The Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor and America's Got Talent host, 53, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter to promote his new memoir, Tough, which is out Tuesday. He admitted he's found himself in both positions in his life: He's responded aggressively in a situation — like Smith did, storming the stage to slap Rock over a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair — and he's also responded in a non-violent manner, like Rock did, in an explosive situation.
"Both Will Smith and Chris Rock are dear, dear friends of mine. I love them both as brothers," Crews prefaced. "But there was a time in my life [where] I was Will Smith at that moment, and let me tell you, I've done worse than Will. Way overkill, just ... the punishment did not fit the crime. People were like, 'What in the world are you doing?' My wife even had to be like, 'You got to promise me you will never go off like this. You did not need to pick this man up and put him on his head, on the concrete.'"
It was 2004 and the NFL player's acting career had taken off with movies including White Chicks, Friday After Next and The Longest Yard. He was enjoying a celebratory dinner with his wife Rebecca King-Crews when he was approached by an autograph seeker who Crews said spoke disrespectfully to his pregnant wife. What followed was a "violent blur."
Crews told THR that he immediately regretted his behavior. "I was like, 'Why did I do this?' I couldn't control myself," he said.
But Crews, who played Rock's dad in the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, also talked about relating to Rock — when he was allegedly groped by a movie executive at a party.
"It wasn't until I was Chris Rock literally in that moment — when I was assaulted by agent Adam Venit — and I chose to be in control. I chose to hold everything together. It could have descended into chaos," he said of the 2016 incident. "It would've been the end of me."
He said, "The time that I was Chris was the time that saved my life."
Crews said Rock is a hero for how he handled Smith's outburst — first by rushing to the stage and slapping him and then cursing him out from his seat. A stunned Rock said, "Will Smith just smacked the s*** out of me," and then calmly resumed presenting.
"When I look back, by what Chris did, by just deciding to hold everything together, it ... in a lot of ways saved Hollywood. Because if there would’ve been a brawl on that stage, I don't know if Hollywood would've ever gotten any respect again, you know? It's hard to even imagine what would've happened."
Crews said the "true definition of toughness was what Chris did in taking a punch and then holding everything together... I think it was a miracle what Chris did. I really do. I couldn't believe his poise in that moment. I thought, holy cow, we owe him a lot. I think every performer owes him so much because it just really saved Hollywood in that moment."
While he is thankful to Rock for his how he handled it, he's not here to criticize Smith.
"Also I understand Will," he said. "I’m not [one] to demonize Will at all because I was there. And that’s where I stand."
Crews said it's the "perfect time to have this conversation" about "these things that have always plagued us. I mean, it's just one thing that travels in politics and sports and Hollywood, it's that ability for people to just go off for no reason and not even understand why they're doing it."
And that's why he's sharing more stories about his life in his latest book.
"You had to see where I was to understand where I am now," he said. "I have people now that can't even imagine the things I did ... and I'm like, 'Hey man, that was me. And I have to let you know.' And this is the same place I feel Will is in, and because people still are trying hard to rectify the Will Smith they knew with that person that was there at the Academy Awards, but he's the same person, you know what I mean? We all have to understand that that could be any of us."