Giving It Up For The Amazing Terry Crews
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Throughout his career, Crews has always been a reliably entertaining aspect of any project he’s been involved in. He’s been a main cast member of two long-running shows with Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and has stolen scenes in numerous movies despite having minor roles.
For instance: his role as President Camacho in Idiocracy remains one of the movie's most memorable characters, and his ability to find the heart in the otherwise cartoonish figure who simply wanted to help his country is a big reason why the movie works. Similarly, his role as Agent 91 in Get Smart and Latrell Spencer in White Chicks both are well-regarded, independent of people's opinions of the rest of those films. And then, of course, there's his current role as Sergeant Terry Jeffords in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, an excellent comedy that wouldn't be nearly as great without Crews' presence. Even in a cast full of wonderfully funny people, Crew proves himself invaluable, portraying Jeffords' affection for his family and the people around him, his pride in his own strength, and his exasperation at the actions of others with equal effortlessness. If he were to leave the show, his absence would undeniably be felt.
So why, with such showcases for his talent present for all to see, has Crews not been able to break out of the pattern of minor to supporting roles he is currently stuck in? The aforementioned Brooklyn Nine-Nine remains the only reliable project that Crews has a major part in, as his film career has recently seen him end up in numerous Adam Sandler films, as well as the Expendables franchise. Most of his other roles end up being of minor consequence to the overall story, with his role as Bedlam in Deadpool 2 being the latest example. His ability to do better has been evident for years on end, so why hasn't it translated to more commercial success?
The obvious answer, and the one Occam's Razor would suggest is the right one, is that Crews is a black man in Hollywood, and leading roles for black men are sparse as is. Crews' relegation to supporting roles in subpar movies is a result of conscious and unconscious biases permeating all of Hollywood, biases that all black actors face.
Another possible answer, however, may be his physical appearance. Crews' muscular physique puts him at odds with most comedians working today. At the same time, he has a genuine gift for comedy and comedic delivery that sets him apart from most of the similarly muscular performers in Hollywood, as well as many comedians. His ability to look like an action star while being able to fit right into comedies likely leaves many writers unsure of how to use him best, and what kind of characters they should write for him. Brooklyn Nine-Nine remains ones of the few projects that has been able to use both his physical appearance and his comedic skills when building the character.
Of course, Crews' unfortunate position as the most prominent male face of sexual assault in Hollywood cannot be ignored. The possibility that Crews has suffered similarly in his career is all too plausible, with his departure from the Expendables franchise being one of the more public examples, as the producers of that franchise have sided with Crews' assaulter, to the point of asking Crews to drop his lawsuit against his abuser, Adam Venit. Hopefully as the Time's Up movement continues to remove abusers from positions of power, however, this will become less of a barrier for Crews going forward.
What kind of roles would best suit Crews? Most of his performances so far have either put him in action hero territory or comedian territory, and roles that combine the two would be the most effective use of his skills. His physicality should be a benefit. Take, for example, the 2015 Paul Feig film Spy. While Jason Statham's comedic turn led to a scene-stealing performance, Terry Crews could be equally excellent in a similar role, his physical presence working to sell the jokes the way Statham's filmography sold his.
Another unexplored possibility for Crews is his dramatic acting abilities. Numerous performers have made the jump from comedy to drama, and with all his experience, Crews could certainly be ready for that transition as well. Putting Crews in a major role like this could reveal new aspects to his acting skills, aspects that he's not had a chance to showcase on a large scale so far.
No matter what direction his career takes, however, there's no question that Crews has proven time and time again that he's got the skill to get more prominent roles, especially in film. If he doesn't fit into any existing niches, a highly unlikely possibility, then it's time for filmmakers to start keeping him in mind when writing scripts so they can tailor roles to him. In addition, his fearless work in stepping forward as a sexual assault survivor would also mean that an increased prominence of him onscreen, along with other outspoken survivors, would send a clear message that Hollywood will no longer side with abusers. Either way one looks at it, more roles for Terry Crews is only a good thing.