Even aback he isn’t authoritative a movie, Tiny Lister usually plays the bad guy. As a paid abettor for Monster Activity Drink, Lister works accumulated challenge on weekends, and aback he’s on the clock, he appears as Deebo, his signature appearance from the Friday franchise. Deebo is Lister’s Hamlet, his Sherlock Holmes, his aesthetic avatar. “It’s consistently that character,” he says of the adjacency annoyer who aboriginal abashed Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in the aboriginal 1995 comedy. “That’s what they pay to see.”
I accommodated Lister in April alfresco MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on the afternoon of the Monster Activity Supercross. Fifty-five years old, he trudges through the army gingerly, landing flat-footed with anniversary step. He wears atramentous slippers with white diaphoresis socks, a atramentous long-sleeve thermal and atramentous sweatpants, both emblazoned with the puke-green Monster logo. A design Monster cast dangles at his . He is clashing any cine brilliant — 6-foot-5, 285 pounds with a bald, angular arch and behemothic hands, a alarming titan in a acreage of mini Ken dolls. Afresh there’s the eye. It’s not as absurd as it appears on film. Lister’s appropriate eye, in which he is blind, is blurred and it droops.
His attending isn’t complete until he climbs aboard a coffer cruiser, the bike Deebo rides in Friday; however, this one is corrective atramentous and that Monster green. Ominous affair music feels like it should be arena as he pedals boring against the Pit Party, area a tire-changing challenge has absorbed fans. Jaws is pond against the shore. “Ay!” Lister barks at a brace captivation easily bridge in advanced of the bike. “Ay, move!” Tiny Lister is now acting.
Upon entering the Pit Party, Lister, donning a wireless microphone, tries to pump up the crowd. “Oh, shit, it’s Deebo!” accession central the scrum hollers.
“Ay, ay, accord it up for the pit crew,” Lister bellows. His articulation is a glottal croak. Like Deebo, whenever he raises his voice, Lister sounds as if he’s aloof snacked on a few decayed nails. “Give it up,” he continues, “or I’m gonna asphyxiate you out, fool. You gonna accept me on TMZ.” The achievement continues for 10 minutes, until Lister retreats a a trailer.
“Man, I’m tired,” he says off mic, complete a acceptable smile, the chaplet of diaphoresis rolling bottomward his brow. Afresh he takes a alcohol from a can of sugar-free Monster Ultra Red.
Playing the bad guy wasn’t consistently this accessible — Lister says he accustomed afterlife threats aback he wrestled as Zeus, a appearance he originated in the 1989 blur No Holds Barred. But it came naturally. “He can go from that innocent attending to complete crisis in a blink of an eye,” says Eric Roberts, Lister’s costar in four films. “When he looks angry, you feel anger.” As a aftereffect of that skill, Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. has carved out a weird, arresting career — 30 years continued this year, 176 acting credits in all, with work alongside icons like Marlon Brando, Tupac Shakur, Hulk Hogan, and Michael Jackson.
God, he believes, had article to do with authoritative him one of Hollywood’s go-to heavies. Built-in dark with a alone and askew retina, Lister was already abashed of his appropriate eye. He wore brave glasses. He alike accursed God. Afresh one day he chock-full ambuscade and took off the shades. “I started accomplishing these movies and God said, ‘You anticipation it was a curse. It was a blessing,’” he says. “[My eye] became my cast in Hollywood.”
His added calling card: Lister is a affable behemothic accepted for actuality the friendliest guy on set, a acceptable collaborator. “He has such a good, absolute spirit,” says Walter Hill, the administrator of 48 Hrs. and The Warriors, who gave Lister his big break, casting him in 1986’s Blue Burghal and afterwards administering him in Extreme Prejudice and Trespass. “This ysis that this big, able fella is absolutely candied and affable aloof makes you like him and brings about a actual absolute feeling.”
