The entire cast gathers for a Q&A session about Perry's latest dramatic comedy
I first came across Tyler Perry late one Sunday afternoon after a hard night of dominating the Gin cabinet. Two other friends and I were sitting on the coffee bean covered floor of a small bug-infested hovel in Long Beach, California. We were laughing hysterically at the staged antics coming in via a bent TV antennae wrapped around and supported by a coat hanger. It was the live telecast of Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns. Which was being aired on the local bible channel for free. We found it funny because, a few short hours before passing out on a heap of shattered Christmas tree ornaments, we'd concocted a liquor drink we'd dubbed "On the Town Brown". Because of its hideous color.
Now, this strange black man in drag was carrying on that gut punch line from the night before. He kept yelling, "Put that down, Brown!" And it struck a nauseous chord. At the time I had no idea who Tyler Perry was. Or that he was on the brink of dominating the entertainment industry with his self-written allegories on the human spirit. Imagine my surprise, here, some five years later, when I sat down in front of the man in person. Pondering the fact that he has since become a multi-million dollar institution within himself.
Perry was on hand to celebrate and discuss his forth theatrical feature Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? Seated at the long table with him were most of his cast, a capable and funny group of supporting players that have elevated this, his current dramatic comedy, into the hard to reach realm of erstwhile cinema.
Based on one of his live stage plays, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? explores that very question. A group of four couples meet in a mountain retreat only to find that they are harboring some of the deepest darkest secrets; and are keeping them from each other. Its funny, lively stuff that hit a strong chord with the viewing audience at my particular screening. The film is shaping up to be another gargantuan hit.
That vibe ran through this particular press conference last week. In attendance at the Four Seasons were Perry himself, along with Janet Jackson, Jill Scott, Tasha Smith, Denise Boutte, Lamman Rucker, and Sharon Leal.
Here is their very candid discussion:
What is the secret of a good relationship?
Tyler Perry: Nobody at this table knows. The two on the end have been married for a while. Denise and Sharon.
Sharon Leal: I wish I knew the whole secret. So far, it's been about honesty and communication.
Denise Boutte: You can't lose yourself in the relationship. I think that is very well portrayed in the film by Jill Scott as Sheila. You can't live your life and give yourself to a person, unless you can be yourself. You have to love yourself first in order to be able to give to that other person.
Janet Jackson: Gosh, I've been married twice and divorced twice. I'm still trying to figure it out.
What made you decide to cast these particular actors?
Tyler Perry: First of all, I love new faces. I love breaking new faces in. Like Lamman Rucker and Denise Boutte. Sharon Leal had already done a couple of different things including Dreamgirls. As I was writing the movie, the cast just kind of came together. What I do is just write it and then surrender it. Denise really pushed for Tasha Smith to have this role. We had just done Daddy's Little Girls and I'm so glad she got it because I don't see anybody else playing the role. She was amazing. Janet and I were talking, I think, a week or so before we started casting. Their deals went really quick. Jill had auditioned and was perfect for it. Laman had auditioned. It all just worked out.
You've gone on record as saying that this is your favorite film to date. Why do you feel that way?
Tyler Perry: I try to grow on every film, but I'm walking now. I was crawling on everything else. The way this story was told, I think, was very unique. Using the camera the way I did was very different for me. There's some people who really get into camera movement and all this other stuff. For me, I really stretched it out. And having an amazing cast really made the movie come alive. Because everybody brought their own personality to it.
Tasha Smith: I think there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the cast. We all just hit it off. Friendships were built from day one. It's so sincere. We all genuinely really love each other. We had so much fun. We would always rehearse because we knew Tyler was so busy with our shooting schedule and everything. We always wanted to get on the set and be as prepared as possible so that he wouldn't have to get us there. As far as our work was concerned. We would all come together and work it out. We would talk a lot about our characters and our relationships. The girls would hang out and bond.
Denise Boutte: Not me, though. I wasn't allowed to hang out with the girls.
Tasha, what did you use as a substitute in the scenes where we see you drinking?
