The Day – Q&A with Tyler Perry on Madea character, new movies

Tyler Perry caused a stir in 2018, announcing he was retiring his star character Madea after 20 years and 11 films, which have grossed over $500 million worldwide.

“I just don’t want to look her age playing her,” said Perry, 49 at the time. Madea, inspired by his mother and an aunt, had served his purpose and he wanted to focus on his many other projects.

But the madness of 2020 changed his mindset.

“A little thing called COVID happened,” Perry said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The pandemic and the politics and all the division and all the turmoil that was happening, I just wanted to do something to make people laugh and forget about all of reality.”

The result: “A Madea Homecoming,” which debuted Friday on Netflix. The character has become iconic, a combination of wisdom and brashness that makes his loyal fans cheer and his detractors cringe.

Here are excerpts from the interview where Perry talks about the movie, the power of Netflix, a possible sci-fi movie, and the opening of Tyler Perry Studios for public tours.

Q: Was the idea for this film born after the start of the pandemic?

A: Yes. A little after that. I watched how angry we all seemed and we all seemed alienated from the world. I wanted to do something to talk about it.

Q: Did you decide to address COVID in any way in the film?

A: Joe’s character mentions it but the problem is that we live it in reality so I didn’t want to put it in the movie.

Q: What was it like getting the Madea outfit back on after a few years off?

A: It’s old hat. It was like what I’ve been doing for twenty years. It was about setting it up, spreading it and doing it. But I wanted to add a few things to it that would make it better for me and more fun, so having Brendon O’Carroll as part of that because our careers were so parallel (O’Carroll made a name for himself in the UK in playing a foul-mouthed matriarch Agnes Brown on stage and on TV). He’s older than me, but our birthdays are a few days apart. He was in Europe doing plays and on television playing Mrs. Brown. I was in America at the same time. So when I found out about him and called him, I said it was something we had to do. The timing worked.

Q: How did you hear about him?

A: I was doing this “Brain on Fire” movie and the director said, “Have you ever heard of Mrs. Brown?” I said no, so I watched clips on YouTube and I was like “Whoa!” I was watching his story, and our careers and our lives were so parallel. Pretty deep.

Q: Do you think many of your viewers will know who he is? They will have to look for him.

A: It’s going to be a good mix of people who do and a lot of people who don’t. At the same time, a large part of his audience will not know who I am. It’s a good match-up. Both audiences will need to find out who the other person is.

Q: Can you give a little insight into what Madea fans should expect in this movie?

A: His great-grandson is graduating and he’s coming home and he has a secret he wants to share with the family. Once he does, it opens up a lot of conversations. But more than anything, what I want people to remember is the laughter. I don’t want them to take it too seriously. Don’t dig too hard. Relax and go for a ride.

Q: When you think of Madea, do you feel like she’s evolved in any way?

A: I tried to keep it as close as it always was. I didn’t want to water it down or change it too much. In this movie, I allowed her to go as far as she ever went and say things she never said. But you have to be sensitive to a lot of things going on now, that’s for sure.

Q: Your first 11 Madea films were released in theaters primarily in the United States. This is the first time Madea has made its world debut at the same time.

A: That’s the magic of Netflix. I’m really, really excited about it because I want to see what it looks like. … After all these years of being told that black films don’t travel, that they don’t do well overseas, to release a film worldwide and to be able to get that data in real time is really powerful.

Q: Why did you decide to work with Netflix instead of sticking with Lionsgate and releasing the films theatrically?

A: It’s just the time and day and how much things have changed. My hope is that movie theaters exist forever because I want my son and his son to have that experience in a movie theater with a big giant screen. Some films are made to be seen like this. But to be with a streamer as big as Netflix, from my first encounter I had with them, I was blown away by their approach to everything, what they know about diversity and being the company that they are, I was thrilled to work with them and it was great.

Q: “Don’t Look Up” was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Are you surprised to have been involved in this project?

A: I’m grateful to Adam (McKay), who wrote it. The more nominations like that you get, the more eyeballs you get. I hope this will help to better understand where we are and what we are doing.

Q: You came on very naturally as a morning host.

A: Adam is brilliant in that sense. It is very improvised. I hear him in the back yelling great ad-lib lines. He’s a great writer, really funny so I just did my best to honor what he had in mind.

Q: Is there a new genre of movie or TV show you could pursue?

A: Sci-fi, those kind of movies I would love. Doing “Star Trek” I loved. I’m there in a heartbeat. I have an interest there. It depends on the character. If the character is going to be dark and crazy, that doesn’t necessarily interest me.

Q: So, could a Tyler Perry sci-fi movie take place?

A: I’ve written a sci-fi movie that I’m hanging on to, so we’ll see.

Alfonso E. Cramer