. You are on your own kingdom and you say wait a minute. All this good and bad is a result of me, and that changed my perspective.

I couldn’t be a victim anymore because there was no one else to blame but me. You can’t be a fool because you got to listen. You got to hear what everyone is saying, what good advice comes out. Let me tell you, when I started thinking like a king, manhood came. That’s when I became a true man.

Tavis: I’ve only scratched the surface of this new book by Terry Crews. It’s called “Manhood: How to be a Better Man or Just Live With One.” I read here, read on airplanes, read at home, read in my office and various places.

But I actually, as I told you when you walked on the set, I sat down and read this whole thing in one sitting, and it got my attention. So thank you for writing the book.

Crews: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: And thanks for being so honest and so transparent about it.

Crews: You know, I got to say this, man. There are people who make money making sure you don’t know. There are people get paid making sure you don’t understand. And my thing was, I’m going to tell it.

I’m going to tell everything that I know because me and my friend – even in the book, I talk about me and my friend. We made a vow to each other that, if you learn something that I should know, tell me. And if I learn something that you should know, I will tell you. That got me here today.

Tavis: Love it and love you. Good to see you.

Crews: I love you too, Tavis.

Tavis: All right. Tell Rebecca I said hello.

Crews: Oh, you got it.

Tavis: All right.

Crews: Thank you, sir.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: July 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm