Interview with Lester Speight

Lester Speight is one of the busiest guys in Hollywood. If he is not tackling office colleagues (“Terry Tate: Office Linebacker”), then he is fighting alien robots (upcoming “Transformers 3”). Lester has plans to take over the business, though his main goal is to host Saturday Night Live and I know that this will happen for him because he will tear that roof down. Movie Mikes had a chance to talk with Lester about his career, how he got started and what is to come for the future.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you originally get started as the “Terry Tate Office Linebacker”?
Lester Speight: Back in 2000 I got a call from my agent, he said he found the perfect character for me. I was in Baltimore at the time and I told him to fax it over. I was just a short movie, but once I read it I said “If I can’t play this guy here, I cant play anybody” [laughs]. I went in and did an audition. When I walked into the room I was in character. When the audition started I just ripped right into it. I am half Jamaican, so I have a big mouth as it is. I knew that I knocked it out of the park when I left. We shot the original pilot in November that year. It went around Hollywood as a viral funny joke campaign. Terry Tate originally had a gold tooth but I told them I am not doing a gold tooth. An ad agency representing the Arnell Group saw it in 2002 and took it to Peter Arnell. Peter Arnell then took it to Reebok. They gave us a six figure budget to shoot four more shorts. They had a big sales meeting at Reebok in November of 2002. Micky Pant brought me into the sales meeting. During this meeting they are showing Venus Williams and Shakira and then they popped in Terry Tate and the whole place just erupted. I was in the back with Micky during the meeting. He was going to be on stage after the commercial. During his speech he got a call from his wife and started talking to her on stage. Terry Tate came out the back and blasted him over his chair. The place went bananas. He took a nice bump and tore his suit and everything. I screamed on stage “You know you can’t be on the phone unless you all alone. Who do you think you are, WOOOHH?” I stomped off stage. The next day they called ABC and bought the third quarter spot of the Super Bowl. Reebok’s stock quadrupled. It was the most visited website for three months, it got like 11 million hits. I even got to ring the closing bell at the NYSE.

Mike Gencarelli: Did you improv a lot of those tackle lines or were they all scripted?
Lester Speight: I added my flavor to every scene. The basic core of the dialogue were written by Rawson Marshall Thurber and Jason Mercer. The Wooh’s and the double Wooh’s were all me. I would add whatever I thought would fit the character. It was a marriage made in heaven. With Rawson’s creativity and my energy and acting creativity coming together, it was just one of those things. We caught the lightning in the bottle.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you have a favorite one?
Lester Speight: One of my favorite was when he said “That was Simone’s cake Phillip, next time you eat someone else’s cake again. I am gonna give you a slice of Terry’s special pain cake. And you WON’T want seconds of that, Wooh!!!”

MG: Have you always been a football fan?
LS: Growing I always was a football advocate and enthusiast. Playing high school and college football, but I didn’t have the pro career I thought I was gonna have. God, gave me a Super Bowl in this way with Terry Tate. I am ranked one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time. There are thousands and thousands of football player but not a lot can do what I have done. I am an actor and singer before I even put on a football uniform. Football is a youthful window and you have to play in between 21-25 if you want to go pro. As I getting older, I see the Lord had a different path for me. I always wanted to be an actor. With football you have to play it when you are young and then its over. I can act forever.

MG: Tell us about your role in the “Gears of War” video game series?
LS: I was just at Comic-Con for the “Gears” panel. The room was packed with like 500 people. It was crazy. When I did “Terry Tate”, I never thought it would be what it was. I figured that Cole Train would be similar to Terry Tate though not Terry Tate. I didn’t think I would be the star of that game since Marcus Fenix is the star of “Gears of War” but people really love the Cole Train. New game comes out April 2011.

MG: Have you ever been approached to play live-action Augustus Cole in a “Gears of War” movie?
LS: It’s funny, cause I know that Cliff Bleszinski and Rod Fergunson know I am more than capable of handling that role. The fans want it. The fans get off on actually seeing the voice actor on the screen. That has never really been done because more voice actors do not look like their character. I think with some of my success with the character is causing them to rethink how they want to use the Cole Train in the movie. We spoke about in Comic-Con, that we would want to do it in the fashion of “District 9”. They know that I am here and ready. It is going to happen. I am the only person who can play Cole Train, I brought him to life. That is what the fans want!

MG: How long have you been acting?
LS: I have been doing this a long time. My first movie I was an extra in was 1991, was “The Meteor Man” with Robert Townsend. That was the first time I walked on a movie set. Almost 20 years. When I was in college. I snuck around and took a couple of theater classes. I didn’t want my teammates to know. They would always yell at me “You can’t be an actor and play football”. I can’t be in too toos going to practice [laughs]. I felt the pressure one year and I dropped the class. I was just a communications major. My heart was always in acting. I grew up signing in a choir. My mother plays piano and she taught her kids how to play as well. I have always been very active. That energy has carried over now I am still training and working hard.

MG: Do you have a dream project you would want to work on?
LS: I have always wanted to get the opportunity to make a movie about Reggie White from the Eagles and Green Bay Packers. I think I can shine some light on his story. Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, I would love to play him. I really feel that one day I will have the chance do these great biographies. They are some of the bigger than life characters. I would really be honored to play them. Action stuff is great but as an actor you want to be able to try different challenges. I actually have a treatment for a Jack Johnson movie now that I am working on with a couple of producers. I always need to keep moving forward and up in this business.

MG: What other projects are you working on?
LS: I just did a movie with Billy Bob (Thornton) and Dwayne Johnson called “Faster”, my characters name is Baphomet. That movie will be out this Thanksgiving. Then I just did a movie with WWE called “Knucklehead”. Dennis Farina and I pair up. I play henchman named Redrum and I am the number one fighter in the movie. It is a comedy and it is really hilarious. I got a movie I did called “Peepworld”, my characters name is Wizdom. The film is directed by Barry Blaustein, who also worked on “Saturday Night Live” and “Coming to America”. I have been pretty busy man and pretty fortunate, especially in this recession.

MG: Do you ever think we will see the return of Terry Tate?
LS: Yes man. When I am done shooting “Transformers”, we are going to start pitching Terry Tate to all the apparel companies as well as some of the top corporate Fortune 500 companies. It will be called “Terry Tate: Superhero for Hire”. Reebok only leased the character for two years. So Terry is looking for a job. Maybe Home Depot. Maybe Nike. We were looking to run an angle with Terry Tate leaving Reebok to go to Nike. I love improv. My biggest goal right now is I can’t wait to host “Saturday Night Live”. I love sketch comedy. I am really looking forward to that day when I can stand up there and host that show. I got so many characters. You never know what can happen, the whole cast might be walking around as Terry Tate and I am a regular office worker. How funny would that be? The dramatic side has picked up for me recently. But when I get back to comedy people are really going to see that I have got the ability to entertain and make people laugh. We are going to do a major campaign to find Terry another company. You are leaking this news for the first time!!

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