I met Mr. T when he was hosting the TVLand Ultimate Fan Search Contest in 2000. He came to my local mall and I was lucky enough to score a one-on-one interview with him. Though Mr. T was known for playing gruff characters such as BA Baracus on The A-Team, in person he was warm, enthusiastic and respectful. His attitude was infectious and when he stepped on to the stage, he captivate the crowd with his natural charm. The kids couldn’t get enough of him. They all wanted to talk to him and touch him and he welcomed them all with a huge, goofy grin and crazy antics.
Mr. T is a smart man. He knew that people came to see him because they loved him on The A-Team. So he sprinkled in a few “BA-isms” throughout his talk while he slid in and out of character. But he used most of his stage time to talk to the kids about being kind and respectful toward others. It was amazing and I walked away with an entirely different perspective on the man.
Here’s my 2000 interview with the one and only Mr. T.
Welcome to the Church of T
Mr. T: (Singing) Hey, hit me with your best shot. Are you going to stay awhile and watch me in action, Cynthia? I’m so excited, I tell you, I’m so excited (begins to sing – “I’m So Excited”)
Believe me, I’ve got my mediation tapes, this ain’t no run of the mill gig for me. I take a lot of pride, I’m honored that the people come out to see me you know. I want to thank everybody for coming out because it’s Saturday and they could be watching the Lakers game. It’s a hot day they could be surfing. And plus we’ve got the younger generation out there and that means I’ve been doing something good. That means that his parent or older sibling told him about Mr. T. It makes me feel good and I try to give them a good show.
Cyn: You’ve got a heck of a reputation with kids.
Mr. T: I guess that’s what the T stand for; to the women and the children it stands for tender. To the bad guys and thugs it’s tough. You see what I mean (hits fist).
Jesus says you have a tough mind but a tender heart. Be tough as a servant but tender as a dove. I’m tough when I have to be and tender when I should be. These same hands can go to a hospital and hold a child in intensive care. At the same time, these same hands can break bricks. I study the martial arts. I’m flexible like water. You put me on a table I’m flat. Put me here I come up. I’m just a cute, lovable teddy bear, a mama’s boy, but the toughest mama’s boy you ever did meet.
When I say mamma’s boy I’m saying that I love my mother, not that I’m a sissy. I explain to people that that’s the problem with society. We don’t have enough mama’s boys, because if we did have enough mamma’s boys we wouldn’t have the disrespect for women that we have. My mother taught me in the presence of a lady, I take my hat off. A lady comes in, yes ma’am, no ma’am. My mama told me be kind be nice, don’t worry about people calling me bad names, something like that. Because if they’re gonna talk about Jesus, they’re gonna talk about me. I expect that.
Here I come from the ghetto, covered in all this gold, I got seven brothers and four sisters and I wanted to do for them and I did. See, if I never make another dollar, if I’m never on TV again, all I ever wanted to do was done. I thank God for that.
When I was young I only had one goal, when I was 9-years old I drew a picture, came home from lunch and I said, mama there you is right there. That’s daddy in the rocking chair, and one of these days I’m going to be big and strong. I’m gonna be a football player and boxer and I’m going to buy you a pretty house. And I’ll buy you beautiful dresses.
See my mother was a maid. She used to scrub floors. I could have went bad, but I didn’t. Why? Because I loved and respected my mother too much. I wasn’t afraid of getting a whoopin’. I wasn’t afraid of going to jail. That’s how I tell my mother I love her. I said, no no, the kids say, come on T lets go do this and I’d say, no. They’d say, ‘what, you scared? ‘You a sissy? Them kids they called me a sissy but see they didn’t love their mother. I didn’t want my mother calling to me when the sun set. Like even now, I’ll be 48 tomorrow and I’ll be thinking about the simple things my mother taught me. Taught me to pray, to bless my food, to be kind, spend time with the less fortunate.
So that’s what I do, I don’t do it for the press. I don’t say, come on take a picture of me with this poor family. (He strikes a pose.) I don’t do that. I get stuff from Nike and Adidas and I go downtown in my private car and drop stuff off at the mission. See people on the street, talk to them, they say, wow is that you, man? You come to see us, man? Where’s your body guard? Where’s your people. I say, I come from Harlem, I don’t come from the press. If the press don’t know about it, I know and God knows, give quietly, don’t make a big deal out of it.
Cyn: What do you say to the kids who think they’re stuck and can’t get out?
Mr. T: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s my message. That’s what I try to do. There’s a method to my madness, my hairstyle, my earrings. See, if I just looked like a regular black guy, it wouldn’t have the same effect. I got to be different so people see this wild guy and they say he’s different, he talks about love and when I go to schools I tell people – they say, here’s Mr. T, he did Rocky and I say thank you, now let me introduce myself because you really don’t know me. You know of me, but you don’t know me, my mother, my father. The sacrifices my brother made. Two months before graduation in high school he joined the Army to take the pressure off my mother, another brother joined the Marines, they gotta know where I come from. They don’t know that I didn’t eat. That my mother had to knock on the neighbor’s door to borrow a dollar so we could have some bread.
They have to know where I come from and they say, wow that’s why you didn’t become bad, because I was tough. I was rough. I played football. I could have robbed people but I didn’t. My mother taught me don’t steal. You want something, son, you work hard for it. We was poor, we didn’t have clothes at Christmas and Easter but we loved each other. See a lot of parents buy kids material things to try to replace love and quality time.
I’ll tell you, I was speaking in Hawaii in 1988, a hospital there, and my rap is always be good to your mom and dad and this kid said to me, Mr. T. what if your parents are bad? Wow, that stunned me, so I had to change my rap because there is parents who are bad. So I say to kids, you gotta to want to be right. I don’t care if your mama was a prostitute and your daddy was a dope pusher, you gotta make it in your own heart that I’m gonna be something someday.