Crews' sweet smell of acting success

Not too many guys can claim their NFL playing days as some of the most forgettable of their professional career, but when you've played the Old Spice Odor Blocker, Cheeseburger Eddy and the president of the United States, a few minutes on the gridiron start to lose their luster.

Terry Crews, who played linebacker for the Rams, Chargers and Redskins between 1991 and 1995, is perhaps the prototype athlete-to-actor crossover. When The Life caught up with him, he had just finished a meeting about a reality show he's directing -- not to be confused with his reality show "The Family Crews," which is going into a second season. His TV show with Ice Cube ("Are We There Yet?") premieres on TBS in June and he has three movies due out this year, including the anticipated action blockbuster "The Expendables."

"I'm the real Julius [Rock, his father character with two jobs from "Everybody Hates Chris"]. I have so much stuff going on, it's crazy. Five or six jobs at once, but you gotta do it, though. You gotta do it in this economy. I thank God for every single one of these opportunities," said Crews, 41, in a phone interview Monday during a break in his busy schedule. "I'm just happy that people want to work with me. I've finally reached that place in my career where people are like, 'Hey, yeah, I'll take a meeting with that guy.'"

Riding an enormous wave of popularity surrounding the Old Spice Odor Blocker ads, Crews filled us in on what it's like to have some pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow-er. Enough to block out the sun, to be exact.

The Life: Do you feel pressure to smell deliciously Deo Fresh every minute of the day?

Crews: Yes, I do. I'll tell you, I go to the gym and it's like, 'Oh man, I could really ruin the product right now!'

The Life: What's it like being a part of such a viral ad campaign?

Crews: It's crazy. Really, it's better than a movie opening because it hits so many people at once. To be honest, there's nothing like it.

The Life: When did the Odor Blocker commercials first drop?

Crews: They first debuted during the Final Four -- which was insane. After that weekend, I couldn't go anywhere without someone giving me a line everywhere I go. I love it, though.

The Life: How many times a day does someone look at you and sing "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow-er"?

Crews: Oh man, all the time. I get kids running up to me yelling "Ex-plo-sion!" Or I go to church and I'll hear "Belly kick!" It's pretty funny. Before the ads, I'd be at the mall and people would call me out for the song from "White Chicks," but right now it's all Old Spice.

The Life: How did you get to be Mr. 16-Hour Odor Blocker?

Crews: Well, I almost missed the chance, actually. The spot was offered to me while I was shooting a TBS sitcom and the timing almost didn't work out. I thought I was going to have to pass, and I was really disappointed -- I hate turning down work. The great comedic directors Tim [Heidecker] and Eric [Wareheim] ended up waiting for me to get back to L.A. to start shooting the spots, and I can't tell you how thankful I am that they did.

The Life: Tim and Eric had you in mind for the role?

Crews: I have a lot of fans from a Mike Judge movie I did with Luke Wilson a few years ago called "Idiocracy." I played the wild president of the United States. That role is what got me noticed by Tim and Eric.

They have done a lot of funny stuff and have their show on [Cartoon Network's] Adult Swim. They were a fan of what I had done and, of course, I am a big fan of their work; they are very, very funny. They went to my agent and said that they had this commercial for me.

As soon as I got back in Los Angeles we started shooting and we just had a ball. I think we did five, six, seven spots and we just had so much fun together. I'm so grateful to be able to work with them; it was just a marriage made in heaven.

The Life: So you had never met Tim and Eric before you got on the Old Spice set but you were their man?

Crews: Yeah, I mean, I've always been the big, muscular, funny guy. I appreciate the kind of comedy they create -- I'm like a big 13-year-old at heart, that's my kind of humor; it fit me.

The Life: You do have biceps coming out of your biceps.

Crews: [Laughs] Yeah, you can get another big guy to do it, but I guess they just thought I could pull it off with a straight face. I'm so glad they waited for me.

The Life: At first glance, did you think the Old Spice ads were funny?

Crews: It was so crazy, at the time I was doing them, all I could think was that this is either the best thing I've ever done or it's the end of my career. I knew right then that, these are so nuts, that people are going to love them or they're going to hate me for life! It turns out they loved 'em! Everybody went nuts for these commercials. And we're talking about doing some more even crazier stuff, so look out.

The Life: Of all the spots, which one gets stuck in your head?

Crews: The one where I'm on the tiger. That's my favorite. "That's 'cause it blocks B. Ohhhhhhh!" is in my head all the time. When you're actually doing it over and over, it's in your head forever. That and "block, block, block, block, block!" I tell my friends, I'm like, "Dude, you can love these or you can hate 'em but you're never ever gonna forget 'em."

The Life: Do you ever wish that you were the man on the horse?

Crews: Oh no, I love my deal. But I will say that the commercials that Isaiah Mustafa did are the most genius commercials of all time. I mean it. "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" is going to go down as the best commercial of all time, period. You can't really compete with that. But his commercial is for the ladies; my commercial is for the guys. Isaiah starts off with that "Hel-loo, ladies." Me, I'm aimed at the dudes. I'm like, "Man, you stink!"

