By Bonnie DeShong
Recently Tyler Perry was in town to promote his new film “BOO! A Madea Halloween.” I had the honor to sit down with him for a conversation.
Bonnie: Tyler, you first came here with Madea the stage show, to the Regal Theater on the Southside of Chicago. How has Madea changed from the Madea on the stage of the Regal to what we see on film?
Tyler: She is a little stiffer and she has slowed down a little bit because I am a lot older, but it is still the same no stunt no nonsense. They are saying get the parents in order, get kids in order. It’s still that same tough love and I think that is why people have loved her so much all of these years is because she is that person.
Bonnie: As far as doing a Halloween movie, how did that come about?
Tyler: I never wanted to do that, it is not my thing. I don’t do witches and demons and things like that at all, but Chris Rock does a movie called Top Five and in Top Five he has a picture movie called Boo! A Madea Halloween. He called to get permission to do it I said yeah man go ahead and do, and then the film company saw it and they called me and said we have to do this movie. It took me about a year and a half to do it because, again, I don’t do witches and demons. Yeah Chris Rock is where it started and the name of that movie is Boo! A Madea Halloween so here we are.
Bonnie: In the movie you used a lot of You Tuber’s, Instagramer’s, just a lot of millennial. Are you reaching out to the young demographic trying to bring them into your fan base?
Tyler: That is exactly what it is it is broadening the whole base to say, okay, this is not just for African-American people it is for people who like to laugh, people who like joy, just people, so come and watch the show, watch the movie. So using all of them I mean this girl, Lexy Panterra who is twerking in the video has 68 million views. The guy who plays Jonathan, Yousef Erakat, he has 9 million subscribers on You Tube and one of his pranks has 128 million views, and just by them being in the movie the young people that are reaching out to me, younger kids, I am like whoa, it is a whole different thing and also they are very talented. I didn’t pick them because of those things; I mean if you look at the job they did you would go wow, they got something so here is your shot.
Bonnie: What is your process when you are developing a Medea script? Is it mostly adlib, is it scripted where does this creativity come from?
Tyler: We do have the script and then we adlib around the script because me and Cassie Davis who plays Bam we have been working together a long time so when we’re on stage it’s magic, so even when we are in these scenes… like there is one moment where she says, “who do you know rides up in a box?” That wasn’t in the script but I am still laughing at that line like who the hell you know would ride up in a box. Every time I hear it makes me laugh like watching it last night in Chicago it was like, I mean the audience was rolling. All of that motivates me so I do the script just as our guideline and wherever we go off inside of it, because what is happening is, I will put on the costume and I will sit in a room and I will see something in the room that I have to comment on that we want to put in the movie so it grows organically when the world gets going.
Bonnie: I noticed that in one scene Bam literally had a tear rolling down her face. Were you guys were going back and forth laughing and crying?
Tyler: All true. I wouldn’t say cut. I would say okay go again so she had no time to clean up. She would just be wiping her eyes as she is going and yeah, it’s hysterical.
Bonnie: You guys have been working together for so long is it now kind of like finishing each other’s sentences.
Tyler: No god forbid. I never want to be able to finish her sentences because her brain and the way she thinks. That woman is funny. And Patrice Lovely too plays Hattie… hysterical… these women are funny to no end and hadn’t had big opportunities or big chances, so I am really happy for them.
Bonnie: I am telling you Hattie was funny. I’ve watched the TV show and to be totally honest I am not into that one, but I was so into her last night in the film she just was like my exclamation point of laughter.
Tyler: There is something there because I know how talented she is and I know how amazing she is on stage and I know how amazing she is in this film it is just trying to get it to translate on television, so I understand a little bit of what you mean there trying to get it to translate there is where the issue is.
Bonnie: Writing for Madea, when you sit down do you have to do something different, is your writing process different when you are writing Madea specifically than any of the other films or TV projects that you do?
Tyler: Absolutely because she is fun. On the others I have to concentrate let’s focus, let’s twist, let’s turn if Lovely is wrong let’s see… and for me it gets heavy and dark and those are sometimes when I am laboring to get through it, I don’t like that. Madea is no labor it is just right and a funny situation. I am putting her in a situation right now in this movie I am working on where she and Brian and Joe and Hattie and Bam are all in a car, and Brian is driving his Volvo and they are in the backseat and the side seat and the passenger seat and they get pulled over by the police and they all have a fit, “don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop,” so I am going to touch on some of this political stuff in a humorous way. Not political but some of the stuff that is going on in the country in a humorous way with the police and everything and see if I can address it in some kind of way. See, that kind of stuff writes itself.
Bonnie: Through Madea you talk about things going on in the world. You touch on parenting, relationships and respect, so who do you think needs that good old Madea butt whipping today?
Tyler: Donald Trump, is that the answer you were looking for? Donald Trump has that way, but let me tell you how Trump rose to power and why he is where he is. We are so politically correct in this country that nobody is saying what they really feel and what they really think and here comes a man who is saying what so many people, good or bad or indifferent, think and want to say. That is how he has so many supporters. We are in a country that has freedom of speech but everybody is afraid to say what they really feel and what they really think. He fascinates me though honestly, I look at this man and I am going, how in the world could this happen? This man is one step away from the highest office in the land. I appreciate his business acumen and I appreciate staying in his hotel, but I could never imagine him being the President of the United States. Spending time at the White House and spending time with the Obama’s I don’t even think that he gets it. If he knew what it meant to be President I don’t think he would really want it because the thing about it is, you lose all sense of freedom. You can’t go anywhere there isn’t a press core that follows you everywhere you go. The only time you have some privacy is when you are in the White House which is what Bill Clinton called the most beautiful federal prison in the whole system, so it is interesting to see. I am voting for Hillary and I am hoping people will not just stay at home and just say, “oh let that take care of itself,” so I hope most people get out and vote.