Denise Boutte: She probably didn't need a substitute.
Tasha Smith: No, I needed one. I was going through a divorce when I was filming the movie. I had just gotten my divorce papers when I arrived on the set. So I think a little bit of my ex-husband and my past relationships went in to making that look real. That helped me to deal with some of the frustrations that my character had.
Lamman Rucker: You were giving that man the blues.
With someone like Janet Jackson in your cast, how did you keep it from being all about her character?
Tyler Perry: Janet was very, very adamant going in that she wanted an ensemble piece. I thought, "Why don't we change this? Why don't we make it a little more interesting?" She's like, "No, it's all there. Everything is there. It's perfect for me." She's very fair that way. I think the biggest hurdle was getting over "Janet Jackson" as you're watching the movie. But if you watch it for longer than 15 minutes, you realize that Janet is not Janet. She's Patricia, the character. She's totally surrendered to it.
Tasha Smith: I totally forgot it was Janet when we were filming. I was like, "Where's Rhythm Nation? Where's Pleasure Principle?" She just was Patricia.
Tyler, can you talk about your directing style? How much ad-libbing do you allow on set?
Tyler Perry: Ninety-nine percent of it is my writing. I think there are certain moments that you just have to let happen. There was one scene, in the bathroom, at the end, with Jill. I was asking her questions. Because if you are a person who is in tune with people, you can tell by their body language that they are wanting more. They want to go outside of the character. I noticed that with Tasha, and with Janet, too. They want to go outside of these characters. And there is more that they want to say. I think if you are a director, and you are very controlling, you wouldn't want that to happen. But for this kind of piece, and if all of us our friends, you should give them that power. You still have the ability to edit it if you don't like it. So, I loved everything they did.
Jill, how did you manage to transition from a musician to an actor?
Jill Scott: I don't know that it's really different, really. When I write a song, I tap into the emotion and the feeling, and then I use the emotion to write the words. It's the opposite when I act. I use the words and tap into the emotion. It's basically the same for me, in a lot of ways. I don't know how different it is.
Tyler Perry: So, on your new album that came out Tuesday, that People Magazine named the sexiest album of the year, you have a song called Celibacy. When you talk about Celibacy, did you use the words? Or did you use the music to get to the words?
Jill Scott: I used the reality. And wrote a song about it. That's pretty much how it goes with song writing. You have an emotion, a feeling, a thought. You have these emotions. You then write it down and share it with everybody. He gave us great words. He gave us great lines to say. All I had to do was tap into the places where I was hurt. The place where I was wounded. And I revealed those things.
Janet, was there anything in the role of Patricia that you saw in yourself?
Janet Jackson: There were a few things, actually. Like Tyler had said earlier, there was really no time to prepare for the role because he brought myself and my husband in as the last characters.
Tyler Perry: Her husband in the movie. In the movie.
Janet Jackson: Yes, yes. A lot of my friends, they call me "the therapist". They come to me looking for advice. I must be doing something right because they keep coming back. But I'm not very good at looking into my own world and trying to pick apart what is really wrong and fix those things. I like to kind of shy away from certain issues and turn away.
Tyler touches on the subject of HIV and African Americans in the film. What does that say about the type of person Tyler Perry is?
Tasha Smith: What I love about Tyler Perry and his writing is that he addresses things in our community we are afraid to address. He keeps it real. He keeps it honest, and that's why it made it really easy for us as actors to say those words. They're words that we think and things that we experience and see, but we don't always say it. So we got an opportunity to do that.
Lamman Rucker: I particularly do a lot of work with HIV and AIDS prevention education, so that was definitely something that hit close to home for me as well. It was good. I think a lot of people obviously shy away from the pressure and the responsibility of being role models, or whatever language you want to use. But I also think it's very important that you have a cast that is setting an example to some degree. If that's the type of people and characters that we are, I found it very impressive that it was important that we were modeling at least certain types of behavior that other people would listen to and would emulate. He does a great job.
