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March 2008
An Interview with Tyler Perry


An Interview with Tyler Perry

By Tarice Gray

March 17, 2008

Just because he scored a hit with his last film, ‘Why Did I Get Married?’ doesn’t mean Tyler Perry has put an end for the signature character, Madea. In fact, the character has been on hiatus while some of the other characters from the plays are developing on the big screen. With that said, Madea will make an appearance in his next film, ‘Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns’, which stars Angela Bassett, Rick Fox, and his theater regulars, David and Tamela Mann.

A single mother living in inner city Chicago, Brenda (Bassett) has been struggling for years to make ends meet and keep her three kids off the street. But when she's laid off with no warning, she starts losing hope for the first time – until a letter arrives announcing the death of a father she's never met. Desperate for any kind of help, Brenda takes her family to Georgia for the funeral. But nothing could have prepared her for the Browns, her father's fun-loving, crass Southern clan. In a small-town world full of long afternoons and country fairs, Brenda struggles to get to know the family she never knew existed…and finds a brand new romance that just might change her life.

In speaking with Mr. Perry, he talked about his inclusion of Angela Bassett in the film as the Mann.

Your lead character, played by Angela Bassett, has three children by three different men. Why did you make it that way?

Tyler Perry: I wanted to write a character that a lot of people can relate to. There are a lot of women in that situation and it doesn’t make them bad people, or less human than anyone else. It was very important to me that this woman be very relatable and that a lot of people can connect with that. With these three kids, she may been have in love with all their fathers, but who knows.

What made you choose Angela (Bassett)?

TP: Are you kidding me? The first line I wrote I wondered if Angela would do this and usually what happens is that if I can get an actor who is extremely talented, it challenges me to write more material for them and Angela has no limits when it comes to acting. She just goes.

Are you saying that you wrote this for Angela?

TP: Absolutely. I knew I was going to do ‘Meet The Browns’ and when I developing the characters in the middle, I knew it had to be her.

Was she enthusiastic when you approached her?

TP: Yes, and no. We had been talking about doing something together for two years, and the opportunity just came and the time was right for her and the time was right for me, and the time for us.

Since you wrote the film with Angela, how did you think of Rick Fox as the romantic interest?

TP: I knew that her character’s son played basketball, and this is partly borrowed from a friend of mine who is an athlete and is very successful, and whose father had nothing to do with his life, completely dogged him out, and when he became successful, his father wanted to be involved in his life; and it’s true to Shaq and to a lot of other people. I was coming out of my life after writing the scene with Harry and I made a left on Sunset, and he was in the crosswalk. Rick was in the crosswalk with his trainer and I almost hit him. I pulled over and we had a conversation. We exchanged numbers and that’s how it came to be for him.

Can you talk about David and Tamela Mann?

TP: I’m so happy for them. Madea, Brown, and Cory were born on the same night in the same play in Chicago at the Regal and David will tell you that I was scared to death. I put that wig on and said to myself, ‘What the hell are you doing?’and walked out on stage and I was nervous and he was nervous, but the audience loved it, and every night we just kept getting better and better. I was only going to do it for that one show but the audience more and more and they wanted more of David so I wrote ‘Meet The Browns’ for him. He and Tamela have been married for twenty years and to see them get their time and due is great. I’m really proud of that.

What is it that you love about them?

TP: David is the type of person, and we learned a lot of banter on stage and we both ad-lib our parts. I didn’t have anything o do with his costumes. I didn’t even know what he would wear. A lot of times he would wear jeans during rehearsals and then he would come out in these crazy costumes and a lot of times I would have to dial him back because he goes over the top, but what I love about both of them is their relationship and their commitment towards each other and the work. Even though he gets on my nerve from time to time, it’s really a great relationship.

I like that you were to add Sofia Vergara because she is not well known here as she is outside the states.

TP: I wanted to branch out a little bit because I’ve been noticing that with the last few films, all of the popularity have been going different places, not just African American people. I wanted to put somebody in that I like and she has a huge Latin following so it will be great to see what happens.

So, was it a conscious effort to add a Latino in the film?

TP: Not going in. I never see race, and with the last film I did, ‘Why Did I Get Married?’, some thought it was race film because they were only Black people in the film, which I never believe. I never go in thinking about race at all. I just write the characters. This time when I saw the character, I thought about doing something different.

Some thought you were a racist?

