Actor Terry Crews has enjoyed a 15-year acting career. He got his start in the entertainment business by being a security guard on film sets. His break came when a friend invited him to tag along to an audition. While Crews wasn’t planning on auditioning, he did and landed his first part on a TV show called “Battle Dome.” (More on that later.) “Battle Dome” premiered in 1999 and ended its run a short time later, but fast forward to 2014 and Terry Crews is in high demand. He has a starring role on the hilarious sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and in the new Kevin Costner film “Draft Day,” which is slated to hit theaters April 11.
“Draft Day” is a dramedy that puts a spotlight on the intense moments behind the scenes during the NFL draft. “It’s basically all about the notorious day in NFL where most superstar collegiate athletes are picked in this, usually, seven round process to play in the big leagues,” says the muscular actor. With the film being about the NFL, “Draft Day” stirred up some old memories for Crews who played in the NFL for close to seven years. While he doesn’t get to see the gridiron in the film, his son, played by Arian Foster, does.
Come hang with The Urban Daily as Terry Crews breaks down his latest film, remembers his years in the NFL, predicts Arian Foster’s future as an actor and how he really feels about being called The Ebony Falcon by his “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” castmates.
TUD: Could you tell me a little bit about your role in “Draft Day”?
TC: I play the former superstar with the Cleveland Browns, Earl Jennings. Arian Foster plays my son who is a potential first round draft pick for the same team that I played for. I’m trying to make sure that my son gets the light he deserves. It’s a real cool movie with the built-in drama. It’s the NFL’s version of “Moneyball.”
We know the film is about the NFL draft, but what are some of the underlying themes you want fans to walk away with?
It’s really about integrity at every step. It’s also about challenging how good you really can be. I’ve seen things where people were scared of success. People will find ways to sabotage it. You have to find your own success. You can’t live anybody else’s. Even my son, right now, he’s benefitting off of who I am, but when he turns 18, he’s got to find his own lane.
If you’ve ever seen anybody you isn’t living their own life, that’s a problem. So when I look at Kevin Costner’s character and his is just deceased and the general manager of the team, Kevin’s character has to find his own life. The same way my character’s son has to do the same. I’m Earl Jennings and I have to push my son, Ray Jennings, out on his own. He’s done some things that gave come back to haunt him and I have to let him take responsibility for those things. Everybody has to live their own life. That’s a pretty awesome theme.
As a former NFL player, what was it like to play a former NFL player in a film?
[laughs] It was great, man. I felt like I was right at home. I understand what this is. I understand what’s at stake here. I had to play ball, and this is the truth, most African-American athletes have to play a sport in order to escape their surroundings and hope for a better life. I was an art major in college, but no one was gonna pay me to paint. They were going to pay me to hit people at 25 miles per hour. They paid a lot of people to put a ball through a hoop. Sports was my way out of Flint, Michigan. I saw Flint, Michigan was going under and was a dying city. I knew sports and decided that sports was going to be my way out.
Did you and Arian Foster trade any advice for being in the field and in front of the camera?
Uh, not really. He’s much more popular in the NFL than I ever was. I was a journeyman, special team player, the whole thing just hanging on the end. He’s been an All Pro. He’s seen more in the NFL than I’ve ever seen in my whole seven years. What I had to give him were just tips on acting. I let him know what this thing was, but he was ready. The best thing that he was humble. As an actor, you have to humble yourself to the project. That’s a problem for most athletes who switch over. They are so used to being the star where they’re at, it’s like you’re in a whole new field now. You’re in a whole new deal. You’ve got to try it another way. He was awesome! I’m telling you! I think Arian has a huge career in entertainment after this because he’s just a natural and he’s still willing to learn.
What made you go from playing in the NFL to appearing on the short-lived TV show “Battle Dome”?
Money. Listen, I was broke. [laughs] sometimes, when you’re in a hard place, you need to try something you’ve never done. For me, I wasn’t trying to get in front of the camera. I was just surviving. I was doing security on movie sets and the whole thing, but I was trying to get behind the scenes. A friend if mine invites me to an audition. It was the first thing I ever auditioned for–a tv show called “Battle Dome” and I got it. That job turned into another which extended into another and I’ve been acting ever since. So for that last fifteen years, I’ve been a full-time actor.
So when you look at your journey of 15 years in the entertainment business–starting with “Battle Dome” and now you’re in a film with an Oscar-winning actor–how do you feel?
Think about this, that’s everybody’s journey in Hollywood. Will Smith was a rapper who had to make a transition. Queen Latifah did the same thing. Sam Jackson was a stand in for Bill Cosby on “The Cosby Show” and then he gets the opportunity of a lifetime. That’s the actor’s story. It’s not like I’m a shocker, it’s just that I came from the football end. Every real actor comes from some other place. That’s just the truth. People who are born and bred to be in this industry usually end up messed up. It’s one of those things where a true actor has lived another life and you go and pour all of that experience into a film. I’ve been privileged to be amongst these beautiful and wonderful characters who’ve survived in the entertainment biz, but also who came from other places just like me.
As a famous actor and a father, how do you keep your children grounded?
Yeah, they know not to play that game. I’ll check them if they ever even tried to do something like that. It’s weird because I let them enjoy being kids and I shield them. One thing is when I’m out with them, I’m 100% present. I never take pictures with fans when I’m out with my kids because when I’m with them, I’m dad. I want them to see me that way and know that I’m that way. This Hollywood thing, they understand it’s my job. On the flip side, when I go in the house and close the door, I’m a father and husband. That’s it. That’s what it is.
Also, I caught the first episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” In that episode, they call you ‘The Ebony Falcon.’ Please tell me Andy Samberg and the rest of the cast call you that on set?
[laughs] Oh yeah! I’m known as the Ebony Falcon on the set. Believe you me. People ask why they call me that and they say because his muscles are like feathers! [laughs] That’s how we play it. We’re having fun. We’re having a ball.
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