Terry Crews Tells Us How To Be a Better Man

Credit: Photo by Piper Ferguson

Terry Crews makes it look easy. And by "it" we mean, well, just about anything. While the Flint, Michigan native may be best known for resurrecting Old Spice with his quirky slate of pec-perfect commercials and stealing scenes from some of Hollywood's best-known actors in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Expendables, and Everybody Hates Chris, there's more to this modern Renaissance Man than an enviable physique and perfect comedic timing.

In addition to playing himself as host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and January's World's Funniest Fails, Crews is also a critically acclaimed author, an artist, a fitness guru, an ambassador of the Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that fights against modern slavery, and — perhaps most importantly — a devoted husband and father of five. And while those are just a few of his official titles, unofficially he's also world-class philosopher who has channeled his entire 46 years of life experience into making himself into a better man with a "try everything" mindset that just may land him atop a tractor one day in the near future.

We spoke with Crews about finding the balance between work and family, how working out is like showering, and why he's determined to add "Farmer" to his business card.

Congratulations on the new hosting gig with World's Funniest Fails. Are you a viral video fan?
Yes I am. It happens if you've got kids, and I have five. My 16-year-old is always like, "Dad, come here. You've got to see this." And then you turn around and two hours have gone by and you've jumped into a rabbit hole of videos and watching people get hit and fall. It's one of those things where you can't look away.

What is the one normal human fail that makes you laugh every time you see it?
I've got to say, it's the shot to the groin. When people get hit in the nuts! People never get tired of watching other people get hurt.

As long as you're not the target.
Yes and as long as nobody gets seriously injured. As long as no one dies and they can get up and laugh it off, I'm good. Because it happens to all of us. The thing about comedy is that you recognize things that happen to you, and that's what makes you laugh.

You seem to be able to find funny in most situations. To what or to whom do you attribute your own sense of humor?
My mom. My mother is very funny. We would watch Carol Burnett growing up and those are some of the best memories I have. She has a great sense of humor. She never took herself seriously, and she never took us seriously, so there was always a mood of comedy in our house. If anybody got caught doing something dumb, it was always put on blast. My mother was always about that and I am about that. People always go, "You don't look like the guy who would be in comedy," but this is where I came from. This is who I am. I am a comedic actor.

You played in the NFL for several years before coming to Hollywood. What made you decide to transition from athlete to actor?
It's funny because I wasn't trying to act at all; I was trying to get behind the scenes as a creator. A friend of mine invited me to an audition and I thought I was too good for that. Like, "I am a writer. I am a creator. I am not that kind of guy." Little did I know that my future was in front of the camera. I tell everybody all the time: You have to try everything just to see if it's for you. Imagine if Kobe Bryant had never grabbed a basketball? You never know what your destiny is unless you try and that is why I try everything. A lot of people are shocked wondering, "Why is he doing this? Why is he doing that?" It's because I am just seeing if I really like it. And it turns out I love it.

Is it true that even before you were an actor or an athlete, you were an artist?
Exactly. Painting, drawing. I had an art scholarship before I had a football scholarship, so I still have that mindset where it's kind of like with a sketch: You have to keep sketching until you get that perfect image. It's the same thing with your life, and the same thing with acting — you have to keep going and trying everything until it works. You have to forget the failures and remember the success.

You're a bit of a Renaissance Man as far as Hollywood is concerned. In addition to being an athlete, actor, television host, and artist, you're also an author, father of five and husband. Which of these roles requires the most work?
I would definitely say husband, because that's the foundation from which everything else grows. I like to tell people, "Terry Crews is actually two people. It's me and my wife." I depend on her so much as to where I go and what I do and for approval. Because on my own, I would only do a little bit; I probably would have only done about five percent of what I've done. And the truth is that most single guys are like that. When you're single there is really no reason to get out of bed to be honest with you. It's kind of like, "Whatever. I'm going to play this video game." But the whole thing about having a wife and family is that it pushes you so far beyond what you think you can do and gives you a reason to do things. It gives you impetus and inspiration. My wife is my inspiration. So that's the hardest role. That's the one that takes the most energy and then the rest just starts to come. Without her support, it's hard to do it.

