Mr. T doesn’t think innate dancing ability has much to do with being a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” — at least that’s not why he’s on the 24th season of the popular series (debuting at 7 p.m. Monday, WLS-Channel 7).
“I’m not that worried about it,” he says about his lack of ballroom skills. “It’s a reality show. It’s all about entertainment. I think it’s designed so the audience can see celebrities in a different light.”
It’s a gig many years in the making for the Chicago native, “A-Team” actor and former professional wrestler and Rocky Balboa rival. “I turned [‘DWTS’] down like five or six times — mainly because there has to be a unique time to be ready for it. I didn’t have the time earlier, because I knew there was a lot of work involved in it. … This time the stars were aligned, and I said yes.”
A cancer survivor, Mr. T is using the competition to boost two causes that help sick kids: St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and Shriners Hospitals for Children. “My thing is to hopefully inspire the kids who have been suffering with cancer or anything like that. To let them know never to quit. It’s OK if the people who watch are laughing at me or laughing with me. Raising money for these causes is what it’s all about.
“Listen, I’m a clown. I know how to put on a good show. I’m going to do my best.”
He may be in for several weeks of quicksteps, sambas and cha-cha-chas with partner Kym Johnson, but Mr. T laughed when asked if he has a favorite dance. “No, not really, but I do think back to when my mother raised me on the South Side of Chicago. When I was a kid, there was a time when I got into a lot of fights in school. My mother would say, ‘It takes two to tango,’ meaning I could walk away from a fight, because it takes two to tango in a fight!
“So, if I had to pick one style of dance, I guess it would be the tango because of that memory of my mother. It has nothing to do with dancing, really, but I love remembering that story about my mother.”
Even if his footwork needs work, he believes he comes into the show with an advantage. “The main thing in this is not only the strength, but having fortitude. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of the professional athletes — like Emmitt Smith, Hines Ward or Apolo Ohno — winning ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ A lot of time, other celebrities don’t know what it takes, physically, to win. Pro athletes are all about that, and understand how to prepare themselves, both to avoid injuries but also to have that strong drive to win.”
Personal style also is key to both the competition and to the flashy competitor, known for his voluminous gold chains and distinctive Mohawk-style haircut.
“I have to say, when I saw the gold jacket they made for me for the initial publicity shots for ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ it reminded me of when I met Liberace back in 1980. Right away we were comparing our jewelry. He liked one of my necklaces, and I liked one of his rings. We had never met before, but we clicked because we both were good entertainers.”
Once “Dancing With the Stars” is over for Mr. T. he plans to make a beeline back to Chicago. “My kind of town,” he quipped. “Chicago is still my home. When I’m working, I’m here [in Los Angeles]. When I’m not working, I just slide into town and am always happy to be back in the city — my hometown.”
After he’s done with “DWTS,” Mr. T pointed out he’ll need to pack on some weight. “Every week, doing those dance workouts, I lose about three or four pounds.The first thing I’m going to do when I get back home is go get me a nice big piece of some Giordano’s! I’m going to have to bulk up, so I don’t look so puny!”