T ‘n’ T: Talking With Mr. T August 17th, 2006

While working in the research department I got to talk to a lot of cool people both comic and Hollywood celebs alike. But, for a long time, my absolute favorite interview was when when I got the chance to talk to Mr. T for his then-upcoming show I Pity The Fool on TV Land. I don’t think I ever watched an episode of the show and this seven page interview resulted in a small info piece in the Hollywood section, but the experience of talking and listening to one of my childhood heroes made the whole thing worthwhile. The interview takes a little while to get going, but the highlight is when he started doing his lines from Rockey 3. I guess that’s more entertaining when listening to the actual recording, but I recommend reading the interview in his voice. Frankly, I recommend reading EVERYTHING in his voice, but you get the idea. Hit the jump for the FULL interview. After dealing with some reception problems me and T get down to business:

Can you explain what I Pity the Fool is about?
The show is about what I do everyday. Even before I got famous I would go to the church, I would feed the hungry, I would clothe the naked. The show’s about doing good things. See, my celebrity status has allowed me to reach out to people and I can impart some of my knowledge or my life experiences. I go to the different parts of the neighborhood and try to influence the kids and let them know that they can make it out of the ghetto, that they don’t have to be robbin’ and stealin’ you know?

And also, I like to think of myself as a motivator, as an inspirer. That’s what I do, I motivate people, I lift their spirit. When the people I deal with are a fan or this and that, I try and love on them, you know? So, this is who I am. The “T” stands for, to the women and children it stands for tender, to the bad guys and thugs it stands for tough. I’m tough when I have to be and tender and should be, you know? So what the show’s about I’m going out, getting people and solve their problems in my unique T style. One thing my show is not is Dr. Phil. He’s a doctor, I’m a mister. So, what I do, I move in, I’m personal with people, I like to joke with people, and tell them I’m a blue color actor. I’m a people actor you know and that’s what I do. I’m a people’s type of actor and that’s what I do. The big difference is, I tell people I’m really not an actor, I don’t act, I react.

But what the show is about is positive. We’re not going to be eating worms or nothing like that, no wife swapping. So, it’s all about positive stuff. We did a show in Allentown, Pennsylvania with a dance studio. The owner of the studio was having a hard time with some of the mothers who had kids who were a little disrespectful. So, I got everybody together and tell them certain things. See, I don’t give advice, I motivate, I inspire, I lead by example. See, Dr. Phil gives advice, I don’t give advice. I help people or I assist them, you know? And then at the end of the show I’m sort of like the Lone Ranger or an old cowboy in the old days, I just ride off. First I meet with the people, I meet with them, talk with them and figure out the problem. Then, the weeks I’m there, I work with them, motivate them and inspire them. Then I get them back together, get them talking together. Then at the end of the show I get them together, talk to them, I feel like my work is done. At this time I’m feeling a little mushy so I think it’s time for me to go and then I like trot off into the sunset. And that’s what I do.
People that follow my career closely, they know what I do. I started back in 1983 after doing Rocky, then the A-Team. My life really changed when a little kid who was dying asked to see me through the Make A Wish Foundation. Of all the people he coulda saw, he coulda saw Superman or the guy who played him, he coulda saw Arnold Schwarzenegger, he coulda saw Mickey Mouse, but he asked to see me. So that’s when my life changed. I asked my pastor, I didn’t know what to say to the kid. I couldn’t tell him that stuff I say to other kids “Feel that muscle” and on and on. So, I asked my pastor, I said “Pastor this kid is dyin’ what do I say to him?” My pastor said “Evidently, T, this kid sees God’s qualities in you that you don’t see in yourself.” So, I always believed in God, I pray before I eat and stuff, but from that day on I went to another level. And other kids would come up to me after that through the Make a Wish Foundation, through the Starlight Foundation, little kids suffering from cancer, little kids who’d been in a car accidents, little kids who want to see me out of all the people. And I said, “Wow.” So that’s when my life changed.

From that day on I try to visit the sick, try to go to the neighborhoods and talk to the little kids, help them stay away from drugs, stuff like that. I tell the kids to respect their mothers. I talk about my mother a lot so the little kids can understand that Mr. T is one of the toughest guys I know, he loves his mother, so I can love my mother. Cause little kids think it’s sissified to love their mother. If more kids loved their mother they wouldn’t be getting in the gangs. I’ve gotten letters from kids saying, “Wow Mr. T I heard you talkin’ about your mother and I’m not gonna be in a gang, I’m not gonna let them tell me what to do, I’m gonna respect my mother like you do.” So things like that, if I touch one or two of them then my day is made. I don’t do it for the press, I don’t go “Hey press come down, watch me feed the homeless,” I don’t  do that. My mother said that if nobody knows, God knows and the people that I helped know and that’s what it’s all about. So that’s the show in a nutshell, just me being me. I’m unrestricted. I just talk, I give it to them, I hug them, I give them a little tough love. There’s no hollering and screaming, there’s no “I’m gonna get you sucka,” I never call anyone fool on the show, that was just a catchy title cause that’s my handle “I pity the fool.” It’s more about me loving and talking. And the people that don’t know me are gonna be surprised. Once the show starts I think people will call and say “Mr. T I’ve got a little problem that I think you can come and help us, and that’s what I do. And that’s what the show is about. Me doin’ my thing. Not preaching to nobody, not making somebody try and change their religion, but I had dinner with one family and they asked me to say the blessing, so I blessed the food. I had breakfast with another family and they asked me to bless the food. So we talk about that, we talk about love, we talk about happiness.