How many years have you been married?
Almost 26 years. We have 25-and-a-half years.

With so much going on in your professional life how do you find and set that balance between work and family?
People always talk about "balance" and I think that balance is really doing what you love. And if you love your family, you have to prioritize. That's really the better term, because there are times in life when you need to spend more time with your family and there are times when you need to spend more time at work, so your life can't be even that way. So you have to prioritize. Once I determine what the most important thing is, I learn how to cut out the stuff I don't need to be doing and things that are really wasting my time. I used to spend four hours on a Sunday watching a football game until I realized that I can watch the whole NFL in a half an hour on an ESPN highlight reel. You didn't miss one thing.

Would you mind telling my husband that?
Don't have him hate me, that's all I'll say. [Laughs.] But that's the way it is for me. I realized that I could spend all day Sunday with my family and catch up on football in a half-an-hour watching SportsCenter and then I am out. And you realized you just got both done. But the priority was the family.

Fitness is obviously an important part of your life and your career. I know you've noted in the past that you work out about two hours a day. Do you have a regular routine?
Yes. I know a lot of times magazines and different people will tell you to switch it up, but I have been doing the same stuff for years. The important thing for me, and what everyone has to remember, is that the habit of working out is more valuable than actually working out. It's like taking a shower: You need to take one every day. The habit of taking a shower needs to happen. You don't take one really good shower and then go the rest of the month without one, but people take that kind of approach to fitness. Where they are like, "Now I am going to do my cross fit for two weeks and then I am not going to work out for another month and then I am going to do something else with the weights and do the same thing." I treat the gym like my spa time, so it's extremely important to me. Extremely important. I literally lay out my clothes the night before so that I can just jump into them. There have been times where I am at the gym and I wonder how I got there. It's such a habit…it's thoroughly ingrained in my consciousness.

What are some of the exercises that you really love?
I love power cleans. It's a full, all-over exercise — the legs, the shoulders, the arms, the lower back. It's a dead lift that goes into a press and comes back down. It's all push and pull at the same time and it's a cardio workout the way I do it because you really do a lot at once. You do a lot of reps, so you are winded. If the Cro-Magnons were doing one exercise, they were doing power cleans.

Your pecs have sort of become celebrities in their own right?. What is the one exercise that's most helpful in that area?
You've got to bench press. It's been a little overrated where you get a big bench and all of a sudden you're the coolest guy. I really, really am about varying it up, so I do lots of push-ups. More so than the bench, the push-up is the best thing ever. You just have to be able to handle your own weight and do it effectively. You could be stranded on a deserted island and still do some push-ups, pull-ups, or sit-ups and run around it and you will be in shape.

When you are working and traveling so much, does maintaining a regular workout schedule become a challenge?
It does, but it goes back to prioritizing. Thank god we are in a day where there are gyms everywhere because I look back before Arnold's days it was hard to even think about having a weight room in a hotel. But I remember doing security back in the day before I was an actor and I would have to stand on set for 12 hours straight, but what I would do is run in place and then I would do push-ups and sit-ups and I would find a bar or somewhere I can hang and do pull-ups and that was my workout. And this was all while I was doing security. Of course I would make sure no one was looking so that I wouldn't get fired.

That would be the perfect place for a sleep chin-up!
Yeah, the sleep chin-ups work. They work! Let me tell you.