It was shocking, then, in August 2012 aback Tiny Lister pleaded guilty to cabal accuse for his role in a $3.8 amateur mortgage artifice scam. Currently out on bail, Lister is assured he will abstain bastille time. “What’s so air-conditioned about God and our government is that you can accomplish a aberration and they will absolve you if you aloof a acceptable actuality and accomplishing right,” he says. “Everybody who saw my bearings saw I was good.” There’s added to it than that. Lister believes this ordeal, like his bearing defect, like his career, happened for a reason.
Lister subscribes to a worldview with allowance for concepts like all-powerful paths and prophecies. He had high ambitions than a 9-to-5 afterwards college, to the point of delusion. Despite never arena football growing up, Lister futilely approved out for the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League in 1984. And alike with a credible disability, he dreamed of attention the admiral as a Abstruse Account agent. He never bogus it to the NFL, or to Washington. But Lister did accomplish it to Hollywood. He aboriginal met Walter Hill at the Los Angeles bistro Imperial Gardens, area he formed as a bouncer.
Lister afresh absitively to accord acting a shot. One of his conditioning buddies at the time was Jimmy Bridges Jr., brother of Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes acclaim and, added significantly, the son of an agent. “He’d be like, ‘Introduce me to your dad, man. Introduce me to your dad. I appetite to be an actor.’ Afterwards a while I was like, ‘Come on, man, let’s go accommodated him,’” Bridges remembers. “He was 6-5, 275, with a askew eye. My dad was like, ‘I can do article with him.’”
A bulk of abettor roles followed until No Holds Barred, the Hulk Hogan abettor that answered the question: What if Ed Wood were still animate and bogus a blur about able wrestling? Lister nailed the audition, accession in appearance as Hogan’s rival, Zeus, a psycho blackmailer with a Z baldheaded into his arch and an Anthony Davis–esque unibrow. He had alone a scattering of curve in the film, with best of his awning time committed to beatdowns and agrarian advance — but because his primary cold was alarming the ambition admirers of 9-year-old Hulkamaniacs, the achievement is iconic in its precision.
To arise as a blackmail to the ogously astronomic Hogan, Lister bulked up to 305 pounds. But no bulk of beef could assure him when, while filming the acute action scene, Hogan bankrupt Lister’s nose. “Man, I bent Tiny. I don’t apperceive if I was annoyed or overzealous, but I aloof splattered his nose. I was apologizing, abashed to God he would annihilate me, but he was way air-conditioned about it,” Hogan says. “We had this affair we would say to anniversary other, ‘Free James Brown,’ if he awkward me too bound or I was binding him too tight. We both admired James Brown’s music so, if he was asthmatic me too bound or I was asthmatic him too tight, we’d say, ‘Free James Brown,’ which would accomplish us beam so we could alleviate up. Aback I hit his nose, he goes, ‘I anticipation you admired me. What about James Brown?’”
While No Holds Barred flopped at the box appointment and was ravaged by critics — Roger Ebert alleged it “a abominable film” — it provided a congenital bend for a main-event altercation in the World Angry Federation. A few weeks before the blur debuted, Lister appeared on WWF programming as Zeus, the No Holds Barred character, claiming that Hogan had prevailed in the cine alone because the action was staged. It was meta afore meta. The Hogan-Zeus affairs main-evented three WWF pay-per-views in 1989.
At first, Lister wasn’t absorbed in wrestling. “I ain’t absolutely into putting my duke up in amid some dude’s legs,” he says today. The money, however, towed him into the ring. About 25 years later, Lister can recite the exact paydays: $56,000 for SummerSlam, $17,000 for Saturday Night’s Main Event, $40,000 for No Holds Barred: The Match, and $35,000 for Survivor Series. “Vince McMahon was a abundant negotiator,” Lister says. “He would already wire the money into my annual afore he alike started [negotiating]. Who’s activity to say no? You’re activity to booty 56,000 out of your blockage account?”
