Every now and then social media does do good things. A couple of years ago after Brooklyn Nine-Nine was canceled by Fox, the internet and some high-profile names refused to accept it. Celebrity fans Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Hamill, and Guillermo Del Toro decided to band together to kick off a tweetstorm of support for the show. That spark ignited the “Nine-Niners” (the internet name for fans of the show) to plead with another platform to save the beloved series from cancellation. And it worked. Brooklyn Nine-Nine trended on social media for several days and was eventually picked up by NBC.
Two seasons later, the show is still going strong and set to shoot its eighth season (the third on NBC) as soon as TV production is allowed to continue. This die-hard support is why Terry Crews (who plays Sgt. Terry Jeffords) and the entire cast feel such a special affinity for the fandom. No one is quite sure when production will be approved to continue, but until then, fans can hear the NFL star-turned-actor in the animated adaption of Lois Lowry’s children’s novel The Willoughbys.
The children’s dark comedy, which is currently Certifed Fresh at 89% on the Tomatometer, follows an eccentric family whose children think they’d be better off raising themselves and devise a plan to send their parents on “vacation.” They then embark on a harrowing and humorous adventure while left alone and eventually discover what “family” truly means. The cast includes Will Forte, Alessia Cara, and Sean Cullen, who voice the kids, while Maya Rudolph plays the kids’ nanny and Ricky Gervais hilariously narrates the film as the voice of the family cat. The selfish parents are voiced by Martin Short and Jane Krakowski, and Crews plays Commander Melanoff, the affable owner of a candy factory.
Read below to see our chat with Crews about The Willoughbys, in which he breaks down his love for animation, explains when we can expect more Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and gives us his Five Favorite Films — including one with an Oscar snub he’s still not over and one from his own filmography that holds special meaning.
Number one is Do the Right Thing. Do the Right Thing changed my life in so many ways. Spike Lee and the cast of that movie. Actually, when it came out back in 1989, I saw it in the theater probably 25, 30 times. This was way before we could just download anything. I’m in that era. I’m in the analog era. Pre-cell phone. You know what’s strange? At the time, Do the Right Thing, once it hit the video stores, was listed as a comedy. [laughs] That blows my mind. It was nowhere near a comedy, but that’s exactly where they felt black films that dealt with any subject matter needed to be. Right now you would never think of Do the Right Thing as being a comedy — it dealt with police violence, it dealt with xenophobia, it dealt with all kinds of stuff. It’s very encouraging on many levels.
Star Wars was my number one before Do the Right Thing came out, but it basically changed everything. It created the tent pole. I saw it in 1977 at a drive-in with my aunt. It was one of the first movies I was able to see because my mother was super religious. It changed the game for me. It let me know I was going to be in entertainment. I didn’t care what it would be. I didn’t care how I was going to do it, but once I saw Star Wars I was hooked. That just changed everything in many, many ways. The science-fiction part. The artistry. Everything about it was incredible, and to this day when I hear that John Williams score, it’s like, “Ahh.” I hear those horns, it fuels me and makes me remember why I’m in this business.
Next is Aliens. Alien was incredible but Aliens just took me out. James Cameron’s Aliens is crazy. The [Xenomorph] is still the most perfect movie monster ever created. You’ll never get better than the alien in Aliens. James Cameron actually one-upped the first movie with the Marines, the twists and turns, and Sigourney Weaver being this femme fatale who destroyed everyone. That’s the other thing. It had a feminist view. It had just so many viewpoints that were actually introduced in the movie that had never been there before. Everything else was all male-oriented and superstar, the guy who could never get beat and all that stuff. This movie turned that on its ear. Loved it.
Next is Training Day.
That was your first “real” role in a film right?
Yeah, Oh my God! I was an extra in Training Day. I didn’t have a chance to read the script, didn’t know what it was about. I just said, “I’ve got to be on this set.” I didn’t even get paid for that movie. I remember I showed up every day. A friend of mine was working on it, and he was like, “Hey man, Denzel’s shooting down in the jungle. You want to come?” And I was like, “I’m there.” And the director, Antoine Fuqua, put me in the movie as I was standing there. He said, “Hey man, you want to be in this movie?” I was like, “Yep.” He said, “Take your shirt off, go to the roof, and we’re going to be flipping pigeons.” I was like, “Let’s go!”