Earlier this year, you released your first memoir, Manhood: How to be a Better Man — Or Just Live With One, which has gotten a lot of praise. Jezebel described you as "one of the most progressive and thoughtful voices in gender criticism" today. So what does it mean to be a man in today's world?
To be a man in today's world you've got to take responsibility for everything in your life, good and bad. I have had women come to me and say, "Wait a minute, that sounds like an adult. That sounds like a woman!" I say, "Yeah, it's true. But no one ever asks me what it takes to be a woman!" But the truth is it applies to any adult. Now it sounds very simple and sounds like something you do automatically, but I found in my own life that I did not do that. I had blamed so many other people for why I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing or why this didn't happen. I was a victim in a lot of ways. You say, "Hey man, I can do anything. I can be anyone," and then you turn around and you go "It's racism is the reason I can't do this" or "It's the lack of financial opportunity" and this and that. The problem with being a victim is that you can always find a reason; you can always find an excuse as to why something didn't work for you. You never run out of excuses. It's like, "Oh, it's nighttime" or "Oh, it's daytime." [Laughs.] It's a reason. But when you get rid of every reason and every excuse, that's taking responsibility.


What's the simplest way a person can become a better man?
The first thing by far is to kick pride out. We have always been taught that is pride is good. We have been taught to take pride in your body, or take pride in this and that. But the real thing is that pride is probably killing you. Because most men are too proud to say they need help. Most men are too proud to humble themselves and actually listen to their wives or a best friend or another person who actually is trying to help them. And pride is the foundation of a fool, because when a person is proud you can‘t tell him anything. You can't! The first step to being a better man is to humble yourself and get rid of your pride and all of a sudden you are going to see the world as it really is. And it's a scary place, it's a very scary thing, but you will instantly — in a millisecond — become a better man.

In writing the book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered about yourself?
Just looking at all the things I've done and been through. I just felt, man, I think I've lived like five different lives. As you go it's kind of a retrospective, but I talked to my wife and I am like, "Babe, we've done so much!" Until you can take that inventory and see how far you've come from where you started, you realize that you have no reason to ever complain. I can only be thankful because I look at where I started and where I am. And that's another thing: Once you are in that spot or have a little success, it can get a little, "Yeah, it's supposed to be." But when you really look at what your story is, there is no way you are supposed to be doing what you are doing. I don't care how successful you are. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong... So writing the book made me very thankful.

How did your wife react when you told her that you were named one of People's Sexiest Men Alive for the third year in a row?
You get the eye roll and, "None of those people live with you! You're only sexy from over there." It's so funny, my wife had a crush on Dwayne Johnson — big time. She was going to see Walking Tall and I was like, "You never see this movie. Never!" and she said, "Yeah, well I want to see this one." So when I worked with him on Get Smart, I brought him over and told him, "Dwayne, my wife has had the biggest crush on you forever." He just laughed over the whole thing. But she was like, "God, you ruined the whole thing. Now I know him, and it's over. The sexiness is done now." Sexiness is only involved with someone far away.

In your profile for People and the video you made with Joel McHale and Ioan Gruffudd, you address The Scruff Epidemic and make the case for facial hair. So what is the key to knowing exactly how much hair one's face can handle?
You've got to look in the mirror, but the mirror lies. So you've got to take a selfie. And when you see your mouth and it starts to get covered, at first you think "Wow, this fresh scruff beard is looking real cool" and then you turn around and go, "Man I look like a gangster hipster." And that is not a good look. When your facial hair starts scratching your kids, that's a sign that you may need to take it down a notch.

You've done so much already, but is there one industry left that you have yet to conquer but plan to?
You know I am doing some real estate development right now in the Detroit area actually, as I am from Michigan, and it's been a really, really cool experience. There are some great opportunities there. But my big dream, and it's so weird, is that I want to own a farm. And I mean I want cows, chickens, horses, pigs — the whole thing. I want to have a working farm.

Donald Trump meets Jim Perdue.
I can't get it out of my head. It's going to happen. I know it is. Because once I start thinking that way I know for sure that it's around the bend. I will never stop performing, and never stop entertaining, but there is no reason you can't try other things.