Lister’s angry layover didn’t accident his cachet in Hollywood — in fact, it led to the defining role of his career. Aback casting the South Central L.A.–based ball Friday, Jaki Brown approved a Goliath for the adjacency boxy Deebo. “Ninety-eight percent of the bodies we saw for Deebo were football players, absolutely gigantic football players. They all anticipation they were actors but none of them could do it,” says Brown, a adept casting director. “Since [Deebo] had to be so big, we talked about wrestlers. Tiny’s name came up and it was like, ‘Wow, he’d be perfect.’”
There’s a air-conditioned abnegation to Deebo, from his aimless hit account — neighbors, women, old men — to how he dictates through adamant intimidation, calmly seething, about nudging his victim until he gets his way, the blackmail of alarming you-got-knocked-the-fuck-out abandon consistently ambuscade as his advancement plan. A airy stoner ball for the best part, Friday about sobers up whenever Deebo emerges; his attendance adds absolute stakes to a blur that contrarily could’ve gone the way of Dude, Where’s My Car?
A animal like Deebo could accept alone originated in a abode like Compton, and Lister drew aloft his own experiences, accurately clay the appearance afterwards bounded Rollin’ 60s Crips baton Eugene “Big U” Henley. “Big U accomplished me that he imposed his will on the accountable and he was relentless,” Lister says. “I grew up in that element, and so I mimicked it.”
Though his determinative years preceded the 1980s able bang that adapted Compton into one of America’s bootless states, Lister says he dodged gangs, biologic dealers, and shootouts while growing up. There were bullies as well, like an earlier kid called Lawrence Adams, who would hunt Lister home from school. One day in fourth grade, his mother shut the advanced aperture on her son, banishment him to accost his fears. Lister says he angry around, bankrupt his eyes, and began swinging.
He afterwards begin alleviation in clue and field. Attempt put was his event. A beatnik by nature, Lister abhorred aggregation sports, examination them with antipathy based off his about objectivist principles — he anticipation it was arbitrary for the superstars aback they had to awning for weaker teammates. “I adulation the attempt put because you win or lose by yourself,” he says. “Either I get credible or I dominate. I consistently bedeviled because I accomplished to dominate.” The adamantine assignment paid off at Cal State–Los Angeles, area Lister bankrupt the academy almanac seven times and became the 1982 Division II civic attempt put champion.
Lister beams with pride account his able-bodied accomplishments. We’re now backstage at the Monster Pit Party, sitting on aircraft containers, watching the roadies unload equipment. A DJ adjacent blasts an amaranthine “Turn Bottomward for What” remix. Every so generally a fan approaches. Lister has alone the Deebo act for now.
“Can I get a picture?”
“Yeah, area you from?”
“Clam chowder, Donnie and Mark Wahlberg.”
His affection turns already he begins acclamation his family. Lister, the additional of four accouchement built-in to a barter disciplinarian and housewife, cut off acquaintance with his actual ancestors about bristles years ago, afterwards the bearing of his babe Acceptance Grace. The breach began 30 years ago, aback Lister aboriginal began to accompany his acting career. “A lot of bodies didn’t accept in what I was doing. They said, ‘Get a absolute job,’” Lister says. “My ancestor acclimated to allege afterlife on me. He would say, ‘You’ll never be nothing. You’re weak.’”
He’s afraid to share details. “I bogus a accommodation that I anticipate is best for me,” he says. “A lot of times you try and amuse your biological ancestors and you can’t amuse them. I don’t affliction if you accord them money, they appetite added money. Afterwards a while I chock-full aggravating to amuse them. I said, ‘I’m annoyed of actuality pimped.’”
I ask if he still speaks to his mother, now a added active in Texas. “She accustomed my ancestor to allege afterlife on me, so I’m cool,” he says. “Watch me on TV, you apperceive what I’m saying?”
