Chicago Sun-Times | June 8, 1982
Mr. T wants all his friends out there to know he hasn’t gone Hollywood on them. He’s still the same sweet lovable guy he was when he was a bodyguard for Leon Spinks and a bouncer at discotheques.
“I don’t like that phony Hollywood stuff,” says Mr. T. “I don’t like phony people making a big thing out of me. If I wasn’t in the movie, they wouldn’t even look at me. They’d say, ‘Who is this wild nigger with the haircut?’”
It is not that Mr. T isn’t enjoying his celebrity status, which is at its height thanks to his role as Sylvester Stallone’s latest ring antagonist in Rocky III. He might even be available for further movie appearances should the right parts come along, But let nobody think he has changed life styles or careers.
“I’m a bodyguard, not an actor,” Mr. T says. “In bodyguarding, I feel my self-worth. I get satisfaction out of saving someone’s life. I feel like a doctor.”
But drifting back into the shadows of anonymity is not going to be easy if the way Mr. T’s performance as Clubber Lang has been hailed is any indication. “He’s the best thing in Rocky III,” said Chicago Sun-Times critic David Elliott in his review of the movie. Lang is ”played with marvelous malignity by Mr. T.” said Newsweek.
“. . . TURN HIM LOOSE”
“I’ve never been to acting school and I’m never going,” says Mr. T. “Sylvester said you don’t rehearse Mr. T, you turn him loose. I think I’m talented enough to play any part. I can play Hamlet, just dress me in a wig.”
At the moment, Mr. T is dressed in blue sweatshirt and pants, combat boots and yellow satin jacket with his name – I mean his initial stitched on the lapel. There are diamond rings on every finger except his thumbs, three earrings hanging from each ear and perhaps a quarter of a mile of gold chain around his neck supporting a vast array of trinkets. There is also his Mohawk haircut. Just another guy from the projects trying to make his way in the world.
The world first heard about Mr. T, who was born Lawrence Tero and raised in a Chicago public housing project, when he was Leon Spinks’ bodyguard for his heavyweight championship fight with Muhammad Ali in 1978. With his head shaved bald, his elegantly tailored suits, his lapel sporting a fresh flower every day and his glowering attention to duty, Mr. T was about as easy to overlook as a bulldozer at a garden party.
“Don’t cross Mr. T or he’ll dot your eyes,” said everybody’s favorite boxing writer, Ed Schuyler of the Associated Press, coining the most memorable line of the fight.
Mr. T also made an impression at that bout on Stallone, who came by to pay his respects after Spinks had lost to Ali. Two years later, the actor saw Mr. T on a televised bouncers’ contest that took place at the BBC, a well-known Chicago gathering place.
“I set the house record by throwing a 120-pound stunt man 17 ½ feet,” says Mr. T. “I won two years in a row and gave all the money to my church.”
Shortly thereafter, Mr. T bumped into Stallone at ringside of Ali’s fight with Larry Holmes and told him the casting director for Rocky III had been trying to reach him. Mr. T beat out some 1,200 contenders from the part – Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson were among those considered – by memorizing seven pages of the script and doing some impressive improvisation.
Asked to explain why he wanted the part, Mr. T built up to a towering rage saying among other things that he wanted to buy a home for his mother so badly that it burned like hot coals in his stomach. “Cut,” Stallone said when he had finished. “Perfect.”
“I told him I’ve been that character all my life,” says Mr. T.