THE FAMILY THAT PREYS | An Interview with Director Tyler Perry
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THE FAMILY THAT PREYS
Blending a touch of classic Hollywood (film industry veterans Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates) with a splash of newer talent and ensuring all stayed true to the characters precisely as Tyler had envisioned would be no easy feat in most circumstances.
However, in his interview with BlackFilm, Tyler expounded on how working with such a sharp and ready cast facilitated his job as writer-director-actor and made it that much smoother on the set.
TYLER, CONGRATULATIONS. YOU MADE FORBES RECENTLY! DID YOU SEE IT?
Tyler Perry: I've seen it. There's been some things floating around about that.
WELL, YOU DESERVE IT. YOU'RE A GUY WHO CAME OUT OF LIVING IN HIS CAR FOR A WHILE TO FINALLY REALLY MAKING IT. WHAT IS IN YOU THAT YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO SEE?
Tyler Perry: I think it's just my ability to relate. What I try to is to completely stay away from things that will cloud it, or things that will interfere with what I do and how I do it. Being out on the road for 10 years and seeing thousands of people...they let you know immediately what they like and what they don't like.
WOULD YOU EVER BE INTERESTED IN WORKING ON A FILM THAT YOU DID NOT WRITE OR DIRECT?
Tyler Perry: I just started a company called 34th Street Films where we are looking for new talent; films that I did not direct that I will not be directing to films that I will not write that I want to be behind and champion. I think there's a whole other group of people out there trying to have their say, so I’m looking for all kinds of material.
AREN'T YOU IN THIS LITTLE “STAR THINGY” (STAR TREK)?
Tyler Perry: That little movie? (laughs) Yeah, I just did ‘Star Trek’, which I'm really, really excited about. The only reason I did it is because of J.J. Abrams. I found that he's a brother from another mother of mine and we really, really connected, so I just did a small cameo and I'm pretty excited about it.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR THE TWO MAIN GUYS IN THE FILM TO BE MILITARY VETERANS?
Tyler Perry: It's slightly because, and I would love to investigate this further, but what I'm finding is that so many people are coming home from this war, and the wars in the past, and they're met with all kinds of tragedy. Like they can't make their mortgage payments, their families have moved away and they lost loved ones... I just wanted to speak to this, on what I believe to be a war that should have been over a long, long time ago and should have never started, because so many people have died for what I believe to be about oil.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OBAMA VS.MCCAIN FOR THE PRESIDENCY?
I am definitely on Obama's side and what he represents to me -- when I look at him, when I see him. I've had the great opportunity to have dinner with him and his wife. What he represents to me is what America has become. There is a new hope. There is a new kind of American that has that same kind of rich patronage and heritage and loves our country, but also understands that we can't go on being this leader in this world that ignores other countries. Or doesn't try to bring them to the table to make peace instead of, every time something goes wrong, we're going to war. So he's a phenomenal man and he's going to be a phenomenal President, and I'm really excited about having that opportunity to see the change that he makes. And it's going to be tough, because he can't undo what's been done over the last eight years in two years. He's got a tough road ahead of him, but I think he's equipped to do it.
ARE YOU STARTING TO REACH OVER TO A WIDER, WHITE AUDIENCE WITH YOUR FILMS, WOULD YOU SAY, WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR FILMS?
Tyler Perry: For me, my intention with this film was, this is a story that I wanted to tell. So I've never once chased money. I've never once said, "I'm going to do something so that it becomes crossover, and people will..." Never, not one time. What I've tried to do with all of my stories is to just tell a story. And where I was with this story in my own life, I was going through some things that I wasn't sure I wanted to continue in front of the camera (in this business) because it was just too negative, and too many dark-seekers and too much nastiness. And I got to a point where I was becoming a prisoner of it all, where I didn't want to leave the house and didn't want to go anywhere, and I was dealing with all of this crap. So, I started writing this script based on that. The two lead characters were very different. I wanted them to be very different, but have a same kind of humanity about them, so that is where it started for me.
IT WAS GOOD TO SEE KATHY IN THIS. YOU SAID IT WAS FUN WORKING WITH KATHY. SHE SHINES, AS USUAL. IT WAS GREAT TO SEE HER IN THIS MOVIE.