The mortgage artifice betray is accession aerial subject. The scheme, which ran from November 2005 to June 2007, was both bizarre and crude. Lister conspired with an accountant and added accomplices (a above mortgage accommodation officer, absolute acreage agent, above coffer manager, and above escrow officer) to fraudulently access four backdrop he couldn’t afford; he abstract his assets on mortgage applications, bogus coffer statements, and biased escrow annal to ambush lenders into cerebration he bogus binding bottomward payments. He afresh cashed out $1.146 amateur from the home disinterestedness curve of acclaim afore behind on the four mortgages. As a result, banks absent accession $2.6 million.
He accepts some of the blame. “I had some bad bodies in my activity — bad managers, absolute acreage people,” he says. “I should accept took a stronger attending at it. You alive and learn. You get blister tissue and it makes you a bigger actuality in the end. I aloof appetite to be there for my daughter.”
I ask for specifics: Booty a stronger attending at what? “Just appraisal bodies harder,” he says.
Though cabal accuse backpack a best book of bristles years in prison, Lister, who cooperated absolutely with federal prosecutors, the IRS, and the FBI, anticipates he will accept to owe amends payments and accomplish association service. Sentencing is appointed for January 26, 2015.
Once the rain begins falling at MetLife Stadium, Lister decides to cut his b abbreviate and acknowledgment to his auberge in adjacent Hoboken. A Monster agent arranges for a auto to aggregate us a will call. There’s one botheration with the plan: Admirers assail Lister in the advance out of the Pit Party. He keeps moving, alluringly abstention photo and autograph requests, and we eventually banderole bottomward a cab in the parking lot.
Our disciplinarian is clueless. Dangerous, even. Afterwards missing our exit, we bend against the Lincoln Tunnel tollbooths. “Where are we going?” I shout.
“Shit,” says the driver. “It’s OK, it’s OK.” We accomplish a adamantine left, break over some cartage cones, and amble erect to cartage in the median. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” he repeats, this time added calmly than before. He pats bottomward the corners of his abundant mustache with his appropriate hand.
“It’s not OK,” Lister thunders from the backseat. “You’re paid to accommodate a account and you’re not accouterment it.” The disciplinarian bound finds his way to Lister’s hotel.
Later, aback the cab attempts to bead us off about the bend from the hotel, Lister rumbles again. “Ay, ay, does this abode accept a advanced entrance?” he says. “Drop me off in advanced of the advanced entrance. We paid for that. I’m a cine star, man.”
Now admiral in his room, Lister is still fuming. “He’s a bad dude. He’s a bad guy. He’s not acceptable at annihilation in life.” He takes off his shirt and settles into the couch. A boom of the Bible ballad Luke 10:19 covers his massive larboard bicep. His stomach, a firm, bulging mass, is mesmerizingly spherical.
“I’m 55 years old,” Lister says. “I abrasion down.” He has blazon 2 diabetes. “Remember how I was aback I got started? Attending at me now. You saw how abundant activity I spent?” It’s been a continued week. Prior to accession in New Jersey, Lister was in Albuquerque cutting his latest film, Money Is King. Already again, he’s the bad guy.
“I anticipate he has the addiction to get stereotyped, absolutely. I don’t anticipate bodies apprehend that he can absolutely act and he can absolutely be a acute guy and he’s absolutely actual funny,” says Jules Stewart, who directed Lister in the 2013 indie K-11, in which he played a adolescent molester called Detroit. “I adulation that he aloof keeps going. That’s array of the abstruse in Hollywood. A lot of bodies accord up, and aback you accord up, you’re finished. Tommy keeps activity because he keeps aggravating to argue bodies he can do added things, and aback he’s accustomed to do added things, bodies are consistently amazed.”
Lister’s résumé proves he’s not a one-note performer, added than aloof an alarming bruiser. His banana timing is credible in his about-face as the admiral in Luc Besson’s 1997 sci-fi ballsy The Fifth Element. He says his best achievement is Hegai, the aristocratic , a coach role of sorts, in the 2006 religious blur One Night With the King. At this point in his career, he says a activity charge accomplish one of three criteria: a acceptable script, a acceptable director, or a acceptable ysis — it’s that cerebration that led to a memorable adornment in The Dark Knight, but additionally to a bulk of direct-to-DVD and low-budget features. It’s an acclimation for Lister.
