Actor Terry Crews arrives at Lionsgate Films' 'The Expendables 2' premiere on August 15, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

NBC Chicago -After closing out a respected career as an NFL lineman relatively intact, Terry Crews started seeing action the easy way as an actor: film set safety, a machine gun full of blanks and a stuntman to take on the really dangerous stunts. So why in the world, at age 44, would he willingly put himself through military boot camp?

In the same week that his latest film “The Expendables 2” hit theaters, Crews returned to television – where he’s appeared on shows like “Everyone Hates Chris” and “The Newsroom” – in NBC’s new reality competition “Stars Earn Stripes,” which puts the actor and fellow celebrities like Nick Lachey, Dean Cain, Laila Ali and Picabo Street through a series of rigorous – and sometimes very dangerous – challenges inspired by real-life military training exercises. Never one to shy away from testing his own limits, Crews admits the series with the out-there-premise had a profound impact on his psyche. “I’m totally changed,” admits Crews. “From the moment I started the show to the last day, I am a different person.

“One thing about this show that blew me away was that I came up with relationships that I’m going to have for the rest of my life – bonding with these celebrities, facing these challenges,” Crews explains. “And it wasn’t so much physical, which was just crazy.  It was the mental things – you’re on the edge of that helicopter and you have to think, like, OK, I’m about to jump, and everything in your body and in your mind says don’t do it.  And you have to beat that mental challenge with everything.”

“When you’re picking up this rifle, this military rifle and it’s firing real live rounds – I mean, I’m the movie guy!” he laughs. “ I get a fake gun with fake bullets and they put oil on my arms and make sure I look good, and then it’s like go and action and then cut.  Well, somebody could really get hurt at all times.”

Crews also gave PopcornBiz an exclusive look at his much-anticipated return to the big screen alongside Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham in the latest “Expendables” film as well as his unexpected stint in Aaron Sorkin’s onscreen bullpen, and reveals how a defensive lineman from Flint, Michigan, became an unlikely Hollywood star.

Your “Expendables” role looks like the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do you get to work with all these action guys again, but you’re getting more action movie stuff, yourself, right?

Yes – all this stuff is a miracle. Every time you make a movie it’s a miracle; getting it from the script to actually putting it on film is a miracle. Then you’re talking about trying to make it hit. Then that’s a whole other game. There was a lot of buzz about what the first ‘Expendables’ was going to do, but again, the Internet – you can’t trust it! After ‘Snakes on a Plane,’ you can have all that buzz you want and that does not translate into sales. You have to sell this movie, and when it came out and took over as the number one movie in America and then it came back number one the next week, people just couldn’t get enough of it. It did wonderful on DVD. And now the hype with this one, to be able to come back and do it again? Scheduling, budget-wise and it’s bigger and huger. I feel like I’m living in a miracle right now, to be in a franchise. They’re already talking about the possibility of ‘Expendables 3.’ All I know is if they’re doing an ‘Expendables’ cartoon I’m doing it! [Laughs] I said, ‘I want to be on the lunchbox, the whole thing. There’s nothing “Expendables”-related that I don’t want to be a part of.

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