Tyler Perry directing Gabrielle Union & Idris Elba
(photo by Alfeo Dixon)
MD = Michael Dequina; Q = Other press; TP = Tyler Perry
Q: [Producer] Reuben [Cannon] couldn't say enough about the relationship that you two have and about the freedom to work in the space that you have--creative space; space to do the final product as you see it. Can you talk about that now--with your third feature, how that kind of freedom and autonomy helps you in doing your movies?
TP: You know, working in Atlanta and being away from this town has really helped, I think, to allow me a lot of freedom as well as the people who have been with me from day one, from the 30 people in the audience to the 30,000 that are still in the theatre right now wherever my show is--they've carried me into Hollywood and gave me this opportunity to be able to do it my way. They said, "We're here with you. We're going to show up. We're going to be there for you." And that has allowed me the opportunity to do it the way that I do it. And I chose Atlanta because it's outside of L.A., and the southern hospitality thing is really true. When you come to work, you feel like you work with family, and everything's really good and warm--you enjoy working there. So it allows for a lot of freedom, and I'm really grateful for it.
Q: Was it a conscious decision not to act and just be behind the camera?
TP: In this movie, yes. The main reason is because I felt like I was overexposed. I was everywhere because the two movies and the book and the play and everything--I had done every show there is to do, every talk show, every situation, so I needed a moment to just get away from it and get behind the camera. I didn't want to think about eating right; I didn't want to think about working out; I wanted to get as fat as I wanted to be, and that's what I did on this movie.
Q: If you were a different director on this movie, how were you a different director?
TP: I think it's apparent. If you look at Madea's Family Reunion, you're like, "Did anybody direct this movie? What's up? Where's the camera?" But in Daddy's Little Girls I had an opportunity to do some different things. I tried some different things with the camera; I was getting comfortable with the technical stuff. So I feel like Daddy's Little Girls is my first time directing. So I think it can only get better from there, so I was pretty happy with where it ended up.
Q: This is like a valentine to Black men, to Black couples, to Black women. Did you want it to be that?
TP: I have two friends--one, we were working, and he'd be on the phone all the time, and I was getting annoyed because this guy was always on the phone. I was like, "What woman is he talking to all day? Come on, man; we got to work." I'm a guy who just focuses on working, and he's on the phone with his woman all the time. And then I find out that it's his daughters. He has three daughters who really needed him, and he would talk to them all the time, and he was my muse for the Monty character. And then I have another friend who's very successful, who can't find a man to save her life with all the money she has and all she's done, and I thought, what if the two of them met? She's very classy; she's very regal; and he's very hood, very street. And that's where this story came from. It didn't necessarily start out as a valentine thing as much as it started out just to be a story to encourage fathers who are doing the right thing because there is no support for that. Nobody's saying, "This Black man's a good father." Nobody. They're saying that we are deadbeats and so on and so forth. I also wanted to speak to women and say, "You know what? Even though you're in corporate America, if you maybe look a little on this side of the tracks, there maybe somebody you're interested in."
Q: Can we talk a little about the family-oriented format? There wasn't a lot of stuff going on all over. Could you talk about being able to tell that kind of story and taking the chance that this kind of story will give you another $50 million at the box office?
TP: [laughs] With this story and these characters, as they were speaking it was a simple story. It's a story about Julia and Monty's relationship and a story about Monty's relationship with his daughters. It comes to me like you guys see it--like you're watching the movie, that's how it comes to me. I have it in my head for months and months and months first. So I'm sitting there, it's all in my head, and then when I finally sit down and write it, it just floods out of me because it's all been there. So I think these characters just wanted to tell a simple story. And I'm not worried about the box office; I haven't even thought about it. What I am concerned about more than anything is just that it feels right in here [points to heart]. And this story feels right to me. It feels right to speak to fathers who are doing the right thing. It feels right to encourage them because nobody else has. To see two movies this year [to do that], to be one of the first--Will Smith's The Pursuit of Happyness being [the other] one--to have that happen at this time I think is a good thing.
Q: What was the casting process like?
