Terry Crews Talks Crushing Comedy (and the Great American Scallop)

By  · Published on July 20th, 2013

It wouldn’t be a bad bet to wage that there’s no one walking around Comic-Con with more muscles than Terry Crews. I’ve spoken with Crews before over the phone, but interviewing him in person is considerably more emasculating. Not only because the guy is a mammoth of all things brawn, metal, and steel, but because Crews is a guy with charm out the wazoo. I think I could throw some of the meanest insults at the guy and still see a smile on his face.

Or he could crush me with his pinky.

I sat down with Crews at Comic-Con to discuss his work in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, the sequel to the 2009 animated surprise hit. Crews, playing officer Earl Deveraux, is filling in for Mr. T this time around, and while the actor said he had big shoes to fill, I’d say Mr. T couldn’t step into Crews’s boots.

Here’s what Crews had to say about his work on Arrested Development, working in animation, and why Everybody Hates Chris was the best kind of comedy:

Forgive me for starting off with an Arrested Development reference, but is there anything better than the great American scallop?

IS THERE ANYTHING BETTER THAN THE GREAT AMERICAN SCALLOP? Oh, dude, Arrested…I was just saying to some else, I was sitting at home and got a call from Mitch Hurwitz, saying he wants me in one of the top five television shows of all time. I was flipping to get that oppurtunity. To throw me in there already as a fan was great. The show, Mitch, and all those guys are geniuses. It looks there will be some more, hopefully.

Will we see more Herbet Love?

More of Herbert Love? Well, he is in a coma, but he’ll fight his way out.

Was there anybody in particular you based your performance on?

Oh yeah. Of course Herman Cain was the reference, but there’s a bunch of politician-style preachers that I knew that were just like that. Herbert was really living two lives. He’s always saying something else [Laughs]. “I don’t want to be the one to say it, but!” He’d always say something embarrasing. I knew people like that, even with his tone. Herbert Love is dear to my heart. It’s weird, because it was a flipside of President Camacho.

Camacho believed in everything he said.

Yeah, he meant everything he was saying. If he says you’re an asshole, he meant it. When Herbert says “you are a horse’s behind,” he would make it sound like a compliment. It was so cool to play both. Mitch let me run on that. All I can is I’m honored for that. I’ve been in a rare era where people just let me roll. The Wayans did that with White Chicks and the same for a movie with Adam [Sandler] I did over in South Africa.

How about for Earl? Do you know anyone like that?

First of all, Earl is Mr. T’s creation. He gave us everything we needed. When he decided not come back, that was big, big shoes to fill. It’s like, there’s Alien and then there’s Aliens. James Cameron had to take it to a whole other thing, you know? I knew a lot of fans of the first movie were going to be looking for that character, so I was honored they put me in there. I actually hit up Mr. T, like, “Hey man, are we cool?” He gave me his blessing and told me to kill it. I gave it everything I got. I had Mr. T in mind, but I came with my own. Sometimes you have to reinvent it, so it was not a Mr. T impersonation. I have to say, I’m proud with the way it turned out. Bouncing off all those actors was just so…you know, you’re only as good as the people you’re working with.

Which, in terms of finding a rapport, is interesting for animation because you rarely ever have the other actor there to work with.

We were never really together. But, because I was such a fan of the first movie, I knew where everybody was. You just tune right into it. I’ll tell you, whenever someone drops something in my house we do the Baby Brent line, “Uh oh!” [Laughs] When the second one came around, I already knew the mood and how to jump in. I’d hear the other lines from other people, so I knew how to bounce off it.

You’re very much known as being a physical comic onscreen. Is there a challenge in only getting to perform vocally?

Yeah. See, I need to move. There were times I would wreck the booth. They’d say, “That was a great take, but you made so much noise we need to do it again. Terry, try not to clear the podium next time you do that.” [Laughs] It was really hard not to make noise and stay moving. I would shuffle my feet and all that. It’s weird giving it all your energy but without much movement. There was times I lost my voice, though. It’s kind of like the Old Spice spots, you know? You have to give that high energy. Nobody really cares you’re losing your voice [Laughs]. Sometimes it makes it better.

How about for facial expressions? Do they always let you know what face the joke will play with?

We had a huge board of all the faces Earl was making. There was real quick animations of how he moves. You really get the cadence of how the voice should go. The big thing with [directors] Cody and Kris was making sure we got it right, because some things get pieced together, changed while you’re away, and then you have to reread it. Sometimes you’re thrown into scenes all over, but they always kept the context of where we should be. That’s what a good animation director does.

Wasn’t there talk about an animated President Camacho series?

It’s funny, Mike Judge gets dissed a lot. He’s one of the geniuses of our time, so why hasn’t anyone given him what he wants all the time? I used to think, “Man, only black people get dissed! But, no, black people and Mike Judge get dissed!” [Laughs] It’s all black people and Mike Judge sitting over there! We actually came back and did some Camacho shorts for Funny or Die and we’re talking about bringing him back. There’s still a chance for anything. Anything with Mike Judge I’m with.

I have to ask about a show I was a big fan, Everybody Hates Chris. The writing on that show was so consistently good.

Thank you. The thing that was so great about Everybody Hates Chris was it was so grounded in reality. That makes things funnier, you know? A lot of people think you have to go far off to be funny, but the things you laugh at are the things you know. Everyone knows trying to pay rent. No matter how rich you are, there’s times where you go, “I think I blew it this month. I gotta figure something out.” Julius was always trying to figure something out. 90% of the world is trying to figure something out. I thought that was the coolest bit on that show, where it never had, “Wow, we won the lottery! We’re out of the ghetto!” That never happened. It was kind of a downer, but you always knew Chris Rock was going to become Chris Rock. He could get cut from the basketball team, but you know it would be okay. You could laugh all you wanted because you knew that guy was going to grow up to become one of the most successful comedians of all time.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens in theaters on September 27th.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.