Terry Crews is an award-winning actor, bodybuilder, speaker, and former NFL linebacker. Crews was born in Flint, Michigan, and was exposed to domestic violence at the hands of his alcoholic father, which Crews now speaks openly about. By his stature, some might assume the 6’ 3”, 245-pound man found his talent in sport, when it was drawing and art that landed him an acceptance to the Interlochen Centre for the Arts, followed by a football scholarship to Western Michigan University. Crews was drafted into the NFL where he played for six years and supplemented his income by painting and drawing portraits for teammates.
Consistently cut from rosters, Crews retired from the NFL in 1997 to pursue a career in acting, where he featured in several TV shows that reinforced his stereotype of the muscular jock. Having been deeply affected by his childhood experiences in a poor town, Crews began dismantling this stereotype and juxtaposed his physical stature with comedy and an honest approach to body image, especially in his book Manhood, which chronicles his own upbringing and struggles with self-image. He quickly became a staple for men’s fitness and health, starring in Old Spice commercials and music videos where he showcased his personality. He was named one of Time’s “Person of the Year” for publicizing an alleged sexual assault by a Hollywood agent and primarily appears as Sgt. Terry Jeffords in the acclaimed series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and as a judge on America’s Got Talent. He is a devout Christian and lives with his wife and five children in Los Angeles.
What’s your favourite watch?
Actually the one I’m wearing right now. This Bell & Ross. It was a gift from one of the first action movies I ever did. It was a movie called Gamer, me and Gerard Butler. You know, it wasn’t a really successful movie but it was a movie I’d always dreamed about doing; like being an action guy. It was the first time I ever got, you know, some sort of gift after the movie. And man I always said I was going to buy it when I had the money. So when they gifted it to me, it was like, oh my god, this is like serendipity.
For me, it’s all about meaning. I don’t really have watches to just like, show the bling and all. I’m not a big jewelry guy. It’s almost like statues or awards. There’s got to be a big, big meaning behind it.
You’ve been working on the animated film Rumble, how’s that?
I did a voiceover for that a little while ago, I’ve been doing about three or four. What happens with animated movies is that you go in, do one pass on all your lines, and they animate the movie, then you keep coming back and improving it and changing it and doing all this stuff. It’s almost done. I have one more session to go. The hardest part now is with COVID. One of the concerns is finding a studio that is safe enough to do things in and, you know, you have to really follow all the rules. I did have a really big movie come out during quarantine, which was called The Willoughby’s and it was really, really good on Netflix. That was another animated film. So I just love doing those things, and I’m the bad guy. When we do stuff and I’m animated, it’ll always be cool.
Who’s your favourite Canadian artist or actor?
I love Dan Ackroyd. I’m going back, I mean, Blues Brothers was one of my favourite movies of all time. I gotta go with my man Howie Mandel. You know, one of my favourite Canadians and also my man, Ryan Reynolds. I did Deadpool 2 with him. I love Canada, by the way, you know, I’m trying to get a dual passport but they won’t let me. Everybody’s trying to sneak up there now, you notice that right?
What are some of your favourite spots to visit in Canada?
Vancouver is one of my favourite spots. Toronto is amazing. We went to Montreal for the Hollies Comedy Festival. The food and everything were just so amazing. It’s just a great country, man, you guys got a lot going on.
I know you had a brain injury while you were in the NFL, but you didn’t come forward with it. You didn’t tell your coaches for fear of reprisal. It seems to be fairly commonplace still, for men to sort of hide their injuries, especially in sport and at work. But specifically with mental health, it seems to be a difficult topic to talk about. What advice would you give men about being open and transparent about their injuries?
That’s really a great question. I got knocked out on Monday Night Football – totally. I actually had my memory disappear, and then I had it pieced back together. One thing I’m thankful for is, because I’ve been an actor, I had to exercise my brain by constantly learning lines and cards, you can overcome this stuff. But the big thing is, if no one knows, you can never get any help for it. My word to most men is that vulnerability is not weakness. Everyone has seemed to tie the fact that by admitting that you have an issue or a problem, that you’re being weak; like it’s a malfunction or something that you did that caused this thing to happen to you. I mean, it’s no different than if you fall down, and you hurt yourself… you’re constantly wondering why you fell. But this is just normal, these are things everyone goes through.