TP: It was pretty simple for me because as I was writing, I was thinking Gabrielle [Union] all along. And the little girls--China [McClain}, the youngest, she's on my sitcom House of Payne, and she is amazing. I would be watching her on set, through the monitors, when she was doing House of Payne, and some other characters would be speaking, but she would have this puzzled look on her face like she understood everything, and it freaked me out! She has two sisters and a brother; her brother is the kid in the car who says, "Get away from my daddy, tramp!" [Laughs] So they all are very talented, and they made it very easy to write, knowing that I had them. And then Idris comes, and I see him and Gabrielle together--their chemistry was insane. You believe it. I believed it too--I was like, OK.
Q: Did you talk to Idris a lot about getting this character right?
TP: No. There was little conversation, I think, because what I try to do with actors and people that I hire--90% of directing is hiring the right cast, so he instinctively knew where to go and how to go, how to do it, what to do. He and Gabrielle both, the notes that I had for them were very few and very minor.
Q: He actually just said that you gave him some of the best advice because he would do something, and you would say, "No, they're not going to like it"--meaning your audience, and he never had a director do that before that. Can you explain all that because he couldn't think of any examples?
TP: There were a couple of things. I can't pinpoint one thing in particular, but I know that there were a couple of times when he made choices. This is what happens--I give actors all the freedom, and I'm looking at it from not just the standpoint of what your performance is because most actors just look at the performance. I'm looking at the entire story; I'm looking at the entire through-line, and most are looking at it as an audience member. So I can't remember what it was, but there were maybe two things that I thought, "No, if you do it this way, then they'll think this about the character." And the reason I know that is because nine years on the road with 30 or 40,000 people every week, I would try things on stage, and I would know how far to take it, and I know what I'd have to pull back because they'd let me know very quickly.
Q: You've been independent for quite a while. Is there ever a time you could see in the future where you could direct something that you haven't written, or you could write something that you're not going to direct?
TP: I'm very careful about the Tyler Perry brand. I get offers to do a lot of things, but I'm very careful about this audience in particular and my relationship with them. There's a level of expectation, so if somebody else wrote something that I thought was really great, then I'd get into it; but if it's not what I think the brand should represent, I'd stay away from it.
Q: What is the brand you're so protective of?
TP: The Tyler Perry brand is a brand that represents and means family, it means forgiveness, it means love, it means God, it means hope. When anyone's ever come to see a play or anyone's ever come to see a movie, these are the things they know they're buying. It's like with Coca-Cola--you know you're getting this kind of soda. But when you buy something Tyler Perry, you're getting that. So maybe if I created another umbrella or another company outside, I would try some of the other stuff. But for this particular brand, I'm very clear of the box that it has to stay in.
Q: Has it been a conscious effort on your part to focus more on Black intimacy as opposed to sexuality in your movies?
TP: Yeah, everybody else is doing the sex and the booty-shaking in the videos and this and that and the niggas and the hos and the bitches. Everybody else is doing that, so it's very important for me to stay away from that. If everybody else is doing that, why do it, you know? And everybody's doing it, and they're doing it well, so let me show that there's a whole other side of Black people that most of the world do not get to see.
Q: In this climate of Blacks getting more Oscar attention, how do you see yourself fitting into the historical landscape of that?
TP: You know, none of that stuff is important to me. It really isn't. I was reading a message on my message board earlier this morning where this one lady was saying that her mother had cancer, and before she died, every day they'd watch the videos after her chemo, and she'd laugh and feel good and feel inspired by it. That's what matters to me. This other stuff--here today, gone tomorrow. But when you can touch somebody's life like that, or change or affect them in that kind of way, that's what really matters.
Q: Is Tyler Perry Studios up and running?
TP: We are up and running at about 40% of the building. The rest of the building is not ready to be running yet. We're working with the city [of Atlanta] very closely to get it all up to par. The city has been really supportive of the entire studio, so I've been really happy that they've been really helpful in trying to get it done.
Q: Do you have any advice for young people that would like to follow in your filmmaking and acting footsteps?
