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Tyler Perry, Escaping It All (Including Madea)

‘It’s just time,’ Tyler Perry says of his plans to end his popular Madea movie franchise. ‘There are other things I want to do and I’ve leaned on it a little bit too long.’ His next film, ‘Nobody’s Fool,’ opens this week.
‘It’s just time,’ Tyler Perry says of his plans to end his popular Madea movie franchise. ‘There are other things I want to do and I’ve leaned on it a little bit too long.’ His next film, ‘Nobody’s Fool,’ opens this week. Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Next year, the filmmaker Tyler Perry will turn 50, end his “Madea” movie franchise and start thinking hard about his legacy. But over the next few days, he has the more pressing matter of releasing “Nobody’s Fool.”

The movie out on Friday stars Emmy winner Tiffany Haddish as Tanya, a woman who, after being released from prison, moves in with her sister (Tika Sumpter), a successful businesswoman with a disastrous love life. The film, Mr. Perry’s 20th, is his first R-rated comedy.

At a moment when television critics are praising so-called anti-comedies—shows like FX’s “Atlanta” and HBO’s “Barry,” both 2018 Emmy nominees for best comedy series that earned praise for their smarts but often went for nuance over belly laughs—“Nobody’s Fool” is different. It might be closer to an anti-anti-comedy.

When it comes to some of those critically praised TV shows, “to be completely truthful with you, a lot of times I’m watching it and I don’t get it,” Mr. Perry said. “Just give me the simple back-in-the-day comedy, tell me what I’m supposed to be laughing at. Don’t make me think about it.”

Tyler Perry’s new movie ‘Nobody’s Fool’ stars, from left, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg and Tiffany Haddish.
Tyler Perry’s new movie ‘Nobody’s Fool’ stars, from left, Tika Sumpter, Whoopi Goldberg and Tiffany Haddish. Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES

For his first film with Paramount Pictures, Mr. Perry wove the MTV series “Catfish” into the “Nobody’s Fool” plot, eager to include a brand under Paramount’s parent company Viacom . “Catfish” finds people who lie about their identities to online love interests who have never met them.

In December, Mr. Perry appears as Colin Powell in the Dick Cheney biopic “Vice.” Mr. Perry, who studied clips of the former secretary of state to nail down the voice, said he called Mr. Powell about playing the role and asked for his blessing, which was granted.

This spring, he plans to release “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral,” in which he reprises his performance as the wisecracking matriarch. The first nine live-action Madea movies—he has written and starred in all of them and directed all but one—have grossed more than $548 million in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo.

Mr. Perry spoke about turning down a 2018 Super Bowl ad, avoiding political comedy and writing for an actress he considers the young Madea. Here, edited excerpts:

Are you ever tempted to go in the direction of more serious comedies?

Absolutely not. I know my lanes, I’ve got a few and I know them very well.

What about making your comedy more political?

It’s not my thing. When I go to a movie or when I’m watching a television show I’m looking to escape it all. I don’t want to be reminded of it in the things that I do.

How do you feel about entertainers ruling out Super Bowl appearances to show solidarity with quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick?

I just turned down a promo for the NFL. I did one the year before and they asked me to do it again and I turned it down in support of Colin Kaepernick and in disappointment for the way the NFL is handling it. The kid just wants to play football and he should be allowed to do so.

Who Is He?

  • Name: Tyler Perry
  • What He Does: Filmmaker
  • How He Got There: “I worked odd jobs, saving money and putting everything I had toward my plays. For seven years, I would put on a play every year. At my first show, I thought 1,200 people would show up and only 30 did.”
  • His Big Break: When he sold out the Fox Theatre in Atlanta with his 1998 show “I Know I’ve Been Changed.”
  • His Obsession: Rumble, a boxing-inspired workout.

Do people working in comedy need to be more careful about offending people in today’s charged climate?

Listen, I’m a black man in America who owns a studio. I’ve always had to be careful what I say. I’ve had to be careful of what I say and how I say it, not to offend, because there are a lot of people in power who have issues with me being in the position that I’m in.

How much work has your Atlanta studio generated?

I just moved it to the Fort McPherson army base and last month alone 25,000 cars came through the gates to work. When people are coming to work with me on my shows, a large majority of them are African-American people, black and brown people who have not had an opportunity in this business ever. When I was 30 it was, “How much can I make?” or “What can I do next?” or “What can I make No. 1?” Now, at this age, with an almost 4-year-old child, it’s about legacy and what I’m leaving and who I’m opening doors for.

You shot “Nobody’s Fool” in 10 days. How long were those days?

Influencers

They’re only 12-hour days. When movies are made there are probably 20 or 30 people who are in the decision-making process of everything that happens. For me, I am that person. I write the script, I direct it, I’ve got three cameras going, I have an incredible crew. We have the shorthand, so it all comes together. If the actors can handle 15 pages a day in dialogue, I’m going.

Did you write the movie for Tiffany Haddish?

I specifically wrote the character for Tiffany Haddish. I feel like if Madea was 30 years old—this is why it’s so easy for me to write for her—all I had to do is just write a young Madea and give those words to her and she took them and ran with them.

Why end the Madea franchise?

I’m going into 50 with a whole new plan. It’s just time. I’ve had a great run. There are other things I want to do and I’ve leaned on it a little bit too long.

Does Madea die in the final film?

She doesn’t die. But she has threatened to kill me.

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

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