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Pity the fool who doesn’t give Mr. T his due. The Chicago native, born Lawrence Tureaud, parlayed his street-tough image into success in “The A-Team” and Rocky III, becoming a children’s role model and one of the most recognizable faces of the 1980s. In our January 2016 issue of Muscle & Fitness, we caught up with the icon to talk to him about everthing from his training, to his hair and signature chains.
M&F: Where did the Mandinka hairdo come from?
Mr. T: I was going back to my tribal roots. I did it back in ’78 or ’79 when I found out that the [African] Mandinka warriors were bold and proud. When I first started wearing it, people gave me a hard time. I couldn’t get a date! But I was a trendsetter. Now everyone wants to rock my style.
M&F: Why all the gold chains?
I wear the gold for three reasons. When Jesus was born and the Three Wise Men visited him, one brought gold from the East. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. No. 2, I wear the gold because I can afford it. The third reason is when my ancestors were brought over from Africa it was in steel chains. I wear chains of gold to symbolize that I’m still a slave only my price tag is higher.
M&F: You’re quite vocal about how everyone should respect mothers. Did you ever fight for yours?
I got a lot of detention in grammar school because somebody said something bad about my mama and wouldn’t apologize. That’s where my toughness came in.
You’re playing the role of “Mr. Guaran-T” in a new series of commercials for Fairfield Inn & Suites. Who is he?
Basically me. If a guy stays at our hotel and he doesn’t like it, we tell him call this number and we’re going to make it right. I’m gonna be on tour for Fairfield Inn & Suites, going around to each one to make sure it’s up to snuff. I was born to play this character. If my name were Mr. M, it wouldn’t work, but since it’s Mr. T, I was waiting on them to call me!
M&F: So do guests really have a chance to see you in action?
You never know when you check in if Mr. T might be in the lobby waiting on you.
Let’s say there’s an employee at Fairfield who doesn’t leave a customer satisfied. Do you have a prediction for what would happen to him?
That would be paaaaain [echoing his line as Clubber Lang in Rocky III]. He’s outta there, right then and there. Not on my watch.
M&F: How did you land the part of Clubber lang?
In the script, they wanted Clubber to be from New York with a Jamaican accent. I got all these reggae records and studied the accent, but then when Stallone met me he said, “I want Mr. T to be himself.” So they made Clubber “the South Side Slugger” from Chicago.
M&F: Rumor has it you accidentally knocked out Sylvester Stallone while filming some of the fight scenes.
No, he’s a tough guy. At the audition I read a few pages of the script and then I had to box him. And he said, “Hit me harder.” Now I have knocked some guys out when I was a bouncer—I’m not proud of it, but it was self-defense. So I was worrying to myself, “If I hit him too hard he might not give me the part, but if I don’t hit him hard he might not either,” so I was in a quandary. But I hit him, and he felt it. He held his ground and I held mine.
M&F: Can you talk about the shape you got in for the role?
Next to my high school wrestling days when I was a champ at 165 pounds, that was the best condition I was ever in. As a mater of fact, I’m trimmed down now to the same weight I was when we made the movie. I was 218 in the movie and I’m 217 pounds now—I just got off the scale. I tell people Rocky lost to Clubber because he wasn’t hungry. So when people ask me why I still train so hard, I say, “I stay ready so I don’t have to get ready.”
M&F: What were some of your best lifts in the gym?
It surprises a lot of people, but I’m not a heavy lifter. I only use 25-pound dumbbells. When I was younger we weren’t privileged so we couldn’t go to a gym that had a lot of equipment. We did pushups and pullups and situps. I still do 100 pushups, 100 situps, and use dumbbells for maybe four sets of 15 to 20 reps.
M&F: Where do you think the character of Clubber Lang would be today?
He’d be in the Bahamas! [Laughs]. I think he would have stayed champ if Apollo didn’t jump sides and help Rocky. That brother sold me out. I couldn’t beat the Italian Stallion and a brother. But I was real mean in that movie. I watch it sometimes and I think, “Wow, I was mean.”