I came back every night, but when I saw the film it was on a psychological level. It just let you know the nature of what evil really is, and it plays on your good intentions. I thought of how many times in my life… I [got] tricked into things. You start out with great intentions, you try to do good things, and then you kind of open up and you realize, “Oh man, it’s not what I thought it was.” I had that moment 50 million times in my life, and when I look at Jake versus Alonzo, I say, “This started out good. He had great intentions, and he didn’t know what he was getting into.” I look at my whole career in the NFL like that.
Finally, Pulp Fiction. I still believe Sam Jackson should have gotten an Oscar for that film to this day. It was one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen. It informed everything. It was funny, it was scary, it was sad, it was beautiful. My God, it was just a tour de force in filmmaking. Anytime it’s on, I cannot stop watching. What a beautiful, beautiful piece of artwork. It had all my favorite genres. It had blaxploitation, it had mystery, it had gangster.
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: You have done a lot of voice work. What made you want to get involved with this one?
Terry Crews: You got to understand I’m an artist. I was going to be an animator when I first moved to LA. I had my portfolio in at Disney, at Dreamworks, Hanna-Barbera, the whole thing. My whole mood was to get behind the scenes, and acting was a mistake. That was an accident. I love animation. Animation is the holy grail for me. Ralph Bakshi has been one of my favorite guys. I remember American Pop back in the day. That early, early animation was just groundbreaking to me. The fact that you could draw these characters and do this thing, and then Pixar took it to another level.
So when I look at any opportunity to be in animation I never, ever turn it down. Kris Pearn, who was one of the directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, I got a chance to work with him there and just had a ball. When he was putting this together, because he’s one of the writers and the director of The Willoughbys. Another thing I loved about The Willoughbys is that it had a darker tone, much more heavy than you would normally see in animation, which kind of mirrors me. It’s funny because I’m very big, and I love comedy, but to me, I’m a very dark personality. The darker you are, the funnier you can be.
I thought this is a worldwide turn for animation, whereas in the typical Western animation, it’s like, “Yeah, we’re happy, and here’s another joke. Here’s another joke.” People kind of got formulaic about it, but with this, it’s Ricky Gervais’ tone where it’s just like, “Whoa!” I think it’s just so fresh, and so perfect. Martin Short, Will Forte, they’re all friends of mine. Maya Rudolph from my Idiocracy days. Jane Krakowski. I’m just honored to be amongst such great talent, because I’m a fan first. I’ve never considered myself this actor dude. I’m just a fan, and I enjoy great animation.
RT: Any Brooklyn Nine-Nine updates to give us during the quarantine?
Crews: Oh my God! First of all, we are more popular than ever. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine Instagram just hit two million today, which is strange for a show like that. To have people actually want to see you and be interested in your show when there’s so much out there, this is the payday of entertainment. You will never get more, and it’ll never be easier to just kind of flip from one to the next. But people are watching 100 episodes in a row. Whole families are now Brooklyn Nine-Niners.
I can’t wait ’til we come back. To see that this has really become a worldwide phenomenon is not lost on me, and I can’t wait to give people more. I’ll be honest with you; this season 7, it’s too short. We did 13 episodes, and I’m going, “Damn it! We could’ve done more.” I really do. We did 18 last year. We only did 13, but we did get picked up for season 8. When this pandemic settles, I can’t wait to see my Nine-Nine family. We’ve been all communicating with each other, and we can’t wait to get back and give the fans more.
RT: What’s next for you?
Crews: I did Rumble, which is coming out. It was supposed to come out in January of 2021. The trailer was on Sonic the Hedgehog film. That’s an animated character I played called Tentacularis. What’s so weird is that we don’t know if the movie is actually going to be in the theaters by that time. It may have to go straight to VOD just like all the other movies are right now. It’s kind of weird. It’s a very uncertain time. Everybody’s like, “Will the next James Bond actually be in theaters?” We don’t know.
RT: What do you think will happen on the other side of this?
Crews: I truly believe this is the deal. A lot of people are saying, “Oh my God, everything is going to change.” But you cannot do away with human interaction. You just can’t. And first of all, the world has seen pandemics before, and eventually, everything went back. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, is the real question, but the fact that it will go back is inevitable. Comedy shows to concerts to film, there’s no way we can all do this forever.