Interview: Terry Crews on ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ superpowers and working with Miss Piggy

I sat down with “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Terry Crews three weeks ago on the opening Sunday of the NFL season and immediately felt guilty for taking the former NFL defensive end away from his TV.

Fortunately, it turns out that Crews is not one of those former jocks who spends his weekends glued to televised football, which will make it a lot easier for him to catch “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in a new Sunday 8:30 slot that will have his FOX comedy going up against gridiron action on a different network.

Crews proved to be as excited to talk about *missing* NFL coverage as he is to talk about most things, because it will surprise absolutely nobody to learn that Terry Crews is a man of great enthusiasm. Whether discussing his recent TCA Awards hosting stint with Miss Piggy or his Golden Globe-winning FOX police sitcom, Crews is prone to shouting and arm-waving, though to my great regret, Crews didn't make any of his muscles dance during out chat.

It turns out that Crews' “Brooklyn” character, Sergeant Terry Jeffords, was originally conceived of as meek and quiet, before the writers made last minute rewrites to make their Terry more like real Terry. But real Terry insists that he also has a softer, more introspective side, even if he also relishes a player who became more superhuman as the season progressed.

In our chat, Crews admits that he didn't, in fact, lift a car in one of last season's funniest scenes, but he confesses a part of that sequence that actually was authentic.

Click through for the full Q&A with Terry Crews…

HitFix: Now, the big question is did we mess up your NFL opener Sunday? Would you be at home sitting in front of the TV watching football?

Terry Crews: Not at all.

HitFix: You're not one of those guys who sits glued to the TV?

Terry Crews: No. First of all you got ESPN, Fox Sports, all that, you don't miss one thing. People don't understand that. Like you could watch the whole NFL, I've got the RedZone coverage, I got my DirecTV stuff. You can watch everything in the NFL in a whole hour and you missed nothing. Anything that was worth watching is going to be played over and over again. It's like the MTV Awards. Do you really miss anything that was worth watching at the MTV Awards?

HitFix: Oh, you could watch that in ten minutes though.

Terry Crews: You know what I mean? But again, they're going to play it again. And then you're going to see the highlights. And then you're going to see the highlights of the highlights of the highlights. So, for me I just sit there, and let me tell you, SportsCenter? You watch it and I didn't miss one thing. Chris Berman, they give you the whole rundown. I'm like wow. And I go in there and I walk in the next day, I know everything. They'll be like, “Oh did you see that?” I'd be like “Yeah I did,” but it didn't take five hours.

HitFix: Now, as a TCA member thank you for hosting our show last month.

Terry Crews: That was great!

HitFix: Tell me about performing with Miss Piggy.

Terry Crews: Piggy was AMAZING Let me tell you, I was nervous because I wrote our opening. I wrote the song, wrote what we were going to do. And first I was hoping that they would approve it, because they're not playing; the Muppets are no joke. They are for real. Each one has an agent and manager and all that stuff. I'm not even kidding. They all have their own teams. And I had to get it over to Piggy's team and approvals, but she was with it. And let me tell you, we hit it off. We actually ended up doing some other things with Toyota internally later on. So it's was my third time working with the puppeteer who had been with Piggy, so it was so cool man. What can I say? I was basically a hosting virgin and I think it went well. I was very happy about it.

HitFix: No. It was great. And having Miss Piggy come out as a surprise, did you get to rehearse at all with her?

Terry Crews: Yeah. We did one little rehearsal and the whole thing, but I was just really scared that it was going to… I didn't want to give it away at any point, because that was the big shockaroo. It's funny because talking to the puppeteer, I didn't know how great the room was. I would have been a lot more nervous if I would had known that Matthew McConaughey was there and Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there and all that, and I was like, “Wait a minute and Bryan Cranston's here…” I think I would have got more nervous. But I think thinking it was just like, “Oh yeah critics, we're good.” It was great.

HitFix: So now talk to me a bit about Terry on the show's evolution. Because the writers have sort of talked about how at the beginning of last season they kept Terry behind a desk a little bit too much and then they got him out. Did it feel to you like you were behind a desk too much at the start of last season?

Terry Crews: No, not at all. I didn't think it was too much. Now the big thing I had to reveal is that when we did the pilot the first day we were filming, my character was supposed to be very mousy and very just quiet. And all of a sudden I got a call the night of the first time we were filming and they're like, “Terry, we made a mistake. We need you to be you. You're not a joke with these guys and you're not mousy, you're very aggressive. Now it just so happens that you're going through these things, but we need you to be more physical in your role.” And it was a cool decision because when you have writers who recognize they're making a wrong turn and correct it, I knew I was in good hands. Because a lot of times people are too ego caught up where they made the decision and “We're going to stick with it” and then I had to suffer. But I felt so great that they made that move. And now it's one of those things where now I'm breaking eight balls and I can turn a guy over for looking for sweets, you know, picking up cars like it's nothing. That wasn't in the original part of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” but I think that makes us really interesting in that you don't know what Terry's going to do, you really don't. He could collapse in a heap and cry or he could really hurt you. And I think it's a really cool dynamic that every time you see him, “Which one are you going to get, Ebony Falcon or the Family Guy?” And I think it makes it much more interesting. And this time in the season he's totally out. I mean he's got the gun, he's ready to go, but he's still on that line where his concern for his family can affect him being a good cop.

