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February 2005
Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Tyler Perry

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Tyler Perry

By Tonisha Johnson

Playwright Tyler Perry exits Madea stage left right on to the big screen. In his play turned film Perry mixes drama and comedy like magic. Making the audience feel wounded and cared for with hilarious anecdotes along the way.

Was it your idea to turn this play into a movie?

When I was writing the play I thought there was so much more of this story that I wanted to tell. So if I ever got the opportunity to tell the rest of the story I would. And so when the opportunity came up, I thought, it has to be Diary. It's got to be Diary.

How was the casting done for this film?

Kimberly was first. Every time I would write and I'd get stuck with a scene I would go awe man who would do this? So I called Reuben Cannon who actual did the casting and I said do you think Kimberly would do this and he said well you know she's very selective. So we sent her the material, she read it and said yeah I'll do it. That flowed for me. After Kimberly everybody else came. Of course Shemar being Orlando, there's something in him that a lot of people don't know. That when he comes from in here [chest] like he does in his films ... when he proposed in that room the entire set was silent. He nailed it. It was really powerful. So those guys were the easy ones. Charles was the hard one. We went through three different guys with Charles. Until we got to the guy that was suppose to play Charles. He was supposed to play him so much that he just happened to be sitting on a plane next to Reuben Cannon going to Vegas. They had a conversation and Reuben was like... you're who we've been looking for. So he [Reuben] says what about Steve Harris. I said The Practice guy, why didn't we think of this. So, he is Charles. He made you hate him.

In the beginning of the film, you have Helen [Kimberly Elise] being dragged out by her husband...

Yes. That needed to be establish to determine why she was so angry. I lessened it. I took a lot of the stuff out of it because I didn't want it too brutal. But when she gets revenge it makes it that much more powerful.

Often in films you find that black cast members are beaten and then the black community has to rise above that. What's your take on that type of casting?

I wanted to make sure that we we're all represented well. Not just the females but the males as well. If I'm going to show the bad side of what we can be then I'm going to show the good side of what we can be.

Where does your inspirational creativity derive from?

It comes from me... from everywhere.

How did you come about writing plays?

I was watching the Oprah show and she said it was cathartic to write stuff down. That was when I was about 18 or 19 years old. And I guess I have been writing since then, that day. I had wrote about a lot of stuff I had been through. It was a lot of different characters with different names. And a friend of mine said wow this would be a really good play. And I said maybe that's what it really is and that's how I fell into my destiny. Its' been a 100 miles an hour ever since.

How much adlibbing did you add to the film?

There was a whole bunch that we cut out. When I'm in the moment in the scene, I'm really not myself. Even Uncle Joe had some of the funniest stuff. But it will be on the DVD because I wanted to film to stay true to the story of what Helen was.

Did you ever consider putting a real woman in the role of Madea?

No. That would put me out of a job. The only woman who could be that is my aunt and my mother.

Most black communities in the south have woman of that size. It's the ordinary.

I think that's what makes it so unique. Because it'd be stuff to find a woman that big. Madea is larger than life, literally. When you see this character... she's huge. And that's all apart of the comedy I think.

Do you think some people may confuse her to be a real lady?

Well a couple of years on stage people actually thought she was. Especially if you weren't very close.

What can we expect next from Tyler Perry?

I'm working on Madea's Family Reunion. Then I'm going to go completely left and do a story about a jazz singer and a holocaust survivor in the 1940s that I want to do. So were going into a totally different direction.

What advice do you have for viewers who aspire to do what you do?

For a lot of people it's a lot of different things. For me if you have a natural talent to do things, and then nurture it, educate it into making it better. Do everything you can. It goes back to a passage in the bible... "Your gift will make room for you." And I've always believed that. whatever your gift is and it's given to you no matter what's going on in the world, no matter how many singers, no matter how many writers, your gift will make room for you in that situation. So, I always believe that. If it's your gift nurture it and make it the best that it can be.

Was this the Hollywood Homeless?

No. This is not the Kato Kalin homeless. This is Georgia homeless. It was only a 3 month period and I would stay in a pay the week hotel when I could. Or I would sleep in my car. There are various degrees to it. It's not the out on the street, sleeping in the park.

Do you think other cultures can be open to this type of film?

I say that all the time. If people can just get past the title and just go in and be open to it... it can fit to a lot of possibilities, lots of situations.

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