TYLER PERRY’S DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS: An Interview with Director Tyler Perry
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TYLER PERRY’S DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS
If there is anyone who has taken Hollywood by storm in the last few years, it’s Tyler Perry. When he came out with “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and it opened up as the #1 film with $22 million, everyone was shocked to say the least. Here was this untested Black film based on a play staring actors that you wouldn’t see headline a film elsewhere. Perry proved to the powers that be that yes, black folks do come to movies and when given then chance, as in more theaters, they will come in droves, as opposed to buying the bootleg versions on the streets. When his second feature, “Madea’s Family Reunion” came out last year, and in more theaters, his trend continued; opening up #1 with over $25 million at the box office. Suffice to say, February is Tyler Perry month! One can make the argument that any film with a character in drag will make money. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence certainly have had hits doing so, but Perry has a built-in audience and his plays have made a very, rich, marketable man in the business. So much that he recently launched TPS (Tyler Perry Studios) in Atlanta to do more films and introduced other talent to the business. In his latest film, “Daddy’s Little Girls”, the Madea character is not involved and neither is Perry as an actor. The film stars Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba in a reverse-Cinderella tale that centers on a successful attorney (Union) who falls in love with a financially challenged mechanic (Elba) who is a single father of three children. The relationship hits a snag when the janitor's ex-wife comes back into his life and threatens to take away their kids. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Perry talks putting his studio together, casting Union and Elba as the leads, what’s for Madea and the franchise and what he wants to do as a force in Hollywood.
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR STUDIO.
TYLER PERRY: Thank you, thank you. It's a little bit of hell down there, but
HOW DID THE STUDIO COME ABOUT? IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU'VE
PERRY: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to build one in Atlanta, but I kind of fell into a studio that was already existing and did a bunch of renovations on it.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR IT IN TERMS OF GOALS AND WHAT YOU
PERRY: 'Daddy's Little Girl' was the first film to come out of it and right now with 'House of Pain' we have a hundred episodes to shoot for TBS and Fox. So all of that will be shot there as well as 'Meet the Browns' sitcom. My next two movies are in preproduction there as well. So it's pretty busy. It's seventy thousand square feet, but we've occupied every corner of it so there is no room to rent it or do anything else right now.
ARE YOU GOING TO EXPAND IT THEN?
PERRY: I'm going to have to, yeah. No sooner than we put the last nail in did we realize that we didn't have enough space, and people are on top of each other down there, but it is great there.
SO IT'S A PROPER FILM LOT IN ATLANTA?
PERRY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
WHERE IS IT IN ATLANTA?
HOW DID YOU CREATE THIS PROCESS AND GO ABOUT CREATING THIS
PERRY: Well, I had a friend who I would watch. He used to work for me and I was always getting annoyed because every time I would look up he would be on the phone. I was like, 'What woman is this guy talking to all the time?' Then I found out that he had three daughters and he talks to them all the time and he's a great father and then I have a
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO CAST GABRIELLE UNION AND IDRIS ELBA?
PERRY: I was always thinking Gabrielle as I was writing it. With every line that I would write I was thinking, 'This is Gabrielle. This is Gabrielle. This is Gabrielle.' Idris came in just a little later and then the two of them auditioned and were on tape together. I was like, 'That's it.' The chemistry was insane.
SO DID YOU ALREADY KNOW AND HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH
PERRY: I did know her. I didn't know her at the time. We called her agent and went through the proper channels and got it all worked out.
SO WHAT WAS IT ABOUT HER THEN THAT MADE YOU WRITE FOR HER,
PERRY: Just her work. I've seen her work in the past, and to be honest with you I don't think that she's done better than she's done in this movie because her levels and her colors and her depth and the way she goes and how she thinks in this, I think she's done better in this movie than anything else. She's really great.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS LIKE, WHAT DOES ENTAIL, AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A SCRIPT LIKE THIS?
PERRY: My writing process is in my head for months and months. Like, I have about three scripts in my head right now and they've been in there for months. So I won't sit down to write them until they're complete in my head, and then when they're complete I can write it in a week because it blows like that. It's that constant.
SO THIS SCRIPT DIDN'T TAKE YOU THAT LONG THEN?
PERRY: 'Daddy's Little Girl,' the first draft took about two weeks and then I went back and did another draft that took about three weeks.
PERRY: No. I absolutely do everything myself. I do send it to Reuben Cannon and have him read it and he'll come back with some suggestions and ideas, but for the most part it is just me.
IT'S REALLY JUST YOU THEN?