HitFix: What did you think about being cast as the guy who was the mousy and quiet guy? Like what was your approach to this guy going to be if he had stayed that guy?

Terry Crews: Well, I had to say, I get him. I'm a lot like that. I've always had this juxtaposition of characters, because I'm an artist. I'm a very quiet person at home and introspective and the whole deal, and then I can be really big later. I had no problem. I felt it was a challenge to really be like, “How am I going to convey this so that you believe it?” So I went into it all out. But that's the thing, you don't know what you have until you try. And I think that once they saw it they were like, “Okay, he's too big. He's too strong. He's 'The Expendables' in the office so we've got to use it.” And I was okay with that too. But again, that's what a good director is for, a good writer. I kind of put myself out there a lot just because I trust the people I'm working with. You have to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes it's not my job to find that out, it's just my job to do what the character calls for. And if you change the character I'll do that too.

HitFix: Well, had you been excited though about the idea of playing sort of against what we think the title is?

Terry Crews: Oh yeah. Oh yeah! No, I mean the show was hilarious. The script was absolutely hilarious from day one. And I had actually my choice – there were three sitcoms that were offered to me and this being one of them, and this was by far heads and tails above the others and I knew that this was going to work. That's the whole bet. I mean in the pilot season you have to bet on what's going to work, and when I knew it was Andy [Samberg] and Andre [Braugher] and all the rest of the cast, when they wrote that script I said it this is it.

HitFix: Now you talked about how sort of unpredictable Terry is. What's the core to this guy? What is the thing that stays stable as everything is unpredictable?

Terry Crews: First for him, it's his family and his friends. And he is the most loyal most like – he is the guy who will die for you. That's the Ebony Falcon. He will put his life on the line. The big thing even what concerned Jake in this thing is that he will do that and we got to be careful, because Terry Jeffords will put himself all the way out there and he won't be around to see his kids. He won't to be around! And that was the one episode that we had where they were just being careful about, “He's coming back but he's too far back,” like, “Whoa come back you have a family.” And I think that that's the core. Because when you talk about the precinct, Holt and Jeffords are the dad and the mom of this whole deal. The thing is Captain Holt would be so hard on them that Terry Jeffords has to step in and calm him down just like your mom would. With your dad he's like “I say we just to ground him for 50 years.” “No honey we can do that.” I'm the guy who walks in who's his like, “No honey, we can't do that. Don't you understand they're working hard for you?” I remember when Holt was playing these games with Melissa's character and it was really like, “You got to see what she really is. She's concerned, she wants to do the best job. She's the best at what she does. You got to have pity on her. You got to stop playing these mind games with her.” And I was really direct with him right there and I'm that guy who can speak to Captain Holt like that as opposed to anyone else, because he's faithful. And I really like that about him. I really, really do. He's concerned. He's like “I don't want you guys driving SUVs because they roll. A minivan is a much safer.” And let me tell you, if he could pack the whole precinct in a minivan and get them where they need to go, that's what Terry Jeffords would do because he is 100 percent on their side.

HitFix: He sort of is a superhero at this point to some degree. What has been your favorite of the superpowers he has exhibited?

Terry Crews: His strength. He is strong. I mean sleeping pull-ups and picking up cars. What's so great about this is I've done the most fantastical things. Picking up Scully and turning him upside down looking for sweets? And it's believable. It's not too far… People are not… You know what got me is my kids actually asked me like, “Dad, did you really pick up that car?” And people ask me that all the time: “Did you really pick up the car?” And I'm like, “The fact that you think that I really picked up the car lets me know it's working.” Do you know what I mean? That there's a question they're like, “Well, he probably could pick up a car.” But I love that aspect because it keeps it grounded in a reality-based situation where It doesn't get like I'm twirling things on a one finger and all that stuff. It doesn't get to fantastical but can he break an eight ball? Probably.

HitFix: So what WERE you lifting?

Terry Crews: No, I didn't…

HitFix: I believe you, but what did you actually lift though?

Terry Crews: I lifted a car. We had a nice little gurney and a little contraption. Now the fart was real. The car lifting? No. But the fart was an actual… Let me tell you the soundman had a good day that day. He was like, “Oh, I don't think we need to put this one in here.” During that scene I ripped my pants. It was hilarious right there in the middle of that thing the pants split right open. There's an actual little factoid, a “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” factoid.

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” returns to FOX on Sunday (September 28) night at 8:30.