Terry Crews is anything but predictable. Whether he’s bouncing between disparate roles in “The Newsroom” and “Arrested Development” or inviting you to interview him from the “America’s Got Talent” makeup room while he’s getting his head shaved, the former NFL linebacker turned SAG Award-nominated actor is always, always, always pushing himself to try something new.
“I have a rule: I only do what I love,” Crews told IndieWire. “I’ve turned down crazy money for commercials and things that I don’t want to represent. It’s just I only do what I like, and that’s it.”
Knowing the entertainment industry is a fickle business, Crews has spread the love around, from action franchises, long-running TV series, weird indies, memorable commercials, his own video game, and much, much more. But his latest passion lies in yet another unexpected space: How did Terry Crews go from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” to hosting “America’s Got Talent”?
For one, Terry’s got a bit of talent himself.
“When we were casting [‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’], he was already killing it so hard,” Andy Samberg told IndieWire. “I think he’s been given more opportunity to flex his acting muscles — I can’t believe I said that, it was inadvertent — and has been able to show more sides of his performance ability. But I think it was always there.”
But why hosting? After finding success as an actor, why push his way into another profession?
“Being an old football player, I realized that you don’t make tackles for the money or all of the accolades — you do it for the cheers,” he said. “You do it for the crowd participation. That’s the one thing I missed [after football]. I was always jealous of comedians because they get that response when they do a show — they get those laughs right [away].”
Crews missed the feedback so much he would sneak into the back of movie theaters to hear what audiences thought of his movies. He didn’t trust the industry folks laughing at the premiere screening — “The premiere is a lie” — and guesting on talk shows were equally unfulfilling. He needed more reaction, and knowing he wasn’t ready to be a stand-up comedian, Crews asked himself what’s the next best thing.
“I remember when I hosted my first live show, someone said, ‘Man, what does it feel like doing a New Year’s Eve in front of 200,000 people?’ I was like, ‘No man, there’s 10 million people watching.’ So now, I want the biggest audience possible, the biggest test, and it’s so satisfying when you do it well. I was like, I got to get more. And then I got hooked.”
Crews said he took every opportunity he could get to host in order to get people to see him that way. He co-hosted “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” telecast in 2014, guest hosted on “The View” that same year, and snagged his first awards hosting gig on the 2015 TV Land Awards. From there, he hosted episodes of “World’s Funniest,” the American spin on “Ultimate Beastmaster,” and guested on prominent ongoing talk shows like “The View” and “The Talk.”
None of these roles demand the same attributes. Some are loud, action-driven spectacles that demand an energy to match, while others are soft-spoken, mid-day discussion pieces where the host has to step aside to make room for the guests. But Crews said he thrives on feeling uncomfortable by new challenges.
“It’s going to feel like hell. The problem is that people feel like things should feel right. What I realized is that it usually feels very, very wrong, but you’re in the right place. And as long as you look at all the things that you wanted to do and [accept] it’s going to feel awkward, that’s where the magic is. I learned not to trust it. You don’t trust everything feeling great.”
Between 2014 and 2015, Crews pushed himself to new levels of endurance, hosting nearly 200 episodes of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” at the same time he was starring in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Anyone who’s been on a broadcast sitcom will tell you that gig alone is a full-time job, so Crews wasn’t popping over to “Millionaire” just for kicks and giggles. He wanted to host, and the long-running game show gave him a shot.
“I did ‘Millionaire’ on the East Coast, and ‘Brooklyn’ was done right here on the West Coast,” Crews said. “That was an immense journey. […]
To get through such a grinding schedule, Crews thought like a football player — he used his background in athletic training to get in the right mindset and excel; a trick he still uses now.
“I’m coachable,” he said. “I want all the feedback.” And even when he gets advice from others, Crews watches tape of himself — just like football players after a game — to pick apart every mistake and high point so he can get better the next time out.
“The first pass is a horror pass, where it’s like everything you did wrong highlighted,” Crews said. “And you cry, [but] then you do a pass that is all about the great things you just did. It’s always going to end on the great things. […] I have my wife do it, too. She’s like ‘Well, you know honey, I think you shouldn’t have done that little pelvic thrust in that moment.’ I’m like ‘Maybe a little too much, huh?’ She’s like, ‘Yeah maybe.'”
All that work paid off when he got to host “America’s Got Talent: The Champions.” A spinoff from the successful original series, “AGT: Champions” allowed Crews to get comfortable hosting with a massive audience. He credits Simon Cowell for pushing Crews to be himself and “challenge” the longtime judge to see the show in a different light.
“I would do something where I thought, ‘If this doesn’t work, I’m fired,'” Crews said. “All of a sudden, [Cowell] was like, ‘No, I love it — I love it!’ So I thought, ‘Damn, go with those instincts, man.'”
Crews started becoming more active in the series, helping the contestants get ready for their talent showcase and trusting himself to be an additive presence instead of a baseline.
“I would tell acts, ‘Hey man, it’s not nerves — it’s excitement,'” he said. “They’d go out there and do a great job, and then I feel like I created the atmosphere. Where before, I would do the job [thinking] ‘You don’t want to interfere.’ But man, if you interfere positively, [it’s good]. If you see a wet spot on the floor, hey, you got to interfere.”
Now, he’s on the main show: Crews is hosting the new season of “America’s Got Talent,” and he couldn’t be more thrilled.
“The cool thing is that whatever they need me to be, that’s what I am,” he said. “It’s the biggest platform on the world’s biggest talent show, and I’m the biggest host — pound for pound, you know?”
Crews’ colleagues appreciate his distinct personality and make the most of it on-air; his “AGT” family cracks loving jokes during competition, and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” showrunner Dan Goor mined Crews’ history to flesh out his fictional police persona.
“He has such an interesting backstory and there are so many interesting characteristics about real Terry — some of which we’ve stolen for Terry Jeffords — which are so compelling,” he said. “Like, he’s a very accomplished fine artist and has the spirit of an artist, but is as muscular as an NFL player.”
“Quite literally,” Samberg said.
Next up, Crews is taking yet another unexpected turn: his first leading role in a feature, playing the eponymous “John Henry” in Will Forbes independent drama.
“I read it, I was like ‘I’m in,’ and they green lit the whole thing,” he said. “We spent two or three weeks down in South Central [Los Angeles] shooting the whole deal — micro budget, everybody bringing their own craft service, you know what I mean? But that’s it — that’s the joy. […] It’s really risky. Everybody’s like, ‘Why? You could have done some big safe thing.’ I was like, nope. [This] is very, very different for me, but that’s the challenge. That keeps the life exciting.”
Terry Crews is eligible for “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” in the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program category. He is also hosting IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch. “America’s Got Talent” premieres Tuesday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.