Terry Crews interview: The Expendables 3, Stallone and the PG-13 rating

As The Expandables 3 arrives in the UK, Duncan meets Terry Crews for a chat about action, working with Sly and the sequel's PG-13 rating...

Now this doesn’t happen every day. I don’t mean having some face to face time with the lovely man mountain that is Terry Crews, but meeting someone who actually seemed to love The Expendables franchise even more than me. As the gang’s own Hale Caesar, Crews was able to blend his former NFL physique and combine it with his background in comedy acting to great effect, and it’s amazing that his action movie roles have been so few and far between on his CV, but he’s a man who clearly loves the genre and all its underappreciated virtues.

For those of you who have yet to see the hysterical Brooklyn Nine-Nine (the first season of which finished earlier this year) it comes highly recommended, especially if you’ve only seen Mr Crews turning bad guys into bloody paste using his almighty AA shotgun in The Expendables movies. Our interview (which took place some months ago before the film’s release) found him on fine form, full of laughs and a profound respect for Sylvester Stallone that always seems to shine through from anyone we’ve interviewed who’s worked with Sly.

As we sat down with Mr Crews to chat at the end of a day-long junket, his enthusiasm was still untethered (fuelled by cupcakes it turns out, rather ironically for a man of his size), so without further ado, Mr Terry Crews…

It’s the end of the day – you must be all talked out!

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I’m good man, I can talk about myself all day!

That’s lucky for me! So The Expendables is now officially a trilogy, which I always think is a nice marker for a film franchise. How does it feel coming back for the third one?

Awesome man, you know the thing about working with Sly and what I’d hoped would happen, is that he is the sequel master. Getting my first chance to be in a big action movie when I was doing the first Expendables, I just prayed to God it did well enough so we could do another, because that’s what he does, and then we had two and it did well and was a big hit worldwide.

I was just so happy and Expendables 2 was actually the first sequel I ever did. I had done a lot of movies and there were rumours of White Chicks 2, or this and that, but when we got Expendables 2 I thought ‘Dude I finally got a sequel, here we go!’ and the world responded really well again. This is what Sly does and I will do them as much as I can, as long as I am still in them, if they invite me in I am good!

I always thought it was funny in the first one, because Dolph Lundgren looked like he had been killed off and must have been gutted…

Dolph will say “I died! I died in the first movie… But I am still here” [laughs] This is the kind of franchise where they can kill you and you come back. I have been hearing rumours about Van Damme’s evil twin and different things. And listen, there are no rules, you make it up anyway!

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One of the things I have always loved growing up on action movies, is that they can buck the sequel trend and still be great – from Lethal Weapon 2 to Fast 5 – and The Expendables 2 got so much bigger, when suddenly everyone was in it and for longer, but now with the third one I couldn’t quite believe the cast line-up…

It is unreal. There is a big difference between Expendables 1 and Expendables 2. The first Expendables was an indie film, basically, that could go as dark as it wanted to go. What you are talking about now is a worldwide hit, you have officially become a pop group, which is different. Now you have a responsibility. There’s kids who will come and see it, there are a lot of people, and there are now older people who are going to check this out.

Now… there was an uproar among lots of the faithful who said, ‘It’s gone from R to PG 13, there should be more blood and more guts and now it’s turned into an adventure thing’. The reality is that you have to do two things: you have to make it viable for a market place, and you have to be responsible a little bit too.

A blood-horror gore-fest may be great for a small section of people who love it, but it is a pop movie now. We are officially Maroon 5 at this moment you know? [laughs] Now we are big. Now you are talking about a super group, not only a pop group.

You are talking about The Beatles getting together with Led Zeppelin, the best guys from every group doing a super group. It is a whole other animal now, it’s like, wow, now it is just a phenomenon. Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, brother, and that’s added to the cast. You could do a movie with just those guys somewhere else and call it something else, but the fact they joined what was already there is insane! 

You must have pride of place, because you were there from the beginning! They might be the old school stars but…

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Let me tell you something: that is where I want to be. What makes me feel so good is knowing that Mel has seen the first two and enjoyed it and enjoyed it enough to be in it! He has seen me. The one thing you want to know and often wonder as an actor is, ‘I wonder if Spielberg saw this movie?’ [laughs] This is how we think! ‘Did Harrison Ford ever watch me do this?’ and to find out he did and he liked it so much they now want to be in it? That is the coolest thing. Your heroes like you so much they want to play in your band and music is the best way I can describe it in a lot of ways.

