Actor, artist, and NFL player-turned-furniture designer Terry Crews was approached by Bernhardt Design President Jerry Helling to design a line of furniture, which became available to consumers this month. AN Interior arranged for Crews to visit the Downtown Los Angeles studio of Bureau Spectacular and join designer, curator, and theorist Jimenez Lai for an afternoon of discussion about life, pop culture, and what it means to be a young, emerging talent in design.
AN Interior: So, Terry Crews, welcome. It’s such a pleasure and honor meeting you. We’re here to talk about Bernhardt Design. The first question we have is about youth. Bernhardt Design is a company that values and promotes young designers. I want to quote one of the final interviews by Allen Iverson where he said, “It’s not how old you are, but how long you’ve been playing in the NBA.” How does it feel to be young again, and what are some of your feelings right now about entering design once again fresh?
Terry Crews: This is a great question because for me, you know, youth truly isn’t a number. It’s an attitude. You brought up Allen Iverson, but for me, Quincy Jones has always been that example of eternal youth, and he never, ever counts on the thing he did before. This man worked with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, then went to Michael Jackson and Al B. Sure, then he went to hip-hop and he’s still doing it now. And he’s well into his 70s, early 80s and he’s always viewed as the youngest guy in the room. I take that approach. For me, with Bernhardt, they have that attitude. Bernhardt Design has always grabbed guys and really put a lot of investment into the youth, especially from Pasadena’s Art Center and it motivates me and inspires me. It’s one of the most exciting, most adventurous things ever. You feel like you’re discovering a new land and you just landed on the beach and it’s uncharted and you can just go and there are no obstacles and it’s fascinating and again, I’m really, really looking forward to what comes next.
I want to be 70 years young.
Yeah, listen, there are many, many examples of that. A lot of times in our culture, youth is praised. I mean, youth above everything, at the sacrifice of everything, and the phrase child prodigy is the term that’s normally used, but you can actually be an adult prodigy. There’s no stopping an adult prodigy. You can even be what you call an elder prodigy, where all your things happen, all of a sudden, you change the world and you’re post-50, which happens a lot, but they don’t use the term prodigy anymore, they kind of get that out of there.
The second question I wanted to ask you is about style. President Camacho from Idiocracy [who Terry Crews plays in the film] is by far the greatest president in cinematic history. You have a certain presence. That dancing is iconic in film history at this point. There’s a certain sensibility or personality with you. There’s this kind of charisma around you, which translates a lot of times into style. You’ve already designed your own house. You’ve also done these paintings. The question is, what can we expect to see in terms of your work? What can we expect to see in terms of your design as far as style goes?
You know, it’s weird. That’s a great question because I, for one, feel like some people get things mixed up with flash and shock and then they call it style. I’ve seen it in entertainment where jokes become insulting as opposed to informative and insightful. I’ve seen even design itself get very cynical, which is something you really have to watch because as an artist I don’t want to offend, but I always want to be bold. Bold is the most important trait that I have and the good thing is that bold has nothing to do with personality. I’ve seen people who were very meek, very withdrawn or even sanguine or melancholy, but they were extremely bold. My wife is my best confidant because I put stuff out there. I always run everything by her first. I want to make sure that I differentiate the loudness and craziness and shock jock kind of thing from actual boldness.
To me, when you say bold, I’m thinking full throttle and focused.
Oh, that sounds good. I’m stealing that. You know what? You just summed it all up right there. Full throttle, focused, that’s me. Yeah, but you’re right. When you see somebody that’s literally obsessed and they’re so focused and it gets better and better and better and better, over the whole incarnation, you go, holy cow … I’ve watched other people do that, and like I said, it’s not about being crazy and dancing around and putting lights on it and sparklers. It’s like, holy cow, look at that. I’m with you, man.
Next, I want to ask about process. As a film actor, probably there’s a preparation process that’s unfamiliar to designers and I wonder how you might translate that into design.
You know what? Because I made all the mistakes and art is art, be it acting, drawing, designing, architecture, it’s all art and fear is your enemy. It’s your enemy. For an actor, there’s a point where you spend years overcoming fear. I’ll tell you about my first job. I was working on a movie called The Sixth Day with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the first movie I ever did. My job was to come up on the steps of his home and tell Arnold, “Hey, Adam Gibson, you’re coming with us.” And he looks at me and he says all this stuff. That’s how the scene’s supposed to go. Well, the scene started. I go in, I walk up to him and nothing comes out of my mouth. I was scared to death. Instantly, I was like, I don’t belong here. I’m a football player, I have no skills. I don’t know what this is, and I doubted everything about myself and in a split second, I mean it was like, brrrr!
Magically, something went wrong with the camera, which was crazy, and they had to shut everything down and all that and they said, Terry, we’re going to take a break, something is wrong with the camera, we’re going to just take five minutes. Now, they didn’t notice that I suck, but that’s what happened and I went to the side and I said, Terry, what are you doing? And I remember feeling like, if you don’t do this, you’re never going to get this opportunity again. And I used that energy and I went back at them and I looked at Arnold and I’m like, “I’m here, sir and you’re coming with us.” And he was like [imitating Arnold saying his lines] and I was like, “Oh my God.” And let me tell you something, I learned something that day – you have to trust yourself. I was even so stuck on this furniture, and then I came up with a story for it and all of a sudden it started making itself.
I think you’re absolutely right. I get nervous, I worry about stuff. This is super therapeutic, actually.
It is. I’ve been there with you, man. It’s a hard thing, but practice makes it easier.
Let’s go to the next question, which is about transformation or metamorphosis. You’re a person who’s gone through this once. You went from being an NFL player to a film actor, and now you’re about to go through it again. And during our Terry Crews week, we stumbled on your Sesame Street episode … violinist, sculpture, mime. So, here, you’re about to undergo this metamorphosis once again. Are there things that you can take away from the first time that will teach you again?
First of all, being a football player is a very limiting world. It’s very, very limiting. People already have so many preconceived notions of who you are because it’s almost like a cookie cutter. But you have to understand the football thing and the art thing has never been separate with me, ever. When I went to college, I would go to the little art classes with the people in black who were so sad and I was like, Hey you all, how are you all doing? I got my letterman jacket on, I was like, alright! And then I go right to practice after that and people … there were others that had issues. Now, I know I’m an artist. I know what I do. And then when Jerry Helling, the President of Bernhardt Design came to me and said, “I want to do something with you,” and I’m like, “Cool, we can find a designer, we can… ” He’s like, “No, no, no, no, no. I want you to design it—pivot time.” It just went back to – we need you, we know you’re a linebacker, but we need you to play defensive end on this point. We know you do drama, but here’s comedy right here. I’m the riskiest guy ever. I try everything. They were like, we want you to host the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I was like, okay, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, look at Regis and look at me. I got a 200-pound difference, me and Regis or any other host they have, Meredith Vieira. But I said, you know what? This is where all the action is and it’s funny because I’m thankful. By this practice of doing this, I’ve built a career where no one is shocked at what I’m doing. So, that’s a long answer to that question. These are deep questions. They’re so good.
Beautiful answer. I really admire your courage. This takes so much courage. Words can’t really describe how thankful I am that you’re here and so glad to be sitting here with you and having this conversation. We’re really looking forward to your design.
My pleasure, man. This is awesome. I love this world. I love this. Thank you, guys.