But this is the deal with most men. You have guys that say ‘I never fall. I’ve never fallen down, I never fell down one time in my entire life.’ And so you’re always stuck with like, oh man, so what’s wrong with me? But in reality, that’s not true. The fact is, the more men that share the difficulties and problems and different things that they’ve been going through, especially in regards to mental health because those are injuries that we can’t see, the more everyone can be free of the shame that’s involved.
One thing with me, when I revealed the time I was sexually assaulted, people were like “that can’t happen. That’s impossible. You’re too big, you should have killed him. It doesn’t work.” But if I can reveal that, then you can reveal that. And what happened was so many men came forward, about their incidents and about things in their life that happened to them, and it was so wild.
We tend to compartmentalize as men. And what happens is we even deny it happening. You know, it’s like, ‘no it didn’t happen to me. It didn’t.’ What happened is, once I came forward, there were a lot of people who realized that their lines were crossed, and they were like, ‘wait a minute, if that’s assault, that’s what happened to me.’ A lot of times people were in the military or even in sports, and they were told, oh, yeah, I’m just joking around with you. But a lot of that time, you know, it’s basically assault by another name. And I just decided that I was going to be an open book.
Does it ever get easier to talk about?
It does. Right now, the fact that I could just open up and just talk about it like this. Believe me, I was different years ago. It was every time I would get this feeling in my gut, like, ‘oh no, I gotta tell her.’ It becomes a mountain. It’s almost like going uphill all the time as you’re disclosing and telling everything, and then you get to a peak. Then you realize you could see everything when you get to the top of the peak. You could see that man, yourself, and say you know what? That right there was not my fault or that right there, this is where that came from, or, oh my god, I could see this in a whole new way. And now you roll downhill. And this is where I am right now. I’m in a nice easy roll downhill, I could talk about it, I can share it because I’ve been to the peak and I’ve seen it. And I looked at the issues and what I was scared of the whole time, I never needed to be afraid in the first place.
But that’s an individual fight. That’s an individual argument. I would never tell everyone that they just have to go tell everybody everything – I would never recommend that. I would recommend you get with someone you trust, a counselor or a therapist. Someone that you can really, really trust to disclose these things first. Because it’s really, really deep, but the right person can help you in that slog uphill. And once you get the help you need, you’ll be on that peak. I can tell you that you can be free once you get the right help. And that’s why it’s so, so important that we tell someone that we trust and love and can really, really believe in – that we tell someone and we can get the help.
If you could reimagine the stereotypical role model for men now, what would it look like?
Oh, wow. You know, I would say the new male role model is, like I said, very vulnerable. But also he is cognizant of equality. Very, very cognizant, because this is the thing too, when you’re talking about that old model, and because of the way I grew up, there were a lot of guys who, especially in sports or in business, if they win, or they have any sort of success, they act like ‘now I am above you, you all are my pawns and you are my slaves.’ But especially when the MeToo movement started, you started to learn that success is the warmest place to hide, where people were doing very, very heinous things to other people, because they felt they could. The new model will always recognize that even with success, that never makes you better than another person.
How it is too many times, is that while you’re winning, you’re better. But the inevitability was that when you lose, now you’re worse. And what happened is I noticed so many athletes that were committing suicide, that were drinking themselves to death, that could not get out of a hole. Because you are now right there with your losses. And so you are low now, so you’re lower than everybody else. If you just recognize, hey, you know, a bad day is just a bad day. A good day, it’s just a good day. But we are all equal. Like that does not add anything to you as a human being and it doesn’t take away anything from you as a human being. That’s the main thing I tell my kids is that you are not better than anybody. And you’re not worse than anybody. You only have to keep that in mind and it keeps a good perspective.
How is your wife doing in her recovery?
She’s doing great. She’s now 100 per cent cancer-free. The thing I admire about my wife is that she’s a warrior. We decided at the beginning of the year that we were going to do full physicals and just make sure as we got older that we were okay, you know, because I plan to be here for a long time. And it shocked us all when she got the diagnosis of breast cancer and we were just going ‘what?’ It was stage one, and she just said, “let’s go, let’s attack.” She ended up getting a double mastectomy. But it was pre-COVID, which was so good because it was right before the quarantine and stay-at-home orders, she was in the hospital and had it done. And I spent the whole break, the whole quarantine, basically taking care of her. And now she is back. And I’m just so proud because they say the fact that you had the early detection, and being aggressive and being very proactive in your own care will save your life 99 times out of 100, and now she’s 100 per cent cancer-free. It feels good man, I’m just very, very happy it was detected and she did something about it.