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If heavy-set guys and goofy faces offer the typical countenance of a comedic actor, Terry Crews outwardly seems like one of the least-funny guys in Hollywood. Between his chiseled physique, imposing presence and good looks, Crews better fits the profile of a dramatic leading man, or perhaps more conventionally, action hero. But in the past decade, he has proved his mettle alongside some of the funniest personalities in the entertainment industry, and continues to demonstrate both incredible talent and shrewd calculation in finding opportunities that expand his commercial appeal while creatively challenging him.
Crews sat down with Spinoff Online at Comic-Con International to discuss his latest project, Sony Pictures Animation’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, where he takes over the role of Earl Devereaux from Mr. T. In addition to talking about the inspirations for his version of the character, he discussed his feelings about the idea of food that not only falls from the sky, but turns into sentient animals, and perhaps most importantly, offered some thoughts about what he won’t do as a comedian – in particular, perform scenes that involve the objectification of women, or aim their humor at someone other than him.
Spinoff Online: Maybe just to get started, talk about stepping into the Mohawk, so to speak, by taking over the role of Earl Devereaux from Mr. T.
Terry Crews: First of all, it’s T. If you’re talking Mr. T, all I have to say to people is, where were you the first time you saw Mr. T? Rocky III? The A-Team? But the way this is working for me, and I had to think about it: How am I going to do this? It’s big pressure. But it’s like Batman. How many Batmans have we had? How many Supermans have we had? You have to be able to just [say] “OK, we have to be able to continue this thing.” But I’m honored that Sony Animation came to me and said, we feel you’ve got that juice. Because that’s what Mr. T is – he’s juice. He’s a live wire – you can’t even hold him. And to compare me to him is the biggest honor I ever, ever have received. And I didn’t want to caricature Mr. T at all, because it’s a character, Earl. But at the same time, I wanted to bring so much and make it so he would say, “Damn, that’s good.” And he did – he came to me and said, “I’m so proud of you. This is good. If anybody was going to do this, I’m glad it was you. It means a lot to me that it was you.” Me and Mr. T have been friends for years, but he was like, dude, you’re the one. It was an honor, and I think everyone is going to enjoy it. What I gave to it was like a Mr. T-Terry Crews hybrid (laughs).
How carefully did you have to negotiate that? Did you see the character as completely your own, or did you use his performance as a foundation for yours?
Well, it wasn’t about his performance, it was who Earl was. Earl Devereaux is the manliest man ever – and he is the moral compass of Swallow Falls. You can’t do nothin’ around him! And he will not break the law! That doesn’t happen. So it’s almost like setting the parameters and you set the codes, and then you go – like the car is already rolling. And that’s how I felt; it was like, give it everything you’ve got, and that’s pretty much what it was. It wasn’t really about trying to copy his performance – because Mr. T brought it! But it was within the rules of Earl Devereaux. And now it was just about continuing what he was within the ensemble. It was good.
One of the most important elements of Earl was his relationship with Cal. How much does that storyline continue in this film and how much does the focus shift to, maybe as you said, his position as Swallow Falls’ moral compass?
It’s definitely going in a different direction. I think that we do kind of tap on that, but this is more of an adventure movie, because they’re going back in, and this is a whole different deal. They’ve already been through this one major adventure with the creator of this machine that makes all of this food, but the food is now becoming alive – it’s becoming sentient, which is now a whole other thing (laughs). And now, it’s kind of like the new challenges bring out new dramas for everybody, and that’s what’s so cool about this one. It really steps up the game. I like to compare it to there’s Alien, and there’s Aliens. In Alien, it was kind of about the monster, but now it’s like, we’re familiar with the monster – now there’s a million of them, and we’ve got the army! So it’s kind of giving you more of what was already there. To me, for the Comic-Con crowd, that’s the best way to describe this.
When they come to you and say, “We want you to play a cop in a film where food is becoming sentient,” what’s the threshold for you to say, “I’m sorry, that’s just crazy”?
I’m going to tell you one thing. I actually spent two months in Africa – I was making a movie with Adam Sandler – and it made total sense, because everything in Africa is trying to eat you. Dude! They were like, “Look at this beautiful tree,” and you go closer, and there’s one thorn to stab you, and another horn to hook you. And you go, what the–? This is crazy! Because anything that got caught in that tree ain’t getting out. It’s getting stabbed and it’s getting hooked. And I thought, this is not nice! “You can’t swim in that stream, there’s piranha in there.” “You can’t walk over there, the lions are the same color as the bush.” The bush would be right there, and they would say, “There’s a lion.” You’d be like, where, where, and it’s right in front of you – and you don’t see it! That gives me goosebumps right now. And that’s kind of how this feels; you know, when you talk about food being sentient or whatever, it’s like, man anything can happen out here! And I kind of got in that frame of mind, like it was a safari, where it’s like “don’t leave the car,” because you could be food instantly. But at the same time, there was this antelope called kudu, and we were eating that for lunch. I was like, wow – I ate one of those, and they were delicious! So just as much as we were trying to eat them, they’re trying to eat us. So the foodimals make a lot of sense.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who made 21 Jump Street and the original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, told me that Ice Cube was hilarious, but there were things that he wouldn’t say or do. Are there boundaries for the kind of jokes or humor that you’re willing to participate in?
For me, I can do anything that makes fun of me, but where I have a threshold is in objectifying women. I mean, some people think it’s funny, but it tends to demean, and I don’t like jokes at everyone else’s expense. I just don’t like it. I think comedy now has gotten to the point where’s it’s just very psychotic, where you really slaughter people, leave them bleeding, and laugh – and then you walk away. A lot of people think that’s funny, and I like to be the guy that’s made fun of, or be the butt of the joke. Because here I am, I’m in a strong place, I’m a big guy, but when you see someone who’s innocent and small, and then it’s like, “Smack them! Hahahaha.” I never thought that was funny. And with women, women have always been objectified; I’ve seen women do horrible, horrible things in the name of a joke, like, “Here’s a great strip club scene!” But nobody thinks about the repercussions later.
I have four daughters, I’ve been married 24 years, and it’s one of those things where the plight of women in the world has always been more sensitive to me. I think we really need to step it up. It’s like, they’ve been marginalized so much and treated like joke fodder for so long, and it’s not cool. I think that’s why I loved Bridesmaids, because it evened the game; they were just as funny, and they could make fun of themselves, but the guy, like Jon Hamm, was kind of being made fun of, and that kind of thing. So that kind of evened it out a little bit. But I just hate when the guys are like, “Who are we sleeping with now?” It’s just like, I don’t go there. That’s definitely one thing I have told directors before, or I have seen a lot of people say “Terry Crews will do anything” – but that’s not going to happen. And I won’t be objectified either. It’s like, “we want to put you in the bed with this chick, and it will be so funny!” And I’m like, no, I’m not doing that, because it doesn’t really serve a purpose. It just leaves everybody like, ew, okay, we just saw that.
Comedy is riding a fine line right now, and I think that people need to get back to caring about people. And those make the most successfully comedies to me; the thing that’s funny to me is that turn in the movie where the guy really does go, oh wow, I really see where I’m going wrong now. Now people are just blasting people’s heads off, laughing, and then end credits. I’ve had bad times at the theater when that happened.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens Sept. 27.