PERRY: Yeah, yeah.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING WITH THAT SORT OF PROCESS,
PERRY: Well, I think what we thought was going to be the biggest challenge was going to be the girls, but they were so perfect, the three sisters. It was originally going to be one daughter, but it ended up being three. They were just perfect. Their brother, their little
DO YOU GO ABOUT LOOKING FOR TALENT SPECIFICALLY IN ATLANTA?
PERRY: You know what, I'm going to start an acting school there and see what I can find there because I think that the level of gratitude out of Georgia is so much different than the level of gratitude out here in L.A. So I would rather just work in that end of the country.
IS IT CHEAPER FOR YOU TO MAKE FILMS DOWN THERE?
PERRY: Absolutely. You can avoid a lot of the fat that has to come along with Hollywood.
DID GABRIELLE HAVE A CHANCE TO TALK TO YOU MORE ABOUT WHAT
PERRY: Not that I know of. We didn't really get a chance to get into it, but I could tell the way that she was playing it, it wasn't an actor pulling some sort of exercise out of the air. This was coming from real experiences for her.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN GABRIELLE AND
PERRY: If I had met them somewhere walking down the street I would've thought that they had been married for four years and in love and that those were their children because they were just that much of a family all together.
WHAT SORT OF RESPONSIBILITY HAVE YOU TAKEN ON WITH YOUR OWN
PERRY: Well, at this point for me it's about making sure that whatever stories we're telling – there are enough people doing negativity. There are enough videos showing negativity. There is enough of all of that, and so what I want to do and what I want the Tyler Perry Studio's vision to be and what I want it to represent is good and positive
DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO GO BACK AND PLAY MADEA AGAIN?
PERRY: Absolutely. I won't stop Madea because people won't let me.
WHEN WILL WE SEE MADEA ON THE SCREEN AGAIN?
PERRY: I'm doing two movies before that and so it'll probably be either late 2009 or 2010, but I'm not going to abandon it.
DO YOU MISS NOT BEING ABLE TO PLAY THAT CHARACTER?
PERRY: Absolutely not. I don't miss it.
I REMEMBER TALKING TO YOU ABOUT THAT AND HOW HARD IT WAS TO
PERRY: Yeah, yeah. I do miss the tour. I don't miss the boots and the dresses and the zipping up and the heat in the fat suit and the makeup and the shaving everyday and the wigs. That is a pain. I feel sorry for women all over the world, but eventually I will get back to it.
WILL YOU BE GOING ON THE ROAD AGAIN?
PERRY: Yes, absolutely. I'm looking forward to it. That I miss. That I absolutely miss. I've got a show on the road right now called 'What's Done in the Dark.' That's sold out and doing very, very well, but I'm missing it. I go watch it and I'm like a puppy [whines] because I want to get up there and do it too.
WHERE ARE ALL THOSE FAT SUITS?
PERRY: In storage in Atlanta and some of it is in the lobby of the theater because we display some of it because people can't ever believe how big she is.
YOU HAVE A THEATER AT THE STUDIO TOO?
PERRY: Yeah. There is a three hundred seat theater in the building.
SO YOU'RE NOT SNEAKING IN THERE AT NIGHT AND MAKING SURE IT
PERRY: It never happens. It never happens. Never.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE NOT TO BE IN THIS FILM?
PERRY: Well, I was tired for one thing. We had done three hundred and thirty performances of 'Madea Goes to Jail' and then in between that did two movies with 'Diary' and 'Family Reunion' and the book coming out and the two soundtracks and trying to start the studio and get all of this stuff done. So it was just overwhelming. I wanted a vacation and my vacation was not having to be in front of the camera and not having to worry about working out. I got so fast on this film here. I'm just starting to come down, but I put on like forty pounds.
WHAT DO YOU THEN WHEN LIFE IS LIKE THAT, AND YOUR VACATION IS
PERRY: I try to vacation two or three times a year. I've got a private island that I like to go to and really relax and then I'll go up to Tucson to this ranch up there and I'll write and relax there too. Relaxing for me is usually writing.
DID YOU REALLY GAIN FORTY POUNDS OR ARE YOU EXAGGERATING?
PERRY: No. I absolutely gained forty pounds.
PERRY: From not working out and I was eating whatever I wanted to eat, and there is this thing in Atlanta called Krispy Kreme. I was like, 'I don't have to care about what I look like. I'm behind the camera.' But now that I'm getting ready to go in front of the camera the mad dash is on to take off fifteen more pounds.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO LOSE THAT FIFTEEN?
PERRY: Working out everyday.
WHAT'S YOUR NEW PROJECT?