And also what I like about my show that’s unique is that whether it’s with a family or whatever, I stay in contact with the people. See, if I was going to go and do a show and then don’t be in contact with the people it would be like raping the people, using them just to get ratings and that’s not what I’m about. Even when I go to the schools and speak I’ll have a follow up. I’ll call the principal or he might write me and say “Mr. T you really made a difference. Thank you.” I just want to work hard. I’ll ask about certain students, I’ll say “How’s Johnny doin’? How’s the one who wore his hat sideways and didn’t want to take his hat off in school, how’s he doin’?” It’s my follow-up. It’s me, without the press and that’s what I do. I’ve been blessed and I was taught that the blessed of us must try to save the lest of us. So, that’s who I am and that’s what I do.

How do you choose who gets on the show?
You brought up a good question, that’s what I asked the people when I guest starred on Extreme Home Makeover. A couple of years ago there was a little kid and he had brittle bone disease and his father told him about me and I came. I asked the people on the set “How do you pick?” That’s got to be a tough job, how do you pick who gets a new home? For us right now we have a research staff who goes out and talks to certain people. But I’m sure when the show hits the air they’re gonna be sending us stuff. So, I don’t know the criteria on how they pick, but it’s a nice story that Mr. T can do his thing on. Now, some cases would be a little heavy for me, I can’t do some things, but I would like to go to drug centers and go to AA places. Sure it may be too cheery for some people. But we’ll see, we’ll do our best.
Whose idea was the show itself?
A guy came to me by the name of Stephen Belafonte. And first it was called T-Town With Mr. T but after six months he wanted to change the format and asked if he could use my slogan. At first the format was going to be I’d talk to people in the street, then I’d go in the studio and have an interview with a celebrity or something like that. But they said that’s not me and they said, let’s help him go out there with the people. They said why don’t we use “I Pity the Fool” because everybody knows that? Another thing I like about my show is that the whole family can watch. There’s no nudity, there’s no foul language or stuff like that. It’s real positive.

Did you come up with the line “I pity the fool”?
It started many years ago back in the ‘60’s in soul, a man by the name of Bobby “Blue” Bland. He was a blues singer, you know, a black guy and his song went “I pity the fool that don’t love you” or something like that. But I gave the phrase legs. It hit the world in 1982 when Rocky [3] came out. In the scene where he’s getting ready to fight Balboa and they say “Do you hate Balboa?” I said, “No, I don’t hate Balboa, but I pity the fool and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got.” And I want to thank Sylvester Stallone for allowing me to be me. He told me “You got to feel free to change it to be you.” He wanted me to be honest with him because as a black man there’s certain things I wouldn’t say. Like the scene it was written another way when I say “Woman! Listen here,” If I wanted to make a guy mad this is what I’d say: “Hey woman. Hey, Woman! I bet you stay up late every night dreamin’ you had a real man, don’t ya? I’ll tell you what. Bring your pretty little self over to my apartment tonight, and I’ll show you a real man” and him being protective of his wife he says “Okay I’m gonna fight you now.” You see, so I got into his head, that’s street psychology, so he fell for it in the movie. Like in real life people come to me and say “Hey Mr. T you ain’t so tough, you ain’t nothin’” but I just go about my business [whistles]. They can call me what they want to call me, but they don’t touch me. So that’s that.

Will you be tackling any relationship advice on the show?
I want to say the sky’s the limit, but this is just our first year, so a lot of things are going to come. We’re going to step back and see what was good and what shows the people like. We’re going to listen to the people so we can please them.

What kind of advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
I tell them work hard. Don’t be discouraged. Get away from people who don’t energize you, who aren’t positive. Also, I tell people, if you want to be something don’t tell nobody your dreams cause a lot of people are dream killers. I speak from experience, I been through the stuff I talk about. Like I tell people, I can’t teach what I don’t know, I can’t lead where I don’t go. So I tell them you gotta work hard.
Like when they called me for Rocky, I had won this bouncer contest two years in a row and gave the money to my church and Rocky saw me on TV and said “Wow, that guy’s different and he can talk” so he called me out and I told people at the disco “Hey they want to put me in the movies” I’m happy for it, but they weren’t happy for me. I even gave a going away party at the bar, cost me about $2,000. People were walking around the disco drinking my drinks eating my food, saying “He ain’t goin’ nowhere. He ain’t no actor.” But because I’m so strong and positive, when people tell me a negative it’s like water to me, I drink it down. So I tell people, don’t get discouraged.

