Terry Crews is one of the most talented men in America. He has enjoyed a diverse career, including playing in the NFL as a linebacker, acting in iconic shows like Brooklyn 99, hosting America’s Got Talent, and writing books on masculinity (Manhood and Tough). That’s just the professional talents you know him for. A true multi-hyphenate, Crews is a fine artist (his photorealistic sports paintings are seriously wild), activist, and even furniture designer (his refined collaboration with design firm Bernhardt Design blended modern and ancient Egyptian influences).
You’d be forgiven to think that Terry Crews, a self-made man of so much talent, is a rugged individualist. You’d be wrong. “Everyone loves a story of, "I just did it all by myself,” Crews told Fatherly. “It’s a myth.” The truth is far more communal — and might look more like the world laid out in his new middle-grade novel Terry’s Crew. It tells the story of a tween with big dreams trying to fit in and find success at a new school. The key to life for the book’s protagonist? A tight crew of friends and family who help him along. It’s a story Crews wishes he had when he was younger — and hopes will inspire other kids who feel the need to go it alone even though that path never really ends up well.
Here, Crews talks about his inspiration, how he became a man of so many talents, and what his childhood was like.
What was the seed of inspiration for Terry’s Crew?
All four of my books are written for my 12-year-old self because when I was a kid, I always wanted to know things and was shunned. I had a lot of questions, and I never got answers. Instead, I was always told, "Man, be quiet," or, "You're going to find out."
And a lot of people always feel like, "Okay, once you have some measure of success, you were always successful." And I wanted people to know a little bit more about the story. I wanted kids to actually feel and know that this stuff is not automatic. I come from a humble background. I went through a lot of the same struggles that a lot of kids are going through right now, and I want them to know that they're not alone. I literally was a bedwetter. I was called corny. But once you find your crew, once you find your people that can help you, it makes all the difference.
You’re a multi-hyphenate. And in Terry’s Crew, our guy Terry is a multi-hyphenate, too. But being really good at one thing alone takes a lot of time and focus and practice. How do you become really good at multiple things?
When I'm doing one thing, I give it all of my energy. I am fully engaged. When you're trying to do four things at once, it's a mess. So when I'm hosting, there's nothing else I'm thinking about. When I'm drawing, I get so focused on my art that I'm gone. It feels like time stops. When I'm acting, that's all I'm thinking about. When it's family time, that's all I'm concentrating on. If I'm working out, I'm fully engaged, 100 percent. And what happens is, as you split from one to the other, they all get better because of the energy and focus. It's not just doing it. It's doing it really purposefully. And by doing that, you see noticeable improvement.
One of the things that I really love about the book is the message that you're not alone. That it's okay to ask for help, that it's good to have a crew. I feel like so much of American culture is about this idea of rugged individualism and going it alone.
It's a myth. Everyone loves a story of, "I just did it all by myself." Or the prodigy, this kid who, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just got amazingly good. And that's a story that everyone buys into and loves, and gets publicized. But I’ll tell you right now, there's not one thing that I ever became good at that I did not have a lot of support in. I mean, when I say a lot of support. When you are pursuing a big goal, you attract the people who are going to help you do it, but the deal is, you have to know what you want. And it helps you recognize the people who you need to have around you. I've always had this circle of people who wanted to get better. The difference between me and some other kid in Flint, Michigan, growing up was the fact that I went to a school where everyone wanted success. Everyone wanted to be really good at what they did.
That experience also helped me realize I need to be very, very protective of my environment. And when I say that, I mean ruthless. If there's someone in my environment that I know is going to be detrimental to my goal, that relationship is over.
The idea of having a crew and asking for help; those are not things that we traditionally associated with machismo and traditional ideas of manhood. But then again, I feel like maybe we've been doing manhood wrong for a while.
I was that guy who swore that I'm going to do this on my own. It's that revenge movie. You know what I mean? And the reason you want to do it on your own is so that you can get back. So you can flaunt your success to the people who underestimated you. I realized that that was about revenge, but it wasn't about success.
I was on my way to becoming a Marlboro man. And the Marlboro man is always alone. He doesn't have a family. No one loves him, and he's fine with it. There's this satisfaction of I did it my way, but it's always lonely. And I realized there was no way I could ever be happy that way. And I want my family. I want my kids, I want my wife, I want my friends, the people who believed in me, to be in my life. And I need that. I’m not afraid to say, "I can't do it without you." You know what I'm saying? We all need that connection. I need that connection.
What about when you were a kid? Who was your crew?
I had a wonderful group of friends. It's kind of like in the book. In the book, there are about two or three really good friends. And in real life, they're based on real people.
I grew up in an era that was the hard man stereotype. And so I would ask men what it was like to be a man or ask people for help, and I would get shunned by grown men. It was kind of like, "One day you're going to find out."
And you're like, "But I'm 12. Really, tell me. I'm serious."
Or school would bring in these motivational speakers. They would say, "You can do anything you want to do. You could be anything you want to be." And I would run, after the presentation, I would run up to the person and say, "This is what I want to do." And they would go, "Man, you can't do that."
And I was like, "Wow." They said, "Where'd you get that idea?"I said, "You. You just said that."
But it was a thing to say but not really to mean. And I decided to test it. I decided to test it. I was like, "You know what? Y'all been saying this stuff, but you don't believe it." And I realized I got to believe it. And I said, "I'm going to give it everything I've got, and I'll see what happens."