TP: For me, I just tell people to make sure it's your gift, and if you wake up every day with it on you, and you go to bed with it on you; you think about it all the time--then that's the thing you're supposed to be doing. That's your destiny. And whatever that is, if you follow that, then you're going to be really happy.
Q: You make a point to stay in contact with your audience. The e-mails you send out--
TP: I write every one of them.
Q: What is that all about? Is that just trying to stay in touch with your audience? Is it that Tyler Perry "touch"?
TP: You know what it is? It's the level of appreciation I have for them. Lionsgate is spending all of this money for these companies to come and test the movie and test the market and see the research--I don't need all of that. I can go straight to the website, send out an e-mail, and say, "Here's the movie, here's the trailer--what do you think?" And they tell me instantly--100,000 messages of "we love it" or "we don't." So keeping the lines of communication open helps me know that I'm staying where I'm supposed to stay.
Q: But you get so personal with the messages.
TP: Part of keeping that connection is just being real. I can't sit there and say everything is perfect every day. And I think people endear to that because I've always had that with them from day one. Even on stage I'd talk about anything. At the end of the show, we stand there and we talk, and there's this back-and-forth with the audience, and that whole commitment and sharing thing has built our relationship. So I feel like it is more of a relationship than just they are fans.
Q: Had you been to Africa before your recent visit?
TP: First time.
Q: When you go, it changes your life.
TP: You are so right. First of all, I invited Sidney Poitier and Cicely Tyson to fly over with me, so I was on a plane with them for twenty hours.
Q: How was that? Did you document that?
TP: I got some pictures, but I didn't want to make them uncomfortable. You don't want to invite people on your plane and say, "Come in here and let me get some pictures!" [Laughs] [Poitier and I] talked from the time we left to late in the night about his story and who he is and where he'd come from. The man is amazing. After being in his presence, I felt OK to be me. A lot of times, you look at your other guys, and they are successful rapper/business moguls, and the pants are hanging down the waist, and they got the hat and all this other stuff. I've never been that, and he made it OK for me to be who I am and to stand up straight. Then getting to Africa, we were leaving Sun City and going to Johannesburg, and we were passing through these townships and looking at all these poor kids; I remember they were smiling and happy. And Kimberly Elise said, "I wonder what they dream about." So we get to Oprah [Winfrey]'s school, the curtain opens, and there's these girls there, 140-something of them. And they start running the tape on where they come from, and they start talking about their dreams. They don't want to just be the teacher; they want to be the minister of education. They don't want to be a mayor; they want to be the president. Their dreams were bigger than all of Africa, so that was really inspiring.
Q: Reuben was saying that we're going to see Madea again.
TP: Oh, absolutely. Madea's not going anywhere; I just needed a break from it. The wigs and the makeup and all that stuff--I feel sorry for women. [Laughs]
Q: What projects are you currently working on?
TP: I think there's five. One is Why Did I Get Married?; we start shooting that in March, based on one of my plays. Then The Jazz Man's Blues; we shoot in the summer. House of Payne--I've got to do 100 episodes before the end of the year. And the Meet the Browns sitcom, we're working on that as well. I'm writing two movies and a book right now.
Q: How do you relax?
TP: Writing used to be the thing that would relax me; I could sit around and write. Now that's become work; it's a whole other deal. Africa was relaxing; I had the best sleep in my life there. Tucson--I go there to write and relax, up in the desert.
Next Roundtable: Gabrielle Union
Press Junket Roundtable Transcripts
The World Premiere
Daddy's Little Girls: The Official Site
Tyler Perry Official Site
Idris Elba @ MySpace
Malinda Williams Official Site
Malinda Williams @ MySpace
Tasha Smith @ MySpace
Gary Sturgis Official Site
Gary Sturgis @ MySpace
Brian White Official Site
Brian White @ MySpace
Terri J. Vaughn Official Site
Terri J. Vaughn @ MySpace
Daddy's Little Girls @ The Internet Movie Database
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Daddy's Little Girls: Tyler Perry/© Michael Dequina
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