EXIT INTERVIEW: Carl Lewis
In the ’80s, Eddie Murphy’s imitation of Carl Lewis went like this: “I’m Carl Lewis! I can run faster than God! I’m Carl Lewis!” That’s not far from the truth, both of Lewis’s speed and his ego. But the 46-year-old says he’s matured — he’s acting, and he’s ready to remake track and field’s image, starting with an appearance at the Hershey’s Track & Field Games on August 2nd through 5th. He’s Carl Lewis!
How much stuff in Willingboro is named after you? Is there a Carl Lewis Boulevard? Carl Lewis Municipal Waste Center? [laughs] My high-school stadium is named after me. I’m sure some people there would like to do the waste center — trust me.
Is there a love/hate relationship with some folks in the ’Boro? Ninety percent of the people say, “We’re so proud of you.” Ten percent say, “He thinks he’s all that. He forgot where he came from.” But I just moved my mother back to Mount Laurel, and I bought a place as well. I speak to the schools every year. I love South Jersey.
Do you refer to yourself in the third person, like “Carl Lewis is hungry! Somebody make Carl Lewis a sandwich!”? No, I’m not into that. I’m still just exactly who I am. It does not make sense to me that I won nine gold medals. Athens [in 2004] was the first time it really crystallized in my mind. It took three guys there to do what I did in one Olympics. But I still don’t really get it.
Did your reputation as arrogant and aloof bother you? It did when I competed, but let’s be real — I demanded that I stay at the penthouse suite in every hotel. Everyone ate in the dining room, and I had room service. Then when we got to the meet, they all sat on the bench and I sat somewhere else. I’m more mature now, and I totally get it. I was aloof, I was arrogant. But it wasn’t in a mean way. And it worked.
Why come to the Hershey games? I thank Justin Gatlin for testing positive [for steroids]. That’s a horrible thing to say, but someone’s loss is someone else’s gain. They called me and wanted an athlete everyone knows is not on drugs. I want to observe what’s wrong with the sport and do something about it. That’s why I stood off by myself at the Penn Relays — to watch. I have some big ideas that I’ll announce to change the sport.
Is it true you were drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984? Yeah. I’m not a basketball player, and I refused to take a contract for less than Jordan [laughs]. I was drafted by the Cowboys first, ironically, because I’m the most insane Eagles fan. Imagine how much I would have talked [to the defender]. “You better back off. Please. I get by you, it’s over.” I’d be all in his ear.
I’m having fantasies of you in an Eagles jersey. If they had drafted me, I would have thought about it. That’s how big an Eagles fan I am.
Elite wide receivers and sprinters have a lot in common. Did you ever meet Terrell Owens? Yes. I think he should be on medication [laughs]. Or he stopped taking it. I like him, but I think he’s bipolar.
Let’s talk about your acting career. I enjoyed the acting reel on your website and your role as the ’70s foul-mouthed pimp Silky Slim: “Look, bitch, I want my money or I’m gonna smack you like I smack my ho!” I just tried to create something that was totally the opposite [of myself]. Believe it or not, that was totally ad-libbed. We shot in downtown L.A., and we were stopped by guys saying, “It’s okay, Carl, we’ll get ’em!” Don’t you see the camera?
What did your role in Hilary Duff’s Material Girls teach you about the craft? My acting coach was also her coach. I learned you don’t get a lot of opportunities, so you have to seize the moment. I just wrote a script called Soloman’s Pride, based on Philadelphia. I want to shoot on location. It’s a family drama.
What was more embarrassing — the European music video you made in the ’80s, or you butchering the national anthem at an NBA game? You know, they’re both part of the process. I’m like, whatever. I don’t take it that seriously.
There’s a fascination in seeing someone so successful do something badly for a change. You become human. You know, I’m glad you said that. Maybe the message is I’m exactly like everybody. I was just able to run faster.