See, me coming up through the ghetto and whatnot my hero was Muhammad Ali so I studied Ali, I studied his poems, studied all his stuff that you should be good, I can do whatever I want to do, I keep training. Turn away from people who are negative. So you tell people you want to be an actor, you train, you study hard and keep some of your energy and dreams to yourself. Before we started doing the show people would be like “Hey man what you got coming up next?” I’d tell them I’m just relaxin’ cause they’d want to destroy my dream. It’s like that commercial for the cereal “Nut N Honey” where the wife’s in one room and the husband’s in the next and the wife says “What’re you eatin’?” and he says “Nutin’ honey.” You just say nothing because they’re gonna be negative.

You mentioned Rocky before, will you go out and see Rocky Balboa?
I probably will because, like I said, even though I’m not in the movie, I have much respect for Stallone because he gave me my start. I remember when I met him and he wanted to help. He even went up against the producers because they wanted somebody else. Then they saw me act and said “Wow, Mr. T WAS the right guy.” After I got the part they wanted to send me to acting school and he said “Don’t touch Mr. T, he’s got a rawness that I like, let him be himself.” So he took a chance with me. As a matter of fact we trained for two months. We trained January, February, and started in March. I told them, “I want you to know, for whatever reason you picked me, Sylvester, I’m gonna give you my best. I’ll give you 150% every day.” And you know what he said? He said, “I know you will T, I know you will.” And then I told the producers “I’m gonna work extra hard for you, I’m gonna give you all I got every day. You won’t have to worry about no moral stuff with me. I’ll be in one location, in the hotel and the only time I’ll go to a restaurant with some of the other people. It’s what I like, I like being in the hotel room, eating my room service. I don’t go to the bars, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. Well, I do do drugs, I’ve got to take some drugs because I’m a cancer survivor, so I take that type of drugs. I take stuff for cholesterol because the stuff I take increases my cholesterol, but I’m not abusing stuff, nothing like that. You know, I try to lead by example. I’m not perfect, I’m not an angel but I think I’ve got something to give to society.

Do you watch any of the super-hero movies?
Nah. I never saw the Superman movies, even when Christopher Reeve was in them. I just didn’t get into Superman, Batman and all them weird names cause they were make believe. Martin Luther King Jr. was my hero. Jim Fort, the Indian football player was my hero. I read about him, I used to watch the story every time it’d come on the TV, then I studied to learn more about him. When I read that they took his metals because some baseball team gave him money, so they took advantage of him because he couldn’t read and didn’t understand the language. The king of Switzerland or wherever when he saw Jim Fort at the Olympics he said “This is the greatest athlete in the world.” I like to read autobiographies of people who made it.
In my first comic book, I tell them that I’m the only real life superhero. I would tell them that you should never bring your kids around someone who wears a mask. Batman, Green Lantern and whoever else, someone wearing a mask, you can’t trust them. You don’t know who he is. Or a guy who’s got to go to a phone booth to change, you could be killed by the time he changes his clothes. But there’s Mr. T, he can go to work with whatever he’s got on because he’s Mr. T, always, 24 hours a day. I’m not Burt Wayne, whatever the guy’s name. I wake up every morning brushing my teeth, I’m Mr. T. I go to bed I’m Mr. T, I don’t have to change, I don’t have to say, “Wait a minute, I’ll be back, I’ve got to put my uniform on. It’s fun being me.

In reality, if Superman would come to the hood the brothers would take his uniform. If Batman drives in Harlem, they’ll take his car. But me being Mr. T they know I’m real. I’ve been around long enough, if I was a phony they would have found me out by now. Back when I first hit the scene after Rocky and people would ask me what I want to be I would tell them I want to feed 5,000 people like Jesus did. I’ve fed a lot of people, maybe not in a group like that, but I said I want to build a community center where the poor people can come and take a shower and get some clean clothes. I haven’t built a community center, but I have gone to a lot of homeless shelters and helped a lot of people. I’ve never told anyone, “Hey give me some clothes,” I just try to lead by example. So when people say, “Hey you wanna come to the party?” I say “No, I’m gonna go down and help the poor people,” and they know I’m real, that it’s not an act. That’s why I gave away my gold after Katrina last year. The poor people lost everything and me, as a Christian, it would be a sin against God for me to wear my gold when people have nothing. So I want the people to know that I’ve got a heart of gold. The only gold I’ve got left is a couple false teeth I have.

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