Interview: Terry Crews of "Gamer"
Mon, 31 Aug 2009 11:58:15
Terry Crews Videos
Terry Crews is a fan first and foremost, and that's what makes him such a great actor.
Sitting in a screening room after watching his latest film, Gamer [Lions Gate Films], his enthusiasm and excitement are palpable and infectious.
With a wide smile, Crews exclaims, "I've never seen anything like that, and I'm a big science fiction dude! I love it!"
Crews has everyone reason to love the film—as a sci-fan and one of its stars. Gamer is like Blade Runner meets Halo, a groundbreaking and visionary action flick with buckets of blood and a deep plot line. In the film, Crews gets to play the most villainous and violent of the bad guy bunch—Hackman. He's personally joined the film's futuristic reality game show, "Slayers," in order to become its champion, which means taking out current lead scorer—Gerard Butler's Kable.
Kable and the other "Slayers" are controlled by competitors like characters in a video game, but their lives are on the line…A pulse-pounding thrill ride ensues.
Crews talked to ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino about his own sci-fi fascination, why Gamer rules, how he became Hackman through music, his turn in The Expendables and much more in this interview.
Gamer is quite different, but at the same time, it has the feel of an '80s action movie.
By being retro, you can often come up with something new. It's weird because the filmmakers [Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor] are taking something old, reversing it and switching it around. When you look at the movie's structure, you haven't seen it before. However, Running Man, Total Recall and all of those movies definitely influenced Gamer. The trend has always been to go less violent and more safe, but the directors of Gamer didn't do that at all [Laughs]. That's what I love [Laughs]! I was like, "You've got to show everything!" I did a Schwarzenegger movie called The 6th Day, and it was right when Arnold was in his peaceful phase. There wasn't much blood. I was like, "C'mon, man!" That was 2001, almost ten years ago. I'm like, "I want some blood. I want the whole thing!"
After you see those classic action flicks, you want to watch them again and again. Gamer is like that.
I leave theaters often saying, "Damn, I wish I was in that!" [Laughs] Now I can say, "I'm in that!" Not only am I in it, I'm one of the guys trying to kill the main dude [Laughs].
You're the most badass of the bunch too!
It was amazing. To get this opportunity, especially coming from comedy like I have, was incredible. It's very rare for an actor to jump genres, especially in this business where everybody kind of pegs you and puts you in one thing or in another. I appreciate Mark and Brian giving me that shot. It's funny because I have what they call, "The Likability Factor." People remember me, and they laugh. They look at me and say, "Oh yeah, you were funny in White Chicks and that." I want to totally shut that shit down. My character in Gamer is not the funny guy. He is totally a killer. I love the way they made me look and what they gave me to do. They were really good. They let me do whatever I wanted. For the first scene, I said, "I want to go butt naked covered in blood." What's the most violent, nastiest thing you could probably visualize? It's a butt naked guy covered in blood coming after you [Laughs]. Okay, that's pretty nasty. They were like, "Yeah! Let's do it!" Mark and Brian were game for pushing the envelope in every way they could.
What did you like about Hackman when you first read the script?
As an actor you have to think about motivations. Hackman is just ambitious! I don't think he's bad or evil. He doesn't think he's evil or bad. It's the biggest show in the world. It's American Idol, and he wants to be the main guy. The name of the show is "Slayers." To do that, you have to be Hackman. I love the way John Leguizamo throws the story in. He's like, "Yo, he killed a whole bunch of people just to get into the game!" [Laughs] He showed up at the police station and said, "I killed so and so and so and so, I've got to get in here!" He's been training, and he's aiming for the top. He knows Gerard Butler is the guy he needs to take out. I look at Hackman as a very ambitious guy. In the way that this world is set up, he's kind of admirable [Laughs].
He's just trying to get his!
Dude, in the rules of this world, you kill or be killed. So he's determined that he's going to be the killer and you are going to be the victim [Laughs]. It's pretty simple. I don't look at him as an evil guy. There are mind games involved and all kinds of intimidation involved.
It shows perseverance on his part. He keeps going after Kable. He takes over the screen.
