Are We There Yet?, a TBS top 10 cable show, and top performer with African-American audiences returns for a second season this month. The show was recently renewed for 90 episodes — another first for executive producer Tyler Perry, with series lead Terry Crews reprising his role as Nick Persons, family patriarch and newlywed. Crews has become one of TV’s most recognizable dads and gives us an idea of what’s coming up for the new season.
What should we expect this season?
The first season, the first 10 episodes are the set-up. Now it’s about getting into the family, the craziness. We’re expanding in a lot of ways. We’ve got a great list of guest stars — Mike Strahan, Wayne Brady, Laila Ali, Deon Sanders. And I can’t forget Sinbad — he killed it! I’m honored these talented folks were on the show and I’m grateful to be working with this wonderful cast.
What makes this show so attractive to viewers?
The show is a throwback to a lot of the great African American comedies that have come before — Martin, My Wife & Kids, a bit of The Cosby Show, but done in a new way. This has been missing. There aren’t a lot of traditional African-American sitcoms out there. The good thing is that like Cosby, this show is for everyone. This is about a blended family that crosses racial and generational boundaries. It will resonate in a funny way with a lot of people.
Tell me about some of your favorite elements of the show.
It’s a blended family. When I met my wife she had a six-month-old baby. We married when the baby was two. My wife loved me, but that baby didn’t (laugh). It’s a thankless position — winning the love of kids who don’t understand what your inclusion in their family means. There are literally hundreds of ways of getting it wrong, but also many ways of getting it right. I love walking that tight rope with Nick. I’m familiar with it. A lot of people have blended families, and they relate. You can easily be the wicked stepfather or mother in one second.
You’ve had a lot of roles. Is Nick one of your favorites and how does he compare with your other characters?
My character in The Expendables — Hale Caesar, he’s a hardcore dude. And this is the ironic thing about Nick — how can you do hardcore action and then play a family guy? That’s nothing compared with how hard it is to fit with the same woman for years, and deal with kids that aren’t yours. You have to be a hardcore action hero to do that kind of thing. The most hardcore guy ever, married to same woman for 50 years? Kind of like Hale Caesar in many ways.
How will your character change this season — will Nick have a stronger presence in the next 90 episodes?
I’m glad you said that. Nick is a newlywed. Those first episodes were the set-up — we’ve introduced ourselves. Nick’s letting loose right now. In order for a sitcom to get going, settle in, it has to sit in people’s homes for a while. We’re done introducing ourselves, now we can get into the comedy. Go for it. You’ll see a big difference in the rest of these shows.
I’ve got to ask you about the dancing. You steal the show whenever dancing is involved. When did you learn?
I love to dance. I sold a pilot to VH1 — Dancing with the Dorks. I’m a dork. As a teenager, I had a lot of lonely hours. I danced from the ages of 12 to 17. I was all into breakdancing. It’s funny how that skill — I can use it now for movies and TV. I never knew it would come into play later. Yes I started out as an athlete, but I’m a dancer first. It allowed me to come out of my shell, and be a better actor. You can’t dance under a bushel; you have to dance where everyone can see. This made me an extrovert, and I love it.
How do you feel about being on one of the few black comedies on TV?
I feel great about it, but TV has changed in a lot of ways. There are a lot of African-Americans in comedies, but not a lot of sitcoms, period. I’ve always made it a point to stay ahead of the curve. Find a way to be relevant, involved. That’s why I have a reality show on BET. When Tyler Perry changed the TV game and started putting together all these new business models, I knew I needed to be part of that. I’m honored to be on the cutting edge of these type of things. Shows have never been produced the way we’re doing it.
I think Are We There Yet? is one of those watershed moments in TV. Everyone will look back and realize this is when it changed.
Do you consider yourself a positive role model for men and black fathers in particular?
I do. I used to do many characters. They tend to typecast in Hollywood and if you’re on an episode of CSI, they tend to handcuff you to those kinds of roles. To be a normal guy — I’m a father. That’s what I do. I know plenty of big guys who love their wives, kids, families who live their everyday normal lives. That’s the guy I rep on TV. Hopefully it will inspire people.
How do you like working with Ice Cube?
We go way back — 1998, 1999, and worked together on Friday After Next. He’s always been — he’s one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood. I did security when I moved to LA. You can point to few producers who have helped launch people like Cube. And that’s not even counting the music side of the industry — that’s a whole other deal. I’m grateful. Cube is what you call one of the big boys in the business.
What advice would you give to people trying to break into the business?
Know it’s going to be a struggle, it’s going to be terrible, but in that struggle there will be improvement. Audition. Try and fail. I’ve been there. In that, you learn, you learn what not to do. There’s no other way to make it. You’ve got to be willing to go through it. I look at Essence Atkins. She’s been on TV since The Cosby show — and yet people who might not be as committed find a way to complain. She finds a way to work. Don’t complain just make it happen.
What lessons have you learned?
Be open to criticism. It doesn’t feel good to hear you’re not doing well. The greatest actors may not listen to you, but they listen to someone. But find someone you trust. Listen and take in what they’re saying. It makes a difference.
Your optimism is infectious. Are you like this on your time off? How do you sustain that?
I dance and prepare for my acting (laughs). I like to read scripts and love to work out. I do that super early, two hours a day before I go to work. I say this all the time – I love what I do so much, I’d do it for free.
Are We There Yet? returns January 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm and 10:30 pm ET on TBS.