The Life: Did you ever dream you'd have so much acting success?

Crews: I never imagined this, I'm not gonna lie to you. My love was always drawing and painting. Even when I was in the NFL I was drawing and painting everybody. I was an art major at Western Michigan and so there was art talent there; I thought maybe I could be a special effects artist or something, but never imagined it would translate to work in front of the camera.

The Life: So to recap, you're an artist, an actor, a former NFL player and you were the first black president?

Crews: Ha! Well, I was the president [in the movie "Idiocracy"] but he was this wild and crazy character -- President Camacho.

The Life: What first tugged you into Hollywood after football?

Crews: Some friends and I, we shot a terrible little movie in Detroit, a little gangster movie called "Young Boys Incorporated." I wasn't in the movie, I just helped out with it and it wasn't good at all, but I fell in love with the business. I wanted to be involved in making movies, so my wife and I just moved out to L.A.

My friends thought I was crazy but I just figured that if I was going to fail, I was going to do it out here in Los Angeles. At least it's sunny out here! A friend of mine invited me to an audition for this show called "Battle Dome." That was the first thing I ever auditioned for and I got it. After that, I've had work nonstop. One thing leads to another. That's how my whole life has been.

The Life: How'd you make it to the NFL?

Crews: There's no reason I should have made it to the NFL. I played ball in high school so I walked on at Western Michigan. Got a scholarship my third year there, somehow got drafted out of that little school [in the 11th round], which got me on a practice squad from which I was eventually activated to an NFL roster. My whole life has been one thing kinda turning into the next. That's my M.O., just sneaking in through the back door. I get in how I can.

The Life: And now you've got two movies ("The Expendables" and "Lottery Ticket") coming out in August.

Crews: Yes, I do. "The Expendables" is one I'm really excited about. I play a character called Hale Caesar who is Sly Stallone's best friend. We're a mercenary team who just does jobs for hire. We're pretty much a bunch of losers, we're not really good guys but we decide to do one good deed and that's what it's all about.

That's one of the biggest action movies of all time. Sly wrote it and directed it and he's a master. That's how "Rocky" got up to, like, "Rocky 17" -- because he knows how to do it. This one's got Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren -- it's really the manliest movie ever made. So bring your deodorant when you go into the theater, that's all I'm sayin'!

The Life: That pretty much makes you the most masculine man alive. What's your soft spot?

Crews: I have four daughters. Along with my beautiful wife, I've got four daughters, and I just had a granddaughter. You can't be tough around your girls; it just don't work! You can try but they don't buy it. I'm a dad, that's what I do. That's my soft spot.

The Life: Those kids of yours have it rough. They can't exactly pick up a quick Old Spice gift set at the drug store or soap-on-a-rope for you.

Crews: Nah, those gifts are going to go the other way around! I'm waiting for my son, he's the youngest and he's only 4 but I got some Odor Blocker just waitin' for him! I'm gonna keep it in a time capsule 'til he gets to be about 10 years old and funky enough to use it.

The Life: You have five kids and you've been with your wife Rebecca for more than 20 years. Can you offer some marital tips to all the athletes and actors out there? What's your secret?

Crews: The big secret is forgiveness. The thing is, you can always find something to not forgive and you can always find a reason to leave. Success in a marriage is all about forgiveness and finding a reason to stay.

We've been through a whole lot together -- the NFL and entertainment careers and we've forgiven each other through it all for various things. You turn around and you realize who you want to spend the rest of your life with and when you know that, you can overlook things.

You have to realize that people are still growing and still learning -- now hopefully you don't do anything that kills the whole relationship. Thankfully, we haven't done that, but you know, it seems to always start with the little things and we try and nip those in the bud as they arrive and we always get counseling -- that's one big thing for us -- and it's just a matter of always wanting to improve.

Athletes and actors, they put a lot of time into everything they do and I'd tell them that they have to put the same kind of time and investment into their marriage.

The Life: How about some parting advice to athletes whose playing days are over?

Crews: For football players -- or any athlete, really -- it's just so hard to leave your sport. After all those years, the transition is rough; a lot of people never make the jump. They're never able to get away from their sport. Some people make it and do it really well and others have a really hard time.

That's why my heart goes out to guys like [Lawrence Taylor], because he's an example of the guys who've had a really difficult time after their playing days are behind them. So many guys don't know what to do. It's a really hard thing.

I thank God for my beautiful wife who stuck with me through it all because I know, for me, those were down days after I stopped playing. Every day you wake up and you just wonder if anything else is ever gonna work for you again.

I am always telling guys that their best days are always still ahead. If you're playing in the NFL right now, you can't think of it as the best it's ever gonna get. And I know it's all cyclical, but you gotta take it when it's good. And right now, for me, I'm so blessed because it's good.

Mary Buckheit is a freelance writer based in San Diego. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.