It makes sense, and I feel the same thing with writing. You write something about someone and you find out they’ve read it…

Yeah, yeah and you go ‘Oh wow!’                                                                                                                                    

Yeah, it’s a pride in your work I think…

And listen, everybody in the world, you just want a certain intimacy, this is what you want. People want me to look them in their eyes and they want to be recognised and they want to say, ‘oh that’s Terry Crews and he saw me’. There is a connection and you want that, you crave it and you need it as a person and as an actor and as a performer, you need to know that you have had this kind of connection.

It’s funny because as an actor you’re kind of like over fans, it’s is not that you don’t like fans, but you realise they want you and now you get to a place where you want to impress your peers, you want to impress the people you work with and not only your peers, but the ones that made the business. That’s the ultimate goal, and I mean Sly – the fact that he keeps like ‘Man I love what you do’, he gives me one liners, and the fact that he’s really my mentor in every way and so is Arnold, and the fact that I am on a first name basis with two of the biggest action stars in the world? There is nowhere they can go where someone doesn’t know their name.

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They have one of the most recognisable brands in the world. There are no kings now, no kings or royalty in that respect like there is over here, but it’s weird ‘cause they are like the new royalty. If it was the 16th century or whatever, or if it was Bible days, they would be in the Bible! If it was Bible days it would say, ‘and Arnold Schwarzenegger said….’ [laughs] You know what I mean? You don’t get more famous than that. You have to be on another planet to get more famous than Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of these names we have been talking about. 

If there was a golden era for action movies it was the 80s when I was growing up, with Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson, so many big movies and names…

We get our morality now from movies, it used to be you got it from church, but now you get what is right and wrong from movies and entertainment. Especially an action movie as it is life all summed up… the adventure of life; the hero’s journey. It’s like the thing where the adventure is where you have to face that insurmountable fall, or whatever enemy and you have to survive – are you going to make it out? It is a core lesson for all of us and that’s what action movies bring, more so than any other movie [genre].

I’ve always championed action movies for reasons like that, and sometimes they get side-lined all too easily, so it’s great to hear you talk about the genre with that enthusiasm, because they do have a lot more content and a lot more heart than most people give them credit for.

I tell people it’s funny because action movies are your life pumped up, and instead of you having to save your brother from an army of crazy zombies, or something like that, you have to try to get to your brother’s wedding on time. That is your own personal action movie. Trying to get your kids dressed on Sunday morning and your wife is out of town; that is your own personal action movie. ‘Oh no, they blew up this and spilled that!’ And now the question is, what are you going to do? You are not going to make it, you have seven seconds until this thing explodes! [laughs] What we do in the movies is we take ourselves and put us in the hero spot and say, could we make it? Could we survive it? What would I do?

That’s a lovely way of thinking it. I am in the middle of trying to move house and my wife is pregnant, so I think I am going to use that. I am in my own action movie and I am up against it!

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Ha! You’re living it, your own action movie man. You’re on! [laughs]

Talking of character moments as well, one of the things I love particularly about the second Expendables, was that there was a lot more comedy brought to the fore – you get that great moment where you’re all prepped to cook rigatoni and make your coffee in the morning – do you get to input into those moments?

[Laughs] Yeah you do. Sly, I will tell you right now, Sly is one of the funniest people on Earth. He would be a comedian – the problem is, he will tell you as he told me, “Nobody wants to see me be funny. They want me to be a badass and blow things up.”

Part of being an actor is knowing your wheelhouse and knowing what you bring. One of the reasons I was in The Expendables is because Sly was shown White Chicks by a friend and loved it, he cracked up. His whole thing is ‘You have the talent, I am going to put you in The Expendables because I like what you do, you make me feel this way. You can pull it off.’

The whole thing is, if you look at the whole 80s career of most of these guys, they are being comedians in an action setting, with the one-liners and everything. That meeting with Bruce, Arnold and Sly all in the church was a comedic fest. It was joke, joke, joke – one of the funniest scenes ever filmed. I think Sly is so great, he writes this stuff and gives it to me because he’s like ‘They’re going to buy it from you, they wouldn’t buy it from me if I said it’. In the first movie when I was shooting it up and said ‘Remember this shit at Christmas!’ right before we filmed that he was like ‘I want you to say this, say it and I will react to it’ and boom, there it goes and the audience just laughs and people go ‘Aww that’s great’ and Sly just knows. He does that for all of us, he throws us these lines.

Expendables 2 was the same way. He said “I want you to go in there and this rigatoni is your thing, you are a chef.” What was cool was that [director] Simon West was great and did a lot of the big set ups, but Sly would come over and work with us and he’d said, “I want to show the Expendables as a family because that’s what we are.” We have our own little things and we’re weird in our own way. We are dysfunctional, but we love each other.