Exactly! This movie is relentless pursuit. It's no different in the NFL. I played seven years in the league. The NFL has always run this great line where it's about "family." It's "America's Game," and it's about perseverance and hard work. On the other side, you knock the other guy's head off. That's the mission. They'll tell you, "Don't hit like this. Be careful. We want everybody to be safe." But then they sell the video of the hardest hits of the year where guys can't stand afterwards. Which one are you selling? You've got to sell both. The advertisers pick up on the family aspect, but the real people and the real fans want to see bone-crushing hits. They want to see—short of death—something they've never seen before. That's where the drama is. Look, if you couldn't lose, is it possible to win? The whole point is they want to see the biggest and baddest brothers fight it out to the end. They would call that a good game at the end.
Is preparing for a role similar to getting psyched up to hit the field?
This role was really dark for me. I was glad that I was able to be on location because I don't know if I could've come home a lot doing this role. I would've had to either have stayed in a hotel or somewhere else because you can't just go out to the park or the beach with your kids and go right into being Hackman. You know what I mean? It's really hard. We were sequestered a little bit in New Mexico, and I would just go into the hotel and feel my surrounding out. The best thing is, they blew up all of downtown Albuquerque [Laughs]. It was totally a mess. That kind of put you in the mood. It was more of an apocalyptic thing. I'm the antithesis to Gerard's character, and I felt like that. Every scene, I felt like I wanted to take this dude out. We're real cool, but it really was that kind of challenge and he felt it too. It's almost like when you play married, you've got to fall in love a little bit. If you're playing like you hate somebody, you've got to hate them a little bit [Laughs].
It's driven by that healthy competition.
In that last scene, Gerard kneed me right in my eye, for real [Laughs]. My whole face just swelled up. I think I have a picture of it on my phone, which is so crazy. It was the real deal. All I could think of was don't pass out because everybody's going to say Gerard Butler kicked my ass [Laughs]. That male ego is a very strong thing [Laughs]. "He passed out, and Gerard beat his ass!" [Laughs].
Gerard's done some romantic comedies, you can't be having that!
[Laughs] I would never hear it down, especially after surviving all of those years in the NFL. My eye was totally swollen. I took a picture in the hotel. It was brutal, man! Just straight up! I woke up and took a picture of that. The first day it was totally shut. I remember saying, "You've got to use that take in the movie." They were all worried. I was like, "You've got to make me a promise you use that in the movie."
So how did you get into Hackman's head?
Wow, for this guy, I got ready in the gym. I would listen to a lot of N.W.A. and the most violent songs they put out. I would listen to Marilyn Manson and other things that would put me in a really twisted mindset. It got a little dark—The Cure. I was spinning the darkest things you could think of, stuff about suicide and killing. It was kind of wild. You can't just jump into this character. I would put this really violent rap song on. I remember listening to one with Lil Jon and Ice Cube called "Real Nigga Roll Call." I would hear this in my head and I would become Hackman, straight up! Once you got that mindset together and those songs start playing, Cube's voice is coming through, and it was kind of a scary place. After the movie was over I found myself having to unwind and listen to very happy songs. I had a nice little bit of Kenny G going on [Laughs]. I had to decompress with the corniest things I could think of [Laughs]. Music did a lot. I remember sitting for at least an hour. I'd sit in the trailer, put the songs on and I had them blasting. They'd come bang on the door, and I'd say, "Okay, I'm ready."
It's not just what you say, in acting, you really have to emote with your whole being.
Yup, totally. That's what acting is pretty much. They talk about acting being reacting, but it's really just you. It's you in this particular situation. You're basically doing what you would do if you had the same background and information that the character has. That's pretty much what it is. I've felt like Hackman before. I think everybody can understand a guy like that. Even in Hollywood, you see the crazy ambition people have and the lengths that they'll go to for fame, for money and for this whole thing. A lot of people don't make it. A lot of people use drugs for inspiration—especially in the arts. It always does guys in. It's a trade off.
That's like selling your soul, really. You've got to maintain your integrity first. You've got to be true to yourself. People come to you when you're ready. You can't skip chambers or steps.
But people try to do it all the time. There is no easy way out—or easy way in. Everything must be earned. That's something that really hit me because there are a lot of people that I started out with, in football and in the entertainment business, that aren't here anymore because they were trying to skip steps. You have to earn it. I'm thankful for a lot of the obstacles because they made me stronger. I've had a lot of obstacles in this business. People want to peg me in certain spots. I think just by remaining humble and being willing to learn, I was able to overcome and get chances like this. The key is longevity and staying around. I would like to look at my career as a body of work as opposed to each different event.