Tyler Perry: Yeah. For her to say yes to this, first of all, it blew my mind and shocked me to no end. But to see what she brings and what she represents, it really made me know I gotta go back to school and learn some more about directing, because she's a phenomenal actor.
SO WHEN YOU HAVE KATHY BATES AND ALFRE WOODARD THERE, DO YOU BECOME SORT OF A SPECTATOR AS MUCH AS A DIRECTOR?
Tyler Perry: Sure, you have to be. I mean, how can you be in the presence of that kind of greatness and not bow down and become a student? There was one thing, when we were working together, where Kathy made a choice, where I didn't necessarily think was the right way to go. So she pulled me to the side and asked me, “Well, what did you think?” And I go, "It's fantastic, but it's a left from where I want to go with the film.” So when I explained to her what I wanted her to do, she said, "Oh, I got it." I said, "Roll.Action." (snaps) Instantly, she went to it. I mean, she's phenomenal. She's phenomenal.
THERE'S A CHOICE YOU MADE IN THE STORY THAT I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT, AND THAT IS WHEN ONE OF THE FEMALE CHARACTERS GETS KNOCKED ACROSS THE COUNTER IN THE RESTAURANT. NOT TO SAY THAT SHE DIDN'T DESERVE A COMEUPPANCE, BUT I THOUGHT THAT WHEN A MAN RESORTS TO PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AGAINST A WOMAN... AND IN THE END, WE STILL LIKE HIM. IT'S AN INTERESTING CHALLENGE, BUT I THINK IT'S AN INTERESTING CHOICE THAT YOU MAKE TO HAVE THAT BIT OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE IN THE FILM.
Tyler Perry: Yeah, you know, the thing about it is I'm not advocating that. I'm not saying, if your woman is out there doing this to you, knock the hell out of her! That's not the point of it at all. As I was writing this, when he hit her... Because I'm telling you, when I'm writing, I see it just like you're seeing it for the first time. And he hit her, and I stopped and thought - woah - can I leave this in the film? I can't do this. My audience...what am I saying? I said, no, this you have to leave because this is what this character just did. So respect it and let it be. Now, I don't know what it's going to say to people, but it's never my intent to say that if anybody is doing anything ridiculous then you become violent. No, that's not my intent, but in the movie early on he said, as I was writing it, he said, "I can be the nicest guy in the world, but if you keep pushing me, you're gonna meet someone else." So, when we got to that point, I saw that other person.
DID YOU WRITE THIS WITH A CHRISTIAN AUDIENCE IN MIND, OR DID YOU JUST WRITE?
Tyler Perry: I never write with a Christian audience in mind. I write with things like, what would I want to see on film? What do I want to see? What stories do I want to tell? And being Christian, I do want to represent, I want to have someone Christian be represented and represent not the same old stereotype of, "God's gonna make a way!" But a real person. And the great thing about Alfre Woodard's character is that Alice, she's a Christian, but was afraid of everything. She spent her whole life in a diner, so I wanted to speak to people who think they're living and think they're being holy and living a great life, but they're staying in this little box. It's like, come out of the box. Live! Every day is a gift.
WITH THAT IN MIND, TALK ABOUT THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO WOMEN (BATES AND WOODARD). THEY'RE TOTALLY DIFFERENT. WHAT IS IT THAT PULLS THEM TOGETHER?
Tyler Perry: When I started writing the story, the first character I heard was Alice. I heard her talking about her life. And when Charlotte came, I never saw Kathy Bates. I didn't know who I saw, but I never thought that high. So when they came together in their relationship, it's like so many women who have friendships in this life, and so many people that you may know. They are amazing people They have raised their children, but their children are living their own lives and they're going their own way and doing their own things. And sometimes they hold themselves responsible for it, and sometimes they don't. But these two women learned to let go and to live, and I think it takes one to teach the other one how to do that.
WHERE DID THIS STORY COME FROM? WHAT'S THE GERM OF IT?
Tyler Perry: It was my whole wanting to stop being in the business because of the negativity. I was dealing with all of this, people jumping my fence and stalkers, loss of privacy, can't go anywhere, and all of this crap. And you go, OK, is this life for me? And the question came, are you living or are you existing? And I started talking to friends of mine about it, Janet Jackson being one, and Oprah, and they were saying, listen you can't lose your life in this. Don't let this stuff make you crazy. And I started to really focus on the good of it. Then I realized, wait a minute -- this is a pretty amazing life. And rather than me sitting here waiting for something awful to happen, I should be enjoying every moment. And around that same time, I heard Lee Ann Womack singing I Hope You Dance. And that's the whole inspiration for the film.
