By Emily Feimster
"Everybody Hates Chris" costar Terry Crews is busy taking it to the next level and he's not turning back -- as he states on his answering machine. The retired-NFL-football-player-turned-actor knows he's got a good thing going with the critically-praised UPN sitcom inspired by the life of comedian Chris Rock. But for Crews, this is just the beginning of what he hopes will be long career.
Born in Flint, Michigan, Crews attended the Interlochen Art Academy and Western Michigan University on an art scholarship, with plans to become a special effects artist in Hollywood. However, during his freshman year he made it onto the football team, which eventually led to a pro career playing for the L.A. Rams, San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins.
After retiring from the NFL in 1997, it was hello Hollywood for Crews and his family. "I came to get behind the scenes," notes Crews. But his plans would change once again after getting the chance to appear in the independent movie "Young Boys Incorporated."
"The film didn't go anywhere but I caught the bug. I was like, 'This is what I want to do,'" he says. "A friend of mine then made me go to an audition for an extreme sports game show called 'Battle Dome' and I got the part. The first thing I ever auditioned for."
It wasn't long before Crews was invited to audition for Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The 6th Day" and was immediately offered the part. "I spent five months in Vancouver and I couldn't believe it. I thought this was easy," he says with a laugh about the entertainment industry. "Then after that, I starved and got turned down for every role I went out for. I had a hard year and a half and I was like, 'Whoa, this ain't easy after all.'" Yeah, buddy, welcome to the real world!
With four kids and a wife to support, Crews had quite a lot of pressure on him to succeed, but eventually the skies parted and the Hollywood heavens smiled down upon him. Since then he's appeared in "White Chicks," "Malibu's Most Wanted," "Starsky & Hutch" and "The Longest Yard." Though very grateful for those parts, nothing has made Crews as excited as playing Julius Rock on "Everybody Hates Chris."
"I feel like we can change the game with this show. I feel like we can be among the greats, but it's still a little early in the game. We never go into work just trying to get a show done, we're always trying to take it to the next level," he gushes.
So what does he feel sets this show apart? "There hasn't been an up-and-coming family making it on TV since 'Roseanne' or 'Good Times.' These shows are very rare," he responds. "We're just a normal family trying to pay the bills. I think that's why people are identifying with the show."
With an early full season pickup and solid ratings, it appears the show is gaining a following of viewers who love it as much as critics. Whatever the future, Crews is determined to make the most of the experience. "I have an opportunity to do what I love. I come home dog tired after a 14-hour day and I don't feel like I've worked a minute. I just feel like it's all play and there's no limit when you can do it like that," claims Crews.
It also doesn't hurt that his boss, Chris Rock, is considered one of the funniest comedians of all time. "I had my family on the set and they had to get them out of the place because he [Rock] started cracking jokes for them. It was like he was on stage. He's that funny and the wittiest man I've ever seen. His life is built around jokes and I've never seen anyone do it better."
As for what Crews hopes to accomplish during his acting career? "I started out in the movie game and I really plan on getting back into doing movies on hiatus and taking that to another level," he says with confidence. In fact, Crews already has another feature in the can -- the Mekhi Phifer-directed comedy, "Easier, Softer Way," about two stoners who go into rehab because it's got beds and cable. Crews plays a rapper in the upcoming flick.
He declares, "I'm not stopping, that's the whole point." Well, he certainly has us convinced.