- Getty Images
- Terry Crews has built a career by doing everything from action movies (“The Expendables”) and comedy series (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), to being a game-show host (“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”) and pitchman (Old Spice).
- But at one point, after playing in the NFL, he was broke and had a job sweeping floors at a factory.
- Now, he’s one of the most recognizable faces on the planet – and even has a furniture line.
Terry Crews learned the hard way that you should never take an opportunity for granted.
He was 11 years old when a woman at his church, impressed by his drawing ability, offered to have him create a sign for her storefront. She would give him $25 for the work, which for a kid from a blue-collar family in Flint, Michigan was quite a pay day. He was told to complete the sign within a week.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be easy!'” Crews recalled to Business Insider in a recent interview. “So I spent the week watching cartoons, hanging out, playing around, and the day before it was due I started. But the paint wasn’t sticking to the canvas, everything was going wrong, it was awful. The woman showed up at the house and looked at it and was like, ‘I’ve never been more disappointed.’ I was crushed. I didn’t put any effort into it. I vowed to work hard after that. I never wanted anyone to have that disappointment in me again.”
And Crews’ career proves that he’s never forgotten that life lesson.
From being the face of Old Spice commercials to his memorable roles in movies (“Idiocracy,” “The Expendables”) and TV (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), thanks to his hulking size matched with his comedic talents, Crews, 49, has gone from being broke after a lackluster career in the NFL, to being an actor who seems to always have a new goal he’s chasing down.
And recently Crews also stood up and became part of the #MeToo movement – the viral wave on social media denouncing sexual misconduct in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Late last year, Crews said in a series of tweets that a Hollywood executive groped him at a party in 2016. This, and subsequent statements and interviews, led to Crews being included in Time magazine’s Person of the Year: “Silence Breakers.”
For this piece, Crews took Business Insider through some of the landmark moments of his career to show that when it comes to his brand, as he puts it, “I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied.”
Broke and sweeping floors in a factory after quitting the NFL
Terry Crews’ career in the NFL was not a memorable one. Basically a glorified tackling dummy in the league after being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round in 1991, Crews also played for the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. He walked away from the game after being on the practice squad for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1996. He played a total of 32 games over his 5-year career.
With no other career to fall back on, Crews tried to get into acting, but quickly realized having the NFL on his resume didn’t equal instant success.
“It was a big shock to me,” Crews said about not finding immediate fame in the entertainment world. “I moved to Los Angeles thinking that because I was a football player, I was going to get a lot of big opportunities. They didn’t even have a football team then, nobody cared!”
Crews said he spent a year broke, and had to get a job sweeping floors at a factory to make ends meet.
“I realized I had to start all over again,” he said. “I gotta sweep these floors and make sure they are clean but I also felt like I was doing something about the situation. It was a gut check.”
Finding his big break in “Friday After Next”
- New Line Cinema
With no acting experience but a lot of desire, Crews got himself into auditions thanks to his size and outgoing personality. It led to him being cast on the syndicated show “Battle Dome” in 1999 – think a combination of “American Gladiators” and pro wrestling – where he played the character “T-Money” for two seasons. He also got extra work on movies like “Training Day” and the Matthew Perry comedy “Serving Sara.”
Then in 2002 he got his big break.
After working security on the set of 2000’s “Next Friday,” the sequel to the Ice Cube stoner comedy “Friday,” Cube cast Crews in the third movie, “Friday After Next.” Crews played Damon, an ex-con who basically was the intimidating presence in the movie (as Tommy “Tiny” Lister’s Deebo character was in the first two movies).
But Crews took the character to a whole new level and became a standout in the movie. This was particularly because his Damon character is sexually attracted to another male character, Money Mike (Katt Williams), a storyline that at the time in black culture was very taboo.
“I remember talking to Katt and saying, ‘If this is the last thing we ever do, they can love us or they can hate us, but we have to make sure they never forget us,'” Crews said. “That was our whole mantra. Do something that will just make everyone’s eyes bug out.”
And they did just that. Crews said he pushed the homosexual tendencies of the Damon character to the point that even on set fellow actors thought it was going too far.
However, despite the movie being a box-office bomb (it grossed only $33.3 million worldwide), Crews was one of the highlights.
“At the premiere, Ice Cube came up to Katt and me and he was like, ‘That whole third act with you and Katt takes over the whole movie.'” Crews said. “And I was like, wow. I got respect from people in the industry because I was willing to go all in.”
The Old Spice commercials
Crews’ “all in” approach led him to be a huge part of an advertising campaign that has influenced the way commercials are made today.
In 2010, he began doing commercials for Old Spice deodorant called “Odor Blockers,” and the company’s YouTube channel suddenly became one of the most addictive destinations on the site. Created by the Wieden+Kennedy ad agency and directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” fame, the videos instantly became viral thanks to Crews insanely yelling and screaming while doing bizarre things (with the help of CGI). Whether it was rolling his head down a bowling lane, popping his now-famous pecs, or suddenly appearing in another brand’s commercials, Crews embodied the insanity that made the commercials – as well as Isaiah Mustafa’s equally zany “Smell Like a Man, Man” Old Spice commercials – go on to win advertising awards and spawn countless imitators.