Bonnie: You have gone from selling tapes out of your car to the White House, from Madea stage plays to having numerous projects on television and film. Who are you now from the person that was selling out of the car?
Tyler: I am so much of the same guy because the gratitude was so sad. I was selling out of my car and making a small commission on it and I was just as happy as I am today when the movie is successful or television show works. I am the same guy in that sense. I have had two major shifts in my life these last twenty years, one is the death of my mother which made me question everything about myself and about the work that I was doing because I realized that a lot of my motivation and drive had come because I was trying to take care of her since I was a little boy. The second one was the birth of my son and now everything in life has changed in the sense that it is all about him, what is happening with him, what am I doing now, what am I leaving for him, what is his future; everything.
Bonnie: Does it scare you that there aren’t a lot of Madea’s in the world to help raise that village.
Tyler: I wasn’t expecting him he surprised me, so he was obviously meant to be here. He is like “hello” I’m coming. But me and his mom are really doing great in the sense of trying to give him a sense of his own identity, his own personality, let him figure out who he is before he has to deal with all of this stuff. We protect him fiercely. You have no idea of things we go to, to make sure that he is just normal. That he can go to the park which negates a lot of things that I can do with him publicly, but it gives him an opportunity to know who he is that is what I want. I am not a reality star. My life has always been very private and we don’t want him to have to deal with all of the foolishness because I have seen some horrible things online about kids; which kid is prettier, which kid is smarter. They have pictures of celebrities babies like, who is the cutest one. All of that is offensive to me and also being very close to this Whitney and Bobbi Kristina situation… listen to me, I couldn’t help but think about him every day during Kristina’s last few days because it is sad and so tragic, so I am doing all I can. Me and his mom are doing all we can to make sure he has a normal life.
Bonnie: Are you a Brian kind of parent or a Madea kind of parent?
Tyler: That depends on the circumstances, but the great thing about it is I have enough sense to be both. There are certain situations with kids where I think you have to approach it with just an intellectual kind of stimulation or conversation that can get the kid through early on and if you do that long enough and well enough then maybe that is all you ever need to do. Gayle King has never once spanked her kids and they are two amazing children. Then I think there is that other side where you are raising a black boy in America and you have to beat his ass sometimes so he will know who dad is, especially around those teenage years when testosterone starts and all of those things. When I say beat his ass I am not talking about throwing him off the roof, I am not talking about Joe and Madea, but I am talking about letting him know… like animals in the animal kingdom you clearly have to make sure that he knows who the alpha is so he stays in line and understands.
Bonnie: Thinking back on the old Tyler before you “made it” and you have had a child, do you think you would have done it the same way?
Tyler: I never would have done it. I wouldn’t be here because none of this would have mattered. The work and success… because God really knows and it timing because I am telling you, had I had a child back then he would have been priority and I would have done everything I had to do to make sure I was never without a home, I was never sleeping in the car, that he always had food and I clearly knew that. So to have him at this point in life where I can provide and give him things and we all can live well it is really tremendous.
Bonnie: Madea is going to be with you always.
Tyler: Yes that is what my mother said before she died.
Bonnie: You have done film, you have done theater, you have done TV. What is that next big dream, not what you can do, but you really want to do?
Tyler: Well, right now it is the studio. I just bought Fort McPherson Army Base and I am getting it up and open. I think Grant Park is 319 acres and the studio is 338 acres to give you an idea of size and scope. I bought it in June last year, we opened in January and already 1,000 people have come through the doors to work. We just filmed Henrietta Lacks there. All of my shows are shot there. To finish it and complete it and to have a legacy to pass on and also benefit the community. First of all, and this is what we do as black people, this is what bothers me the most, as soon as we get some money we run from our community. This is in our neighborhood and when these black kids walk past, drive past, see my name up there and that I was able to do it, it speaks to the possibility of all of them doing it. That is what is important to me right now so building this thing, making it so solid and so strong that when I am ready to turn the keys over to my son whether he wants it or not, this is what your father has done, this is what he has built, and this is what it means to so many people. It kind of reminds me of Johnson at Ebony you know, just what he had done in the time, so that is what is important to me right now leaving the legacy and leaving something that he can be proud of but also everybody. When we open the studio I am going to ask a bunch of press to come down to view the studio and just talk to the employees there… these kids who never had a chance, never had a shot in the business because if you go on a set in any show in the country you look around. I have been on movies recently where one black face, but you come on my set everybody is represented fairly. This is the last thing I will say, the Variety just reported that one-fourth of diversity in television I am responsible for. I take all of that in and I listen to it and I go. okay that’s great, that’s wonderful that means I am on the right path, that means that all of these millions of people of color who have invested in me all of these years they’ve got something to be proud of and look forward to and look up to, and that makes me feel great.
Bonnie: Most of these jobs are union jobs and it’s hard for people of color to get into the union, so you having this, has that helped in breaking that barrier?
Tyler: Absolutely because Georgia is a right to work state, so you can come to work for me and be a part of the show and get all of the union benefits and not even join the union. It is definitely helping a lot of people who haven’t had the opportunity yet.
Bonnie: Why Atlanta, not L.A. and not Chicago or New York?
Tyler: Because I went to Atlanta one weekend for a spring break for black kids and I saw black people doing well and I moved. I left New Orleans because I hadn’t seen any positive role models. I hadn’t seen any black men in suits. We went out in zoot suits but I am talking about professional suits going to work; doctors, lawyers, that kind of thing, so Atlanta was the promise land for me and I have never looked back.
And a truer word was never spoken. Tyler Perry’s new film “BOO! A Madea Halloween” opens in theaters on Friday; October 21st. It is funny in typical Madea style.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the Sky!