It seems like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Idiocracy actor Terry Crews is everywhere you look these days — but that might be because he’s so hard to miss. The multitalented actor, athlete, presenter, and illustrator strikes an imposing figure and has made a career out of playing characters whose tough-guy appearance belies a kindness and thoughtfulness just under the surface.
The new animated film Rumble has Crews dropping the latter traits, however, to voice a gigantic, aquatic kaiju nicknamed Tentacular whose desire to rise up the ranks of a monster wrestling league at any cost puts him at odds with a plucky young girl and the unlikely, horned hero she’s training to compete in the league. A blend of Rocky and professional wrestling, Rumble casts Crews as the story’s primary villain — a monster looking to crush anyone who stands in the way of his success.
In speaking to Crews about playing Tentacular in the film, Digital Trends learned that Rumble was a welcome reminder of his love for animation and illustration, as well as some of his earliest work in the entertainment industry, and a side of himself he’s not particularly fond of.
Digital Trends: When the opportunity to work on the film initially came to you, what did you find appealing about voicing Tentacular?
Terry Crews: Well, it reminded me of my first job in entertainment, which was this TV show called Battle Dome. I played this character named T-Money, who was a hardcore gangster from Detroit. I had a posse and this whole thing, and what we did is, we battled contestants on the show. It was kind of like Wheel of Fortune, but it was a wheel of death. They put us into this cage, lit the ends on fire, and we wrestled each other. Whoever remained standing was the winner. I had to go against three contestants in a row.
I remember that show! You were sort of like a villain on it, right?
Yeah, I was the heel of the show and it was a big hit, but it only went two years because there were so many injuries. It was amazing. It was pre-MMA, and people had never seen this much blood on TV. It would play late night on Saturday, once a week, and it was really violent. Rumble reminded me of that. There were all these different characters on the show. We had personalities. I was T-Money, and we had another guy who was like a Malibu kid. There was another guy who was a military guy. Another guy was a headbanger. So there were all these personalities — a lot like in Rumble. So I get it. I know it’s partly about the show. And what I mean is, when you talk about “sports entertainment,” it’s really about the entertainment part.
Did you enjoy playing a villain again in Rumble?
It was amazing. I love it because you have to understand: That is me. A lot of times, I’m nice Terry Crews because I don’t ever want to get close to dark Terry Crews. Never. I’m just telling you. I’m being honest.
I agree. I don’t want to be anywhere near dark Terry Crews.
People that have seen it don’t ever want to see it again. I’ve been on that dark side. And man, you know what? I have to go so far away from that, just so it would take a whole lot to get me back to that. And what was wild about Tentacular is that it reminded me of that guy. You know what I’m saying? It was winning at all costs. It’s all “me versus you, and you’re going to lose.” I remember looking at people back then and smiling at them, and thinking, “I am going to destroy you.” You can’t go into the NFL without that kind of attitude, and I spent seven years in the NFL like that. And believe me, it helps you in the NFL. But when you leave, it does not help you at all. That’s the problem. The thing that helps you there does not help you walking around on the street.
I’d love to talk a bit about your history as an artist and illustrator. You received an art scholarship at one point, and your talents as an illustrator have popped up in a lot of other shows and films you’ve worked on. Do animated projects hold a special appeal for you because of that background?
Absolutely. I love the world of animation. I had my portfolio in at Disney and at DreamWorks when I first moved to L.A. in 1997, and then all of a sudden Toy Story came out and hand-drawn animation was kaput. That actually started my acting career. Had they delayed Toy Story maybe two or three years, I would probably be an animator or a special effects artist somewhere in L.A. That was my dream.
Do you find yourself chatting a lot with animators and artists on some of these projects when the opportunity arises?
I do! When I get involved with these movies, I’m always talking to the crew, talking to the creators, and so on. I found out one of the producers on this is [legendary animator and animated film director] Ralph Bakshi‘s son, and I mean, come on! I’m such a Bakshi fan! What can I say? I was like, “Oh my God!” I had the chance to meet him, and I told him, “Man, do you understand what your family has done for the world of animation?” It was so, just… wow.
What’s your dream job in the animation world?
Oh, I really want to do a Studio Ghibli movie. I want to do it. I want to do it all, really. I want to put my hands in all kinds of disciplines.
Directed by Hamish Grieve, Rumble is available now on Paramount+ streaming service.