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One of the funniest things ever is when Randy [Couture] looks over at me and says, “You got any more of that coffee” and I say “Pot only makes one cup!” and I thought, that is so cold! [laughs]That it is what a brother would do, only your brother, or your sister would insult you like that, and it is a family thing and those are moments that I think ‘Oh those are precious to me as an actor’ more so than the bombs.  Me and Dolph were talking about that, because even Dolph in the first one was really dark and a crazed junkie and now he is just a junkie who got out of rehab, who is living with you now. He is still crazy, but you accept it because he is family. 

It is lovely to be able to show that side. With Jason Statham as well, I have been a big fan of him for a long time and he always says the movies are great, because you get to have those lighter moments. How was Patrick Hughes, too? You mentioned Simon West but for Hughes as the new guy and a relative unknown – he has one feature film to his name – that must have been intimidating for him?

He took it on as if it was like Hannibal with the elephants on the Alps, I mean the thing is he is this brilliant Aussie who is huge, a big guy. You see him and think he is an Expendable, it was shocking. He is the opposite of Simon. Simon is very British you know, but Patrick came in with a cigar and said “We’re gonna get a beer after this!” But he was hungry, and that’s what Sly wants.

I think, to me, and I say this a lot to a lot of people, you don’t have to be perfect – you just have to be faithful. The thing is, when you are faithful you do everything you know how to do for a project, with a project. You get everything. Perfection is impossible, so Patrick was that way. He was totally… if he made a mistake he was like ‘my bad’, but you saw he was so hungry and even Sly saw and I think Sly recognised himself in Patrick back with Rocky and trying to make things work. Nobody has it figured out, nobody, it’s not that way. It’s a give and take and a bounce. This is working, that is not working and he was in the middle of a lot of fires, with some of the biggest stars of all time and he handled it so well, but you can’t back down.

All those guys aren’t interested in being directed by a fan, or acting with fans. I was a fan (of my co-stars). However, as soon as the camera goes on, I am your conflict. I faced up with Arnold many a time, with the whole ‘If I don’t get this gun back your ass is terminated’. And I wasn’t playing – this is me versus you now, people are not interested in a love fest. They want to see conflict even within each other. There is nothing to watch if there is no conflict. Sly is brilliant with setting those things up, and then the joke releases that tension, because it is all about the tension and the release… tension and… release. That’s the game you play all the time and Patrick handled it so well, I am really pumped about his future, who he is, he’s awesome man. He really gave us a new burst of energy.

With you saying about that scene with Arnold in particular – I have to mention your shotgun and the supreme comic book carnage it’s caused!

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It was a character – my gun had its own character!

So that must have smarted when Schwarzenegger asked for it?

It did. For real, you’re some superstar big guy walking in here, walking into the franchise and taking my gun! [laughs]But you know what? That is something I felt and we went with it, and I was like ‘Really? He is really going to take my double A?’ but I love Sly, he gave me a mini gun in this one, right off an airplane. This is the heaviest, biggest gun! One of those things you would have on the side of some kind of fighter jet and I am walking round with it like it’s fine – but any bigger and I am going to have to put a tank on my back! This thing is like 200lb and you are blasting people with this thing! It was good that he knew I could handle it. He was like ‘Look at those arms, you got that! I wish I could hold it!’ [laughs] 

They always say with sequels, things have to get bigger!

It is like with X Games, in the first one there is a flip on a bike and the second one, two, and on the third there are three, but he might not make it on that third one. Everything gets ramped up to a fever pitch because the first movie, we were trying not to run out of budget and working a lot. There was more we wanted to do but just couldn’t.

And Sly injured himself up badly too…

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Yeah they had to fuse bones in his neck and there was a lot we couldn’t do. We were praying to God that he survived. I was like, if we lose Sly in this movie… I don’t know what to say, he took a lot of pain. He did a small documentary on it, which is on the DVD [Inferno – it’s ace and well worth a watch], he was getting shot up and I remember he twisted his ankle, and I was like, ‘Oh Lord they’re gonna have to send us all home!’ I just didn’t want to go home, I wanted to finish the movie and now here he is on the third one, unbelievable. That is the Sly Stallone story!

Finally can I ask what your favourite Jason Statham film is? I’m going to ban you from saying The Expendables!

The film with Simon West… The Mechanic. The Mechanic was a good movie, dude, I sat and watched it and I was like ‘This is awesome!’ Simon and Jason together are a great, great match and I really enjoyed The Mechanic. So I would say other than The Expendables movie, The Mechanic is my favourite.

Terry Crews, thank you very much!

The Expendables 3 is out in UK cinemas now.

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