PERRY: A film called 'Why Did I Get Married.' It's based on this play. It's the film version of that, and then I'm doing a film called 'The Jazzman's Blues' which I wrote in '95 which is what? Thirteen years ago. That's about a jazz singer and holocaust survivor and if I have my way Ben Kingsley will be playing opposite me and Diana Ross will be
WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO BE TOUR THEN?
PERRY: After all of that. I have to get all of these out of the way and then I can think about touring again.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO DO ALL OF THESE PROJECTS?
PERRY: Well, first of all feeling like all these things that I'm doing matters especially at this point and doing things where I can leave people with something positive and hopeful. That drives me as well as never wanting to be homeless again. That scares the hell out of me, and more than that there's the thoughts of having to go home to my parents and live with them. Even at this age that still drives me.
PERRY: Yes, ma'am. I will sell ice cream on the corner before I have to
IT WAS NICE TO SEE THAT YOU BROUGHT A LOT OF 'THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION' AND AUBURN AVENUE AND THE HISTORY OF IT. I DON'T THINK THAT PEOPLE KNEW THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT AREA. WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU, AND YOU OBVIOUSLY WERE AWARE OF THAT, BUT DID YOU WANT IT TO BE A CHARACTER IN THE SCRIPT?
PERRY: Yeah, well it was important to me that we actually shot in that community. We shot the whole entire five or six blocks, whatever it is. What was important to me is that I have so many young fans who don't know any of this stuff, who did know who Cicely Tyson was and who may not know who Lou Gossett is, they don't know. A friend of mine was telling me about his children who are about twelve and thirteen years old, they didn't know what an album was and so they were sitting there looking at it. You think about that and it's so foreign to us, and so I have such a broad audience that any time I get an opportunity to educate or explain who we are as a people and where we come from I feel like I have a responsibility to do that.
YOU HAD THE BILLIE HOLIDAY THING IN THE SCRIPT IN THE MOVIE.
PERRY: Oh, man, I love big band jazz which is why I'm playing this jazz singer. I love that whole period, that whole time period. But I'm the kind of guy that can go from Nelly Furtado to Nelly and then to Bonnie Raitt to Jay Z. So it's all just whatever I'm feeling at the time.
YOU'VE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. IS THERE
PERRY: I'm not a father yet. I know you're talking about the industry, but being a father and a husband is probably something is a fear for me, my greatest challenge. I want to see how I'll be at it. Maybe when I'm forty I'll be ready. I'm thirty seven now.
WHAT ABOUT IN TERMS OF THE INDUSTRY?
PERRY: No, I don't think so. I think that I've been fortunate enough to do everything that I've wanted to do so far.
YOU CAME INTO HOLLYWOOD AND REALLY DID IT ON YOUR OWN TERMS.
PERRY: I think what has happened though happened because I came with such a force of people with me. I didn't come here alone. These people carried me into this place. My folks. Little old mothers coming to theaters by the thousands in support. They came with me on their shoulders saying, 'Okay, this is ours so you're going to take care of him. And we're going to show you how we support.' So I can't take all the responsibility for it because I not had that fan base that we built up from thirty people in my first show to thirty thousand a week. It's all been amazing.
YOU EVER HAVE A MOMENT WHERE YOU JUST GO, 'DAMN!'
PERRY: [Laughs] I prefer to go, 'Thank you!' than to do the damn thing, but yeah, there are some moments where I go, 'Damn.' Do you mean a good damn?
YEAH, LIKE A GOOD DAMN.
PERRY: Oh, yeah, yeah. A good damn for sure. I have those moments a lot.
WHAT ROLE DOES SPIRITUALITY PLAY IN YOUR LIFE?
PERRY: Every bit of it. It's so constant with me that it's not even a thought. It's like so important to me to pray and keep moving. I think that I pray now more than I did before.
I NOTICED EDDIE LONG IN YOUR FILM. IS HE YOUR PASTOR?
PERRY: Sometimes. I don't have a specific place that I go every Sunday because it's hard now. It's not like it used to be, just enjoying Sunday service. It's so hard to sit there and pray and have your moment with God and someone is going, 'Hey, can you sign this autograph for me?' 'Don't you see my praying now? It can wait.'
DO YOU SING?
PERRY: Yes. I sing a little bit. I sing a little bit. I sing enough to carry a tune.
WILL YOU BE DOING YOUR OWN VOCALS FOR THE JAZZ FILM?
PERRY: I will. I will, but after we finish doing all the mechanical stuff and touching it up and going to the studio and making it sound good it's going to be alright. It won't start from where I am though [Laughs]
TYLER PERRY’S DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS opens on February 14th, 2007
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