Exclusive: Tyler Perry Talks Madea’s Witness Protection
Exclusive: Tyler Perry Talks Madea’s Witness Protection
By Nasser Metcalfe
June 27, 2012
In his latest offering Tyler Perry now returns to inhabit the skin of his most adored character in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, which he wrote, directed, and produced.
Co-starring Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Romeo Miller, Tom Arnold, Doris Roberts, John Amos, Marla Gibbs, Danielle Campbell, and Devan Leos, the film is about a Wall Street investment banker (Levy) who has been set up as the linchpin of his company’s mob-backed Ponzi scheme and is relocated with his family to Aunt Madea’s southern home.
Just a few hours before the film’s star studded premiere in New York City, an introspective Tyler Perry exclusively sat down with blackfilm.com’s own Nasser Metcalfe and opened up to share some of his most honest feelings on a range of topics, from whom he thinks is the best actress working today, how his mother’s passing almost made him quit and what the keys to success are for some of his fellow black filmmakers.
First of all congratulations. Here we are again. Madea is taking another lap around the track. It always brings so much joy to so many people whenever she comes out with something new. You’ve achieved so much in a relatively short period of time….
Tyler Perry: It will be 20 years July 8th. People think it’s been a short period of time but it’ll be 20 years.
What motivates you at this point to continue to stay as active as you are and continue to push forward on so many fronts?
TP: You know I’ll tell you after my mother died everything changed. I lost all motivation. This was in 2009 and I didn’t want to do anything else. I had projects slated and I had to walk through them. Had I not had those [projects] slated I don’t know what I would have done because they helped me get through it. Right now the motivation has become the people. The people that work for me, the people that are expecting to see [the work] and depending on me to keep going so that their families can keep going. There are lots of people at the studio and I’ll tell you there are moments ideally when I think ‘Ok let’s pack it all in’ but it would be so selfish of me because there are so many people who wanted this opportunity and I have a responsibility to see this through and to take this ride to the end and that’s my intention.
What kind of movies did you used to watch growing up and how did they influence you?
TP: The first movie I ever saw was The Wiz and I danced all the way home. I was 5 or 6 years old and I danced all the way home from The Gallo Theatre down in New Orleans to my house. But when it comes to movies, I never really saw them in the theater. We didn’t have that kind of money so we would always have to wait for them to come on television. I love Sci Fi, I love the Alien movies and the Alien franchise. I was very disappointed with Prometheus, but I love that whole franchise. Those are my favorite movies. I’m actually working on a sci-fi movie right now.
Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TP: No but I’m writing a sci-fi movie that I’m really excited about. But I don’t have any one movie that made me say ‘Ooh this is it’ but The Wiz was my first film experience.
Looking at your body of work, you obviously have a great eye for talent. Whether it’s someone we grew up watching like a Marla Gibbs or John Amos or a Doris Roberts or a Phylicia Rashad for example…
TP: Phylicia whew. Amazing. Amazing. She’s amazing. Let me tell you something, I don’t know anybody better. I don’t know ANY-BODY, I don’t care how many Oscars they have on their shelves, I don’t know anybody better.
Absolutely. She does the most profound work. So in addition to folks like that there is so much new talent that you discover that people have previously never seen before and they get their big break through you as well. What qualities do you look for in the talent that you decide to work with?
TP: You hear people talk about that “It” factor. Well it truly is that where you see it and you go ‘Oh that’s a star’. Even if they don’t know it. I think about Lance Gross on House Of Payne. I found him in an acting class. He was up doing a scene and Tasha Smith who is on For Better Or Worse, she was running it and I said ‘Ok, that kid is good’. [At that point] Tasha had never worked for me. Tyra Banks and I were dating at the time and she and Tasha were very close friends and she was like “You need to hire her” and I hired her sight unseen. When I saw her she had it. So it’s that “It” factor and I’m always looking for people with that. The kids who are on Disney now, [Larramie] Doc [Shaw] and China [Anne McClain], who were on House Of Payne. They had that “It” thing. Their auditions were terrible but there was something about them that made me go ‘Oh they got it’.
You’ve undoubtedly created a huge audience that typically comes out in record numbers to support whatever the Tyler Perry brand has to offer next. You’ve also displayed a real forward thinking and growth with establishing 34th St Films to offer a more diverse type of work thematically speaking. What direction would you like to go in next that we have yet to see you go in, genre wise or anything?
TP: I’m looking for filmmakers man. I’ve managed to find the actors. I’m looking for those young filmmakers who are hungry and eager and brilliant who are not arrogant who are just brilliant and excited. I’m looking to bring up some new generations. I’m working with this [filmmaker] Tina Chism who just wrote a movie and she directed it. It’s called We The Peeples. It’s coming out soon. She’s one of the first but I’m looking for that younger crop that’s got it. That’s what I’m excited about. That’s who I’m looking for.
Is there any particular genre that you’re looking for?
TP: No man I’m open to everything. I’m just as comfortable with Star Trek as I am with Precious as I am with Boyz N The Hood as I am with Madea. I’m all over the place. It’s like my musical taste is from Jazz to Rap and Rock and Country. It’s everything.
Madea’s Witness Protection is your first Madea film that is not based on a stage play but written originally for the screen. What was it like writing for this character specifically for the screen for the first time as opposed to the stage?
TP: I don’t think there’s any difference because every stage show that I wrote I started from scratch so there really was no difference. The only thing that remained the same were the titles pretty much.
Some of your critics like to say that some of the imagery in your films tends to harken back to a less evolved period for us image wise. They even use the word stereotype, however I find that in Madea’s Witness Protection you took an age old practice in traditional Hollywood films and kind of reversed it. That being when a person or persons of color or an indigenous people are faced with a challenge and no matter how talented or brilliant they may be or no matter what inherent virtues they may possess they always have to rely on a benevolent white person to come along and help them with whatever challenge they face. However, in this film that paradigm is reversed and it’s actually Madea of all people who is able to help this white family resolve all of their problems and issues. You’ve arrived at a point of success where you can do that. Not everyone can have that option. In this business when it comes to having some sort of control over how we are depicted what do you think is more important, ownership or leverage? And are they mutually exclusive?
TP: Well I have both. I have the ownership and the leverage so I do what I want to do. There’s nobody that tells me what to do. There’s nobody that gives me notes or makes me make any changes. So the stories that I’m telling are of my experience. And just because a black person says “That’s a stereotype and that black people are more evolved” I beg to differ. The set of black people that I come from, that when I go home to New Orleans are still around, that’s them. And I love them just the same. They’re not Ivy League graduates. And here’s the greatest disservice that’s been done and this is why I’ve been so successful and why other filmmakers have had issues. They have discounted those people. They have said to Hollywood, and I’ve heard them say this, those types of people don’t exist. So if you try to eliminate and eradicate a group of people and make them non – existent because you are embarrassed by them or you are embarrassed by that part of us and our culture and history and you want to say just because Obama is in office these people don’t exist anymore, well that’s not true. We’re all human. We’re all still here. We all have these experiences. These are not stereotypes, these are real people. And those are the ones that are showing up in record numbers. So until some of these filmmakers embrace and understand that, it’s going to be challenging for them to see great success. That’s my thought.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection opens nationwide June 29th