Sharon Leal: I think part of Tyler's appeal, the reason he's so loved and his fan base is so huge, is because it's undeniable. The social consciousness that he has. If you go to his website, he writes letters personally to his fans and gives them an opportunity to talk. He cares about what we're all going through as a community. It's amazing to have someone that is in tune and that is caring and wants to bring important issues to help people get through.
Lamman Rucker: You guys keep talking about relationships. One of the things that he has nailed is finding that honesty and that communication. Throughout most films, there's no real honesty or communication. The simplicity of what Tyler has done through both his plays and as a person is the same reason why we are all here. Its that honesty and associability. He has a great personality. I give him the blues. We tease each other and we give each other a hard time, but I know that he is the boss just the same. I understand.
Jill Scott: It is about a different kind of reflection. We continue to see the same reflections again and again. Everybody is in some kind of drug warfare. Everybody is in some kind of negative something. But to see people who are established, and married, and working at it, that is a reality for a lot of us. He is able to bring that to the screen.
Tasha Smith: I like that he allowed us to have money. I wore a fur coat everyday. He allowed that, and I said, "Alright, Tyler Perry!"
Tyler Perry: It was faux-fur. Make sure you note that it was faux-fur.
Tasha Smith: It looked good, and it felt good.
Did you face any added pressure to have to work out and get fit for this role, Janet?
Janet Jackson: No. Not at all. There was no added pressure.
Tyler Perry: She didn't work out at all during the entire shoot. (Laughs) No, she didn't.
What types of challenges did you face making this particular film?
Tyler Perry: I can honestly tell you that there wasn't one on this entire film. Seriously. Someone else had asked me that question. There was not one challenge on this one. This cast was just meant to be. I just surrendered to it and said, "Ok, God. Whatever it's going to be, let it be." It turned out to be this great movie. Whether ten people see it or a hundred people see it, it is an amazing film. I feel really good about it. And there weren't any challenges that I can think of. I am learning with every film. Give me five more, and I'll be able to hang with some of the big guys. Every film I learn a little bit, and every film I grow a little bit. I try to become just a little better. With this movie, I felt free enough, and had enough fun to make it what it is.
Denise, where did you find the momentum to play this particular vixen?:
Denis Boutte: I'm just going to keep it real. Trina exists. Tyler is a very intelligent man.
Tyler Perry: I don't know any Trinas.
Denise Boutte: Seriously, if you're honest, she's a character that you are going to love to hate. But all of us know, or have known, or know of a Trina like character. The words just came to life. I just went along with the flow. And, of course, the Angela character just puts her in a position. Sooner or later Trina begins to fight back. She comes in trying to be sly with it, but later it is just so obvious and in your face that all of the secrets come out. Again, it was about paying attention to the dialogue and feeding off the other actors here. Again, there was a lot of drama going on around the set. I'd have to take Tyler aside and ask him what certain lines meant.
Tyler Perry: I'd say, "It means she's a tramp."
Denise Boutte: She was a tramp. But what is my motivation for being a tramp? I had to figure that out the hard way.
Was it a conscience decision to give all of your characters very admirable careers?:
Tyler Perry: If you look at Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls, you will see that he was a struggling mechanic. And the baby mama was a drug dealer. I think there are so many different expressions of who we are as African American people. I want to cover it all. I don't think you can lock us into one particular little box and say, "This is who you are" These people happened to have all gone to college, and they are all educated. This story will represent who we are as these types of people. But, I will be going in a lot of different directions. The one thing you wont see from me is a lot of negativity. I wont do that.
Janet, you mentioned that you are the go-to person for a lot of your friends. Is that a recent development or is that something you evolved into?
Janet Jackson: It has kind of always been that way with my friends.
What are some of the cast's biggest secrets?:
Tyler Perry: The cast's biggest secrets? I think that would be Lamman and Jill. See, they were holding hands just then. They did sped a lot of time together. But they are just friends.
Lamman Rucker: We don't want to bring any attention to ourselves in that way.
Tyler Perry: Me and Janet Jackson aren't holding hands.
