From playing in the NFL, to starring in those now iconic Old Spice commercials, to acting on the “Everybody Hates Chris” and now “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” TV shows — to roles in such popular films as “The Expendables” franchise, “Bridesmaids,” and “Friday After Next,” Terry Crews now is adding television game show host to his list of accomplishments.
Crews debuts as the latest personality to front the long-running “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” series as the show launches into its new season at 4 and 4:30 p.m. Monday on My50 Chicago.
Q: The phrase, ‘hardest working person in showbiz’ is often overused, but it seems to apply to you these days, doesn’t it?
A: I love working, man. I remember when nobody was calling! If you’ve ever had that experience when you were sitting around waiting for someone to call, you understand what I mean. You pray and you hope that you can find some role in this entertainment business — and now, it’s like everybody’s calling. So I appreciate that a lot! I take those calls and I’m thankful!
Q: You are following some well-known predecessors as hosts on ‘Millionaire’ — Regis Philbin, Meredith Vieira, Cedric the Entertainer. How do you feel about stepping into the job?
A: Listen, it’s my ‘Millionaire.’ It’s funny, the personality of whoever was hosting before leads the show into becoming an extension of who they are. With my ‘Millionaire,’ it really had to change a lot, because I’m such a physical presence. I mean, these contestants walk out and see me — a huge 240-pound man standing there — a guy who can benchpress the set. So, we had to change the format of the show.
Q: How have you all changed it?
A: We had to just to make it more physical, because I can’t stand still. I don’t like standing still. I really had to get rid of the desk and all that stuff. I wanted to get closer to the contestants and just be a part of what they are going through. My job, as I see it, is to be their friend and to walk them through the game. I love people, I love the interaction, I love the studio audience, I love the whole thing. I need to be there for them. For most of these people, this is their first time on TV. They’re nervous, they don’t know what’s going on, even though they are really, really smart people. But a funny thing happens when that red light from that camera comes on — everything instantly can empty of your head!
Everything you knew, you don’t know any more. My job is to get them to back down and calm down, and I then can repeat the question and let them know about their lifelines and everything that’s literally possible for them to get their money, because I want them to get the dough!
Q: Just in the few episodes you’ve already taped, I’ll bet you’ve learned a few things you didn’t know before — right?
A: I learn something every day. Listen, I’m a former NFL player who went through several concussions! So, this show feeds my brain every day! [Laughs] It fills my brain up with facts every single day! What happens with a lot of ball players, if you don’t fill up their brain again, it just stays gone.
So the exercise of learning and reading and learning how to say new words and all that stuff really helps my brain, and it really helps me as a person.
Q: What are some things of being on the show you are particularly enjoying?
A: I’d say the live interaction with the contestants and the studio audience. You have to be quick on your feet and know the game. Because of that aspect, it’s really helped me become a better actor.
Q: I understand there are a few new aspects to ‘Millionaire’ this year. Tell me about them.
A: A couple of mini-games are important. One is called ‘Fastest Feet,’ where we pick four studio audience members and bring them down to become contestants, and they have to put answers in the right order — so there’s a lot of movement involved and it’s kind of fun — really a wild thing. Again, that makes it another, more active version of my ‘Millionaire.’
Another game is called ‘The Thousandaire,’ where we take one studio audience member and bring him or her down and just give them a thousand bucks, if they get the answer right.
Now, we also have the ‘Plus One,’ which is a new lifeline, where someone the contestant brought with him that day gets the chance to help answer a question. It can be a friend, your brother, your sister, your Mom or the smartest person you know. What’s nice, is you don’t have to call them on the phone. They are simply there right with you. It adds a really new dynamic to the show that I think people will really enjoy. Sometimes people — the contestant and their ‘Plus One’ lifeline — get into arguments up there. It can really be hilarious!
Q: Besides ‘Millionaire,’ congratulations on the success of ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ Tell me about that new season, which is coming up.
A: We already are into taping our sixth episode of the new season, because I’m doing both — ‘Millionaire’ and ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ — at the same time. As for the sitcom, it’s going to be more of the same great humor people came to love already. All the actors are back. We clicked from the beginning — Andy [Samberg], Andre [Braugher] and all the rest. I think that’s a big part of why the show’s been successful. It just gets more ‘click-ier!’ [Laughs]. That’s not a word, but you know what I mean.
Q: As we begin this new NFL season, as former player, what are your thoughts about our Bears and anyone else?
A: I truly have no thoughts about the success of any team in particular, but I love players. I have to say, the NFL is going to be okay. I really am more concerned about player welfare, because the transition [after their playing days] is so hard. A lot of times, it’s a lot like Hollywood, where they use you and then forget you. It’s like a bunch of child stars when their big show is over. What happens to them? Many don’t make the transition to adult actors. What happens to those people?
The same is true for NFL players when they retire. That’s my thing with the NFL. When they’re done with you, they just throw you out there into the world, and you may not be prepared for what is coming next. My job, as an ex-player, is to be more concerned about other ex-players’ welfare than the teams. The teams are going to be okay. The Chicago Bears are going to be around. But the guys I played with, a lot of them, are going through depression, dealing with old injuries that have come back to haunt them, and very, very hard times. It’s a weird deal, man.
I’m happy to be that guy who can say to them, ‘Hey! Life is not over! Football is not the only thing. You’ve got to keep going.’
Q: In the final analysis, how do you describe your new “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”?
A: I just say, it’s an Old Spice commercial, meets ‘The Expendables,’ but as a game show! There will be lots of pecs-popping, lots of dancing, and lots of shouting. I’m just a loud guy! I’m invested with the people. When they lose, I’m crushed, but when they win I’m ecstatic. I have no other way to be. I’m either on or off — nothing in between.