TP: Yes, there was an article which stated I was a racist because all my films had only Black people. Well, that person will be happy to know that Kathy Bates and Cole Hauser are in my new movie.

Was there a specific reason why you limited your own screen time as Madea in the film?

TP: The only reason I put Madea in this film at all is to set up ‘Madea Goes to Jail’, which is the next movie I will be shooting in a couple of months. It is all about Madea and the Madea antics. I needed to set it up. I needed her to be arrested somewhere. I certainly didn’t want to do it in ‘Why Did I Get Married?’, so I thought ‘Meet The Browns’ would be a great place to set it up and tease the audience with what’s coming next.

Does it feel good to know that when Atlanta is mentioned in a film, most people of Tyler Perry?

TP: It does because Atlanta is the place where I started to believe. I came from New Orleans which is still a dark and dismal place. It’s a place that promotes apathy across the board. Going to Atlanta when I was 20 and seeing Black people do well, and spoke correct English, I felt like I had been out of place all my life, and getting there and seeing that place, I sad this is home to me. That’s great to hear that I’m mentioned with the name of a great town.

How important is to you to bring in a fresh face to the cinema?

TP: The thing about it is that there is such a small field of Black actors that are recognizable. When we started looking and casting movies, we realized how small that pool was. It wasn’t me trying to bring in a bunch of new talent. It was born out of necessity to show that there are so many new people out there. I’ve worked with a few actors who have been interesting to me because of the Hollywood system and the conditioning of the town. If you are not in the system or if you are not operating within the system, then what you are doing does not really matter. If you take those people out of the equation of the few people that are African American actors, then you are down to an even smaller pool. So, it’s a great thing to see new talent like Lamman Rucker. When we ran the trailer at my show with 3000 in the audience, and his face showed up on the screen, and it didn’t even say his name, they lost it. That made me feel really great. Lance Gross, who just won an Image award, and LaVan Davis and Cassi Davis of House of Payne; it makes feel good to see them live better.

How is House of Payne doing?

TP: We shot 100 episodes in 11 months and TBS has all of them. The show holds the record for the highest rated debut of a sitcom in cable history. It is their highest rated show and often gets numbers higher than CW and other networks. The show is doing amazing. They just ordered another 26 episodes as a matter of fact.

Who’s in the cast for ‘The Family That Preys Together’?

TP: Yes, Kathy Bates, Cole Hauser, Alfre Woodard, Sanaa Lathan, Taraji Hansen, myself, Rockmond Dunbar, and KaDee Strickland. It’s a great cast. It’s about two families, one is rich and powerful, and the other is a working class family and their lives interchange. It’s about Alfre’s family and Kathy’s family and they prey on each other and it’s a really a rich story and I’m excited about it. We’re halfway through it and comes out on September 12th.

When people see Angela on screen struggling, it will be an eye opening experience for some as to the level of poverty which is mostly hidden on the big screen.

TP: What is so ridiculous about and I’ve done a lot for food banks and foundations in Atlanta during certain seasons, I find surprising that people don’t know that Angela’s character lived the way she did. It’s so hard for me to understand, but in this time that we live in, I could understand a certain class of people not being able to relate, but for people to think that it doesn’t exist, it’s foolish and naïve.

Why did it so for the Angela’s baby daddy to be hated?

TP: Why? A lot of them are total and complete asses. More than anything I wanted to make him an extreme. Any child who is in Lance’s position can say to themselves that they can be okay even if the father is not in your life. I don’t have to sell drugs based on whatever my talent is and it doesn’t have to be basketball. There’s happy ending whether this man is in my life or not, so the father had to be an extreme. If he wasn’t, then he would be as effective I think.

Do you reach out to actors or are they coming to you now?

TP: No. I reach out to people. I do not accept scripts. I do not accept stories. People are funny with these lawsuits these days.

Part of making films work is the foreign market. Have your films started to do well overseas because of the popularity you have received here?

TP: I have a huge following in UK and I know that only because of my website, not because I have had any success there. Part of my problem with being with a company like Lionsgate is because they are so limited. If I were with a bigger company like Fox or Paramount I could absolutely have more exposure around the world, but I’m not going to give up any creative control; because when that happens I start to lose the sense of my stories and I’m not interested in doing that. I love working with Lionsgate and if there was anything I would change, it would be them having some sort of international appeal I think these are universal stories and I think they relate all around the world.

TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS opens on March 21, 2008.



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