From Madea to mogul, Tyler Perry looks for respect
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Tyler Perry's name in the headline.
Last month, just before his 47th birthday, Tyler Perry posted a video to his social channels where he took stock of his accomplishments to-date, rattling off an impressive resume that includes 20 stage plays, 25 movies, seven TV shows and more than 850 episodes of those shows.
The checklist was prompted by a Variety statistic that noted nearly a quarter of all television episodes on basic cable directed by ethnic minorities were attributed to Perry’s shows, which include series on TBS, TLC and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.
“It made me think, how is one man responsible for 25 percent?” says Perry, stretching out his 6-foot, 5-inch NFL linebacker’s frame in a conference room at Dearborn’s Edward Village Michigan Hotel earlier this month.
“I don’t know anyone else — black, white or other — who has that kind of resume in this business and has not been celebrated in some sort of way,” Perry says. “To have this kind of accomplishment, to have that kind of effect on television, and to not be celebrated or acknowledged for it in a major way is interesting to me. I wonder, is that because my audience is mostly an audience of color? Had it been an audience that was more mainstream, I’m sure it would have been celebrated. Champagne bottles would be flowing everywhere.”
It’s the paradox of Tyler Perry: He is immensely powerful across several mediums, his films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide and his audience adores him, but in the world of Hollywood he’s often marginalized and overlooked.
His latest film, “Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween,” is Perry’s ninth Madea film, where he stars in drag as the loudmouth, over-the-top grandma who will say or do whatever pops into her mind.
The movie began as a joke in Chris Rock’s 2014 comedy “Top Five,” where a mock poster for “Boo!” is shown during a scene at a movie theater. Since Perry owns the Madea character, Rock had to get approval to use it.
“I was like ‘Listen man, sounds funny to me! Do it,’ ” says Perry, who was in town to show “Madea” to a preview audience in Royal Oak.
When executives at Lionsgate, Perry’s distributor, got wind of the “Top Five” gag, they encouraged Perry to make the joke a reality.
He resisted at first.
“I don’t do demons and witches,” Perry says.
But then he found his angle, fashioning the film as a comedy about a family with some teachable parental lessons, which he dropped Madea into the middle of and set during Halloween.
Madea first appeared in Perry’s 1999 play “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” and “Boo!” is the first Madea film since 2013’s “A Madea Christmas.” Though uniformly savaged by critics, the “Madea” films have grossed nearly $500 million at the domestic box office.
So what’s next, “A Madea New Year?”
“Who knows, man. I didn’t know Halloween was next, so we’ll see,” Perry says. “I keep saying as soon as people stop coming she’s going to die a quick death, but people love her, so they’re still coming.”
Perry’s got three movie scripts he’s working on that are vying to be his next movie project, and he has five TV series running: OWN’s “If Loving You Is Wrong” is in its third season and “For Better or for Worse” is in its ninth, “Love Thy Neighbor” and “The Haves and the Have Nots” (also on OWN) wrapped last month. “Too Close to Home” closed out its first season on TLC on Oct. 10.
Given his many projects, it’s no surprise he’s a stickler about his schedule: “If you’re on time, you’re late” is one of his personal mottos. He carves out time to stay in shape by biking on the weekends — he rode 47 miles for his 47th birthday — and doing SoulCycle during the week. He’s also a father. Aman, his son with his girlfriend, Gelila Bekele, turns 3 in November.
His empire is a far cry from his bouts with homelessness in Atlanta in the 1990s when he was trying to get his first play up and running, or his New Orleans childhood when he faced mental and physical abuse at the hands of his father.
He’d now like to be seen as an inspiration to others — and he wouldn’t mind a pat on the back from Hollywood, either.
“I would like to be appreciated as the guy who is the model for nothing stopping you from getting to your dreams,” Perry says. “I want to be the guy that everybody points to and says, ‘Wait a minute, he did it. It makes no sense, but he did it.’ ”