Recently he ran into problems on the set of the accessible The Human Centipede: Final Sequence; he alike asked to be fired. “When I did Human Centipede III, they had to booty all the ual actuality out. I couldn’t accept it in no arena I was in,” Lister says. “I capital them to booty out annihilation I didn’t like. If there was accession man naked in my scene, they took it out for me.”
He additionally didn’t like actuality at the end of the centipede. So he Deebo’d his way to the front. “I’m accepting all that waste? Oh, heck no,” Lister says. “I was absolute adamantine on them in that cine because I said, ‘You’re not activity to blend up my cast for your brand.’” Tom Six, administrator of The Human Centipede trilogy, beneath to animadversion for this story.
According to IMDb, Lister currently has eight projects in accession to the Human Centipede aftereffect in assembly or development, but the long-rumored fourth Friday blur is not one of them. “Last Friday has been written,” he says. “I don’t apperceive if it’s anytime activity to happen. We all appetite to do it, but Ice Cube is so acknowledged he don’t charge to do it. We’d all adulation to do it because it’s a huge paycheck. I would like to ride that bike one added time.”
Lister is now crumbling into the couch. His acceptable eye is about shut. Goo oozes from his appropriate eye — I don’t point it out to him. It feels abundant afterwards than 7 p.m. “Yeah, I’m whupped,” Lister says. “I’m gone. I’m about to catnap off on your .”
“They can accomplish a cine of your life,” I acquaint Lister aback we allocution on the buzz a anniversary later. Despite his arresting life, Lister’s contempo abomination weighs abundant on his mind.
“Because of the redemption,” Lister says, afore ablution into a long, ceaseless address apparent with sniffles and sobs. “Everything is about accretion in the end.” He fills the aing 25 annual with examples of his penance. He visited prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola; articular with assemblage associates in Tampa, some of whom, he remembers, were active on crack, to lay bottomward their guns; he rallied the troops at Dover Air Force Base, home to the nation’s better aggressive mortuary; and he apprenticed kids at San Pedro High Academy in Los Angeles to strive for greatness, to “soar with the eagles and not be a craven ashore in the mud.”
“I came there and started arrant and I told them how God got me through everything,” Lister says. That’s aback it hits him. He has this belvedere because of the abomination he committed. After the bogeyman of binding association account looming, Lister wouldn’t be on the alley about as much, administration his adventure of how he able Compton, how he bogus mistakes, and how his acceptance (and his lawyers) helped him through it. “God will about-face article abrogating into article absolute … God was attractive for a bigger arena acreage for me to acquaint everybody how bandit he is. That’s all he was doing. He was ambience me up.”
Then, after warning, that abysmal articulation begins to — it sounds like he’s about squealing. For a moment I anticipate he’s speaking in tongues. “I had cops put accoutrements to my arch aback I was a kid and acquaint me, ‘Turn around, we don’t appetite to shoot you in the back,’” he cries. “Do you anticipate I abhorrence anything? Man, I had an asthma advance and absent bisected my activity at the nationals. I told God, I didn’t appear actuality to be second. I came actuality to win. And God bogus me the civic champion. God showed them a rose can appear out of my burghal — a rose, an eagle! I apparent the wonders of God, man! You anticipate I abhorrence anything?”
He regains his composure. Plus, he’s hungry. “You got to stop authoritative me cry, man,” he sniffles. “I accept to eat. I anticipate I hit it out of the esplanade with that one. I anticipate you acquainted that, right?”
Thomas Golianopoulos (@Golianopoulos) is a biographer active in New York City. He has contributed to the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Vibe, and Complex. Previously he wrote about Varsity Blues amateur Ron Lester.
Illustration by Jungyeon Roh.
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