SO THE FILM CURED YOU?
Tyler Perry: (Laughs) I think it was a lot of praying and a lot of talking to some people that got me through before the film. The film was just my catharsis to get through it, which has been that way for a few things that I have done.
EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A PART OF A SUCCESS STORY. LIKE HOW YOU'RE WORKING WITH KATHY BATES, AND ALL OF THESE GREAT PEOPLE THAT YOU NOW WORK WITH. BUT DO YOU THINK THAT TYLER PERRY WOULD BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS YOU ARE, HAD YOU NOT COME FROM YOUR BACKGROUND, FROM VERY HUMBLE BEGINNINGS?
Tyler Perry: It's all a part of it. Yeah. Had I come from a different side... See, I think a lot of my success was born out of necessity. Like, one network wanted me to compromise and wanted me to change everything in a script...which caused me to go and finance it myself, and it worked. The success has been born out of people telling me, this is how it's going to be done, and me saying no, I'm going to find another way. So, I wouldn't have had the ability to do that had I not been through everything that I've been through as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, and now, as a man. So I use all of that to make it through.
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH YOUR TV SHOW, HOUSE OF PAYNE?
Tyler Perry: House of Payne is on TBS, it's the number one-rated sitcom in cable history. The ratings are higher than a lot of shows on the CW, which has never happened before. It's going into syndication September 22nd, five days a week, on all over the country. That's pretty phenomenal, so I'm really excited about that. And we're following up with Meet the Browns, it's a television show. It comes on in January.
WHEN MENTIONING YOU BEING IN FORBES,YOU DIDN'T SEEM TOO THRILLED ABOUT IT...OR AM I MISREADING YOU ON THAT?
Tyler Perry: It bothers me, it really bothers me, because this has never been about money to me. So I don't want people to look at this thing and think, wow, this guy really set after money... What I found is -- and the great thing about it is, again, this is me trying to train myself to stop looking at the negative of it, but think about the positive of it. What I found with that is, when you set out to do something in life, when you set out to do what feels right to you, when you set out to do what inspires and moves you and motivates other people, there are certain things that are going to come along with that. And I guess all of this comes along with it, so I never want money to be my focus.
AND YET, IN THIS STORY, THE PEOPLE WHO ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING DO WIND UP RICH AT THE END. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT PART OF WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS, LIVE A GOOD LIFE AND THE BANK ACCOUNT WILL GROW.
Tyler Perry: I'll take that. You saw something in the film I didn't catch, but I'll take that. It makes sense to me. Because a lot of it is subconscious. I don't catch it until I see it a year or two years later because I don't watch it right away, and I go woah, OK.
YOUR OPENING WEEKENDS ARE REALLY BIG FOR YOU. WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING FROM THIS, AS FAR AS A BOX OFFICE TICKET NUMBER?
Tyler Perry: It goes back to money. It goes back to the same thing. It's the same deal. I never thought about it. What I do with my films is I keep them WELL under 20 million dollars so that it doesn't matter. If the movie opens with 7 million, it's still a success. If it opens with 20 million, then great -- we're closer to being in the black. So it's all about the economics of that side of it. I'm not going to do a 100 million-dollar movie and be worried to death about its opening. I'd be biting my nails. I don't worry about it because whatever it does, it's going to be fine.
WHEN ARE YOU TAKING A ROAD TRIP?
Tyler Perry: I've taken one, and I'm not gonna do that again.
THERE'S A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE CHATTING WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO. IS THE MADEA CHARACTER THE PRICE OF SUCCESS, WHERE YOU THINK OH, I'VE GOTTA PUT THIS SUIT ON AGAIN...
Tyler Perry: No. Not when you own everything. Nobody can force you to do anything. Nobody can make you do it. I don't have a deal with anybody that says, do this character, and that's what's so great about it. I do it when I want to do it. Like, after doing this movie, I wanted to have some fun, so I did Madea Goes to Jail. I had fun. I had a ball! It is the funniest movie. Wait until you see Dr. Phil and Madea do a counseling session!
THE FAMILY THAT PREYS OPENS ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2008
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