The writer, producer, director, and actor talks about his latest project
He’s been writing before the age of 18, but Tyler Perry just recently started getting nationwide attention. His 2005 film Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which is based off his very successful play, made him a household name, as well as his alter ego Mable ‘Madea’ Simmons. He truly is a quadruple threat.
Now, Tyler and Madea are back with their newest movie, Madea’s Family Reunion. And when Tyler calls, people come; this movie has beyond a star-studded cast. Some of the biggest legends in the entertainment business are in this film. We’ll start with the main actors, Blair Underwood and Lynn Whitfield; oh, and then throw in Maya Angelou to compliment Cicely Tyson, who appeared in ‘Diary,’ and you’re looking at one of the best array that Hollywood can offer.
This is the first time directing for Tyler, so to take on these legends behind the camera was an amazing experience. “They were so gracious. When they responded to the material, especially Dr. Angelou, she said to me, 'I'm with you on this. I understand what you're doing.' And when that happened, that allowed me to have the level of comfort of knowing she's with me. So, 'Sit here. I need you here. I need you to feel this emotion and do those things.' It was a no-brainer. They were great.”
And having them on set was a nice transition from some newcomers like Lisa Arrindell Anderson and Rochelle Aytes. Even Tyler found it a nice gap of experience. “You've got these legends, Cicely Tyson and Dr. Angelou, you've got these legends here, and these new fresh faces that nobody's seen before who are incredible, who deserve a chance, so why not bring the power of them with the legend and have everybody pay attention to them?' And I'm always the person for the underdog. You'll find a lot of that in a lot of things I do. That's what they called me, the underdog, so I'm always looking for the person who hasn't had that shot, but who can definitely do it.”
Tyler gets in the costume of Madea in these films, and in the plays, but he also plays ‘Uncle Joe’ and takes himself out of the make up and becomes a regular character in this film. Does he ever get confused of who he’s playing? “No, they're very separate. I've managed to keep them very separate, because Madea is a character for me. When I'm writing, what I'll do is I'll write the scenes for me; the chicken comes before the egg or the serious things come first. All of the drama comes first and if you take Madea out of all of that, you'll be left with a pretty heavy story and then Madea goes in to give her opinion, because I can go in in my mind as the character and look around the room and see she would have a reaction to some of this stuff.”
It’s that Madea character that really means a lot to Tyler; he says she means a lot to everyone. “Madea is a character who was around on every corner 20 or 30 years ago. Now she's extinct, especially in the African-American family, even though a lot of people can relate to her no matter what race, you know somebody like this character, I truly believe that. But what she represents was the protection of the family. If it takes a village to raise a child, then she was the head of the village, back in the day.”
After the success of Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Tyler already had an idea for Madea’s Family Reunion. He says he knew he was going to make this film before the release of ‘Diary.’ And that’s because of the popularity of his plays; it’s that audience plus the American public who’s going to see this movie. “being on tour all over the country, you see all of these people and they say, 'We're going, Tyler. We're going to support you. We're going to support you.' And then they go. So I was grateful. I knew they were there, but to have them go was a whole 'nother thing. I was grateful. I was so thankful to G-d for that to happen.”
Grateful doesn’t come close; it’s reported Tyler has grossed more than $80 million dollars just from his plays and DVD profits from ‘Diary.’ But that doesn’t seem to phase him. What he does say is different is people are recognizing him on the streets, which didn’t happen before the first film. And a little help from Oprah. “What Oprah has allowed me to do is reach an audience that wouldn't have known anything about Tyler Perry, not that I wanted to get the first time; but it totally helped in the phone calls, because every phone call the answer was a ‘yes.’ Whereas before, Kimberly(Elise) was always my first choice and Shemar (Moore) was always my first choice, but on some of the other actors there was some resentment and we had to search to cast a few of the roles. It turned out to be the perfect people for the roles, but in the beginning, yeah it was tough. That's why I hooked up with Ruben Cannon to produce the movie, because had I come in by myself, they'd be like, ‘Who’s Tyler Perry.’”
This film really tackles a lot of serious issues like spousal abuse and rape, but there’s also a ton of comedy thrown in, with a great and strong message at the end. Tyler talked about the tonal shifts he takes as a combination of what he knows and what people are looking for. “I write from the aspect of complete life. In life, we go through moments where we're in very serious moments one minute and then we're in very dramatic moments the next. And I know that this works, because I'm on stage with 30,000 people every week and I do it every week. We go into one serious moment, one, and then we're laughing the next and it helps to talk about these kinds of subjects.”
But what brings these complicated themes together is family. “In one family, you can go through all of those things and I know several families personally that every one of those things are represented. When you talk about a family reunion, you talk about the issues of family and that's what I wanted to do when I was writing. Just go through each character's situation, what is going on in all of these people's lives and the family.”
What’s after this for Tyler? He’s got a film he’s working on called Daddy's Little Girls. No, Madea won’t be in this one; he wants to take a break from her. Tyler will just be writing and producing it.
But you can obviously catch Tyler in Madea’s Family Reunion as Madea, Uncle Joe, and Brian when it hits theaters February 24th; it’s rated PG-13.