“I remember the first time we shot any of the Old Spice commercials we did three on the same day because we kept coming up with ideas,” Crews said. “I had to sign contracts and fax them to Wieden+Kennedy on set because I was only signed to do one ad.”
“I trusted these guys and it was a magical moment,” Crews continued. “It’s been eight years and I’m still doing them. I’m filming a new one on Thursday!”
President Camacho from “Idiocracy”
- 20th Century Fox
Through the years Crews has played some entertaining characters, but his most memorable (so far) is President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho from the 2006 movie “Idiocracy.”
Though hardly anyone saw the movie when it was released, it’s found a second life on Blu-ray, cable, and streaming. And Crews’ portrayal of the president in a future when corporations are king and everyone is stupid has gotten to cult icon status.
There was even talk of Crews portraying Camacho in some anti-Donald Trump ads that “Idiocracy” director Mike Judge was going to make during the 2016 presidential campaign. But Crews balked, saying he would only do it if all the candidates were made fun of.
Looking back now, Crews feels he’s protective of the Camacho character because of how it can be shaped to any political agenda – none of which the actor wants to be a part of.
“People are way more complex than Republican and Democrat, and that’s what I love about ‘Idiocracy,’ it just told the truth,” Crews said. “That’s the comedy I like to do. I still think there’s room to do Camacho stuff, I would love to. But I want to also just tell the truth and then let it lay.”
Recently, Crews’ steadiest work has been playing Detective Sergeant Terence “Terry” Jeffords for five seasons on the Fox comedy series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
And if you’re wondering, no, it’s not a coincidence Crews’ character is named Terry on the show.
“We designed the role for Terry, we named the character ‘Terry’ just to tell him how much we wanted him to do it,” Michael Schur, co-creator/executive producer of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” told Business Insider in an email. “Everything about Terry Crews is impressive – his talent, his work ethic, his courage, his activism, everything. In fact, his biceps are the least impressive thing about him, which is saying something.”
There is no better place than TV for actors to work on their craft, and Crews is appreciative of the show for that – and for the incredible response he’s received from the show’s fans over the years.
“One woman told me she watches ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ because her son passed away and they enjoyed watching it together,” Crews said. “So when she watches it now it brings her back to that time. You start to realize the influence. This is beyond me.”
- Bernhardt Design
That’s right, Terry Crews has furniture named after him.
Crews said he was helping a friend out on a furniture line when he was suddenly offered his own.
“On the [list of] things I want to accomplish, furniture wasn’t on there but art was,” Crews said. “I felt, wait, furniture is art, if you make it it’s art!”
Crews dove into the project, coming up with sketches on his own. It was evident for those working with him that he wasn’t just going to slap his name on anything placed in front of him.
“He had so many solid ideas that the difficult part was choosing which ones to pursue for his first collection,” Jerry Helling, creative director of furniture maker Bernhardt Design – which is doing Crews’ line – told Business Insider in an email. “His knowledge of design and his passion for the industry, combined with his artistic skills made him an ideal collaborator.”
Crews’ collection ranges from seating to tables, all inspired by ancient Egypt. A second collection will be coming out in the spring.
Using his art skills to make a TV show
Before scoring a football scholarship to attend Western Michigan University, Crews got an art scholarship. He’s also been a courtroom sketch artist (back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan), and even painted portraits of NFL players to earn some extra cash during his playing days (sometimes charging $5,000 a portrait).
Now Crews is trying to combine his passion and his celebrity status to make a show.
He’s prepping a pitch to send around Hollywood of a talk show in which he’ll interview a guest while also sketching them. The pilot has already been shot with his “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” costar Andy Samberg as the guest.
“The pilot looks great, we got a lot of pitch meetings lined up,” Crews said. “Our biggest thing is will the show be 30 minutes, or 10 minutes, or even a couple of minutes? We can tailor to whoever wants it. So we’re keeping it open to any format.”
Time magazine Person of the Year: “Silence Breakers”
Recently, the biggest thing on Crews’ mind has been an incident that happened to him at a party back in 2016, he said.
In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations this past October, Crews was one of the many who spoke out about sexual harassment.
Through a series of tweets, the actor said that a “high level Hollywood executive” groped him at a party he attended with his wife.
Crews later revealed that the exec he was talking about was Adam Venit, head of the motion picture department at the talent agency William Morris Endeavor. The same agency represented Crews (the actor has since left WME). After a one-month suspension, Venit went back to work at WME and was demoted.
Crews, who has since filed a report with the LAPD alleging Venit sexually assaulted him, was later named as one of the “Silence Breakers” in Time’s Person of the Year issue.
Looking back on the past months, Crews said telling his story was “a good thing” because it revealed who really was in his corner.
“I found out who my friends really were through this thing,” Crews said. “There were a lot of people that I thought were behind me and weren’t. I didn’t cry in my bed, ‘Oh, I’ve been betrayed,’ as a businessman the difficult times revealed who was there for me and who wasn’t.”
“I’m thankful,” Crews continued, “because I would have gone for years thinking these people had my back. I would have just kept going. Sometimes you don’t see until something weird happens, and it doesn’t get weirder than what happened to me.”