Lamman Rucker: This was just one of the things we found out about ourselves. This is a mutual admiration. Its love. We are all very open, loving, affectionate people. And Jill and I have always taken the opportunity to hang out. We are just good friends.
Jill, can you explain some of your acting background?
Jill Scott: I was working as a poet. I had a really good friend of mine who thought I should act. I told him that I didn't know anything about it. So, I found a fellowship in Philadelphia at a great theater company. Basically, that fellowship turned into an apprenticeship. Then, for two years, I cleaned toilets and mopped floors, and did what ever they asked me to do to get free acting classes because I couldn't afford it. So, I studied Shakespeare and improv. Everything they had to offer. I just took it. It took time, because I was doing Rent. And then I got a record deal. That meant I had to stop doing plays. So that I could make the first record.
Tyler Perry: I want her to tell you guys how we met.
Jill Scott: Oh, I was working at French Connection in Philadelphia.
Tyler Perry: She was the manager.
Jill Scott: Yes. I was the manager. And Tyler comes in looking for a shirt. I'm showing him shirts, but he doesn't buy anything. He does have a nice sense of humor, and he is a pleasure to talk to. So we talked. And he says, "What are you doing later?" I said, "Nothing." And he tells me he is putting on a play. I didn't know what that meant. He gave me one ticket. So I couldn't bring anybody. I don't remember which one it was. I do remember this. It wasn't the okey-doke. It wasn't the chitlin circuit. It was smart. It was funny. And it was thoughtful. It wasn't a whole lot of hee-hee, and haw-haw. The "Yeah, Girl!" type of thing. The typicals we see all the time. This wasn't it. I thought, "Oh, this was really nice. Okay." I get on the bus, and I am flipping through the Playbill. I see this guy. Tyler Perry. He's the director and the writer. I thought, "That was nice." That's how we met the first time.
Why do you think relationships go wrong?
Tyler Perry: I had just come out of a relationship that was really one of the most difficult ones I have been in, and I learned so much from it. I'm always asking questions like, "God, what was this about? Show me the lesson in this, show me the lesson in this." As I was asking and finding the lesson, I started writing these characters. So that's where it came from for me. As far as why do relationships go so wrong, I think people are looking for other people to validate and to fix them, rather than doing the work themselves to get themselves there, to make themselves whole, to get themselves better so that they can be ready for the other person.
Can you guys answer the question, "Why would you get married?
Janet Jackson: I don't know. I don't know if I would actually sign the piece of paper and actually get married again. I think for myself, especially going through it twice, being divorced twice, it would be more of a spiritual commitment. Finding your soul mate and exchanging vows, that's still marriage in a different way. That's enough for me. I don't really need anything else to validate what we have. Not saying that you guys do, but that's the way I think I would want it.
Tyler, can you talk about taking this from the stage to the screen?
Tyler Perry: I think it relieves it. On stage, there are a lot of challenges because you're so limited to two hours and how far you can go. And how many places you can take it. On film, my mind and my imagination could just go and open up. That's why we ended up in Canada shooting for a week, rather than on some soundstage somewhere. But most of the movie was shot on a soundstage. But it takes place over a year so it frees me. To write film frees me up.
Janet, you haven't ever had kids. Where did you find the inspiration for this character?
Janet Jackson: No, I haven't had children, never experienced that before what Patricia and her husband had gone through. But what really was a pull from myself was...My love for animals. I call them my babies. So there was one in particular that I still haven't gotten over, and I don't like to talk about it too much cause it brings up that feeling. It was a difficult scene for me to do, but I had a picture of her actually in the living room while I was doing that scene. I was a little younger, like in my 20's. She was my life, and she still is my life, so I drew upon that.
Tyler, do you see yourself breaking out into any different kinds of genres?
Tyler Perry: Yeah, I've written all kinds of movies that I haven't had a chance to make yet. I'd love to move into some sci-fi and some action. There is a whole lot more to do. Right now, I love telling these types of human interest pieces.
Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? opens this Friday, October 12th, 2007.