When you do persevere and get that success, it means so much more. You have to keep banging on the door. When it happens, it's the most inspiring.
It does. I'm going to tell you right now, I'm not afraid to push it. I want to push the envelope. I'm not afraid of looking silly. I have my family and they're the support that I need at home. I do whatever the project needs and the story needs. I never feel like it's about me. I never take a part because of money. That doesn't enter my mind. Me, I'm like, "I'm in. You've got me. What do you need?" That's pretty much my philosophy about the deal. You mentioned skipping steps, people pay all of this money for all this publicity hype but they don't have any work. There's no work there. I think, "What are you going to do when the dust settles and there's no career?" My thing is, I'm just building the work. I'm building the work. I don't have to worry about trying to get covers and trying to do this stuff because it'll take care of itself. Even the fact that we're sitting here right now, I would rather it be because of the project more than I paid someone to make me this way.
You're a true fan, and you love movies, most importantly. It's inspiring.
This movie will make you determined. Crowds will say, "If this stuff's going to be real, I need to be ready!" People are going straight to the gym and the gun range from this flick.
You have to love this stuff first off.
Totally, I'm a big sci-fi fan. Gamer is ultimate science fiction. This is what it's about. People think science fiction is spaceships and all of that. This is what this is. It's like seeing the future—things that are here and how they could develop. That's the coolest thing ever. I was like, "Whoa," just the concept alone you see how it got made.
It's like Blade Runner meets Halo.
Totally, that's hot! As a fan, you've got to love it. To see it totally depicted with Gerard Butler as the main guy is incredible. I was like the biggest 300 fan of all-time. Dude, I cried at 300. That's weird [Laughs]. I was like, "Yo, I'm all in! I'm invested! This is what it's about, giving your life for one thing!" When I saw Gerard and I finally got to meet him, I was in that 300-fan mode. After that I said, "Now, I have to kill him! I've got to kill Leonidas." That made it like I've got to come all out. It's weird what movies. It's like our new religion in a lot of ways.
We can escape through them and learn about ourselves.
It's true because questions hapen. You will leave this movie questions, "What if this did really happen? You'll play a game and you'll wonder, am I changing? What's my morality like?" I often think about Grand Theft Auto and the whole Rockstar Games phenomenon. Does it change you? Are you desensitized? I don't know. That's a question that you have to answer. Some people would say No, but a lot of people would say I'm a little different.
Do you feel that there are others who might be influenced?
I think it all comes to down to the individual.
You see my man sitting on the beanbag in the movie. That's the reality for some people, they don't even move. I love the genre though. My favorite movie of all-time when I was a kid was The Thing. The effects were incredible. When I was a kid, that was the first R-rated movie that my mother ever let me see. It became my favorite thing ever. I literally went from the apple dumpling gang to The Thing! I was floored. After that I said I wanted to be a special effects artist. That's where I started my love of movies spawned from that. I was a painter and an artist. I would draw pictures of monsters, and I would get Fangoria magazine and all that stuff. That put me on a positive spin. It was more artistic. I could look at this like, "that was a beautiful shot the way they made her head explode!" [Laughs] That was hot!
When you leave a film feeling like you want to create something, that's the best thing. That's what art is supposed to do.
You can either be motivated or sedated. TV can motivate you or it can sedate you. Same with the Internet, music or video games. Either you're sedated by it or motivated by it, and those are the questions you have to ask yourself. I'm with it.
How is The Expendables coming?
I'm going to tell you right now. Get ready, because we've been blowing up New Orleans [Laughs]. We've been blowing up Brazil, we spent some time in Brazil. I've actually got to go back to New Orleans to film some more. Stallone has said this is it for me. You can almost see it in his eyes. He's said I want this to be my last hurrah. It's almost like Patton looking over the field. If there was one last war I needed to fight and this would sum up everything I'm about, this is what it is. He's calling it. Only his name and firepower could pull together all these people. It's insane. It's wonderful, man. I can't wait. Jet Li, Jason Statham, Stallone, Randy Couture, myself, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Schwarzenegger with a cameo, and there's more than that. It keeps coming. I'm very excited to be a part of that group. To be a member of The Expendables I'm with it! I just told Stallone I don't want to let him down. I'm proud of this movie. Not to mention, my character has one of the best names of all-time in movie history—Hale Caesar! I don't know anything that can compare to that name [Laughs].