Terry Crews on how he turned sad events in his life into the positivity he's known for today

"All of my fun things and great things come out of sadness," Terry Crews said.

May 23, 2017, 2:21 PM

— -- Terry Crews might be one of the most optimistic people you’ll ever meet.

Upon meeting the 48-year-old star of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” he’ll immediately give you a smile. And if you give him just a few moments, he’ll even make his pectoral muscles pop and “dance” for you.

It’s hard to believe Crews has ever been anything but a positive person, but he says that many of the entertaining aspects of his personality that he is known for came from moments of great sadness in his life.

“All of my fun things and great things come out of sadness, which is weird. The pec-popping came out of a sad time. My acting career: I was broke,” Crews said in an interview on ABC News’ “Popcorn With Peter Travers.”

Crews struggled after retiring from the NFL in 1997. The transition from athlete to civilian, he said, is something that he and other football players always have a hard time dealing with.

“You’re larger than life, and then all of a sudden, they don’t know your name,” he explained. “They don’t know your number. They don’t know who you are.”

Crews fell into a depression, which he said he coped with by turning to food. He’d rent a movie from Blockbuster and stay up at 1 a.m., eating burgers, fries and entire bags of cookies.

He said he gained 30 pounds and recalled a mortifying moment with his wife, Rebecca King-Crews.

“My wife came up behind me and pinched my back fat. And I was like, ‘Woah! What are you doing? Woah! Hey! Don’t touch me!’ And I was mad at her, and she was like, ‘No, honey, it’s cute!’” said Crews.

PHOTO: Terry Crews and Andy Samberg in the "Ebony Falcon" episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jan. 21, 2014.
Terry Crews and Andy Samberg in the "Ebony Falcon" episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jan. 21, 2014.
FOX via Getty Images

Eventually, Crews gained control over his weight gain.

“I learned that a lot of the eating thing and any problem with eating has a lot to do more with your emotions,” he said. “And I discovered that I had to just change it, and I went into the gym and been working out ever since.”

And after football, Crews said he later turned to a career in acting because he was literally hungry.

“Let me tell you what happens, you go broke, man, and you got to do something,” Crews said. “I was hungry. Your stomach is growling, and you realize these kids got to eat. And you’re like, man, I’m going to act. I’m going to cry on screen.”

Crews said he knew he wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry somehow at a young age. But even his love for movies was the result of a difficult time, Crews said.

Crews grew up with a very religious mother in Flint, Michigan. He wasn’t allowed to go to the movies, play sports, dance or listen to secular music.

“It was kind of wild because of the church we were in, you couldn’t go to a theater, but you could watch a movie on TV. It was so weird. It was like, ‘Oh my god. What kind of sect am I in?’” Crews said laughing. “We eventually got out.”

In 1977, Crews said, he begged his mother to let him watch just one movie at a theater: “Star Wars.”

"'Just give me a half hour. We won’t watch all of it. When the credits come, we’ll close our eyes,'" Crews recalled.

Crews said his mother allowed his aunt take him to see the film at a drive-in theater.

“It changed my life. I said, ‘This. I’m going to be involved in entertainment somehow, someway.’ I didn’t know I was going to be an actor, but I was like, ‘Somehow, someway, this changed my life,’” said Crews. “But it came out of a very sad time.”

VIDEO: Terry Crews reveals how 'Star Wars' changed his life
Crews said on ABC News' "Popcorn with Peter Travers" that the movie made him realize he wanted to be in entertainment somehow.

These days, Crews says he’s a positive person because he chooses to be.

“A lot of people don’t realize it, but you have to make a decision to be happy. You have to take the day. And what happens is, if you don’t take every day, eventually you forget how to take it, forget how to be happy,” he said. “You’ll go weeks and months and years and you don’t realize you could have taken it every day. So it’s a decision.”

When he lived there, Flint was in the midst of a crack epidemic and a failing auto industry, Crews said.

“I knew I had to run and go,” Crews said. “I was an artist -- painting, drawing, that whole thing. But I knew someone wasn’t going to give me a full ride [college] scholarship to paint, so I had to play football.”

Though he left to go to Western Michigan University for football and eventually settled in Los Angeles today, Crews said he’s been called back to Flint by those asking for his assistance with the city’s ongoing water crisis.

VIDEO: Terry Crews jokes about running for governor of Michigan
The "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" star discussed his hometown of Flint, Michigan, on ABC News' "Popcorn with Peter Travers."

While he’s willing to help, Crews says he’s frustrated by what he sees is a lack of action by people who call Michigan home today.

“There is Flint proper, and then there’s the nice cities that are all around there who are totally ignoring Flint, Michigan. And it’s right there. And I say, ‘Why are you allowing this to happen? Why is the governor? Michigan’s government should be moving on all of this.’ But no one’s doing anything, which makes me flip out,” said Crews. “And I’m going, ‘I’m live in California.’ You have politicians calling me saying, ‘Hey,’ I need to come over there and do something. I’m going, ‘Dude, I’m not the state representative. What are you talking about?’”

In fact, Crews joked that he might have to get into politics to help his hometown.

“Listen I may have to go back. If The Rock can be president, I can be governor of Michigan. I’m about to start my campaign right now,” Crews said laughing.

Besides playing Sgt. Terry Jeffords on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Crews also continues to pursue his artistic interests. He recently debuted a furniture collection with Bernhardt Design that premiered at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

PHOTO: Terry Crews of "Brooklyn 99" at the ABC News studios on "Popcorn with Peter Travers," May 22, 2017, in New York.
Terry Crews of "Brooklyn 99" at the ABC News studios on "Popcorn with Peter Travers," May 22, 2017, in New York.
Radhika Chalasani/ABC News

He’s open to acting in more dramatic roles, but says he doesn’t know exactly where his career is going next.

“I feel like I’m a guy who’s floating downstream, and I am going to go where I need to go. It’s one of those things where I just say yes. You have to be open to everything. I never thought I was going to be an actor,” said Crews. “I didn’t have it figured out. But you have to go. You have to be willing, and all of a sudden, you’re in somewhere you’ve never been.”

Download the all new "Popcorn With Peter Travers" podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

VIDEO: Terry Crews does an epic rendition of 'A Thousand Miles'
Crews sang the Vanessa Carlton song on ABC News' "Popcorn With Peter Travers."
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