Tyler Perry: Breaking New Ground

The King of Entertainment Writer, Producer, Director, Actor, Author, Mogul

By Kristian Rose-Anderson

Tyler Perry is not a filmmaker. He did not attend a prestigious film school like NYU. He did not get his break in the industry by interning at a major studio like Universal. As a child, he wasn’t given an 8mm camera with which he made amateur films. He was never even taught where the cameras are supposed to go while shooting a film. He never studied film as an art form. In fact, he was never officially trained to direct, write or produce. Hence why, Tyler Perry is not a filmmaker: in the technical sense.

But what Tyler Perry has become is a master storyteller. For Perry, “My whole purpose of becoming a director was to tell a story.” He says, “I look at filmmakers who are brilliant like Steven Spielberg, who is a brilliant filmmaker. I look at Spike Lee. Those guys eat, live, breath, study and understand film.” But according to Perry, “I don’t know a lot of what those directors know, but I always look up to those people to help me grow.” Fortunately, for us, Tyler Perry never let the absence of formal tutelage get in his way!

From his daunting beginnings on the tough streets of New Orleans to the A-list in Hollywood, whether you are a fan of his work or not, you cannot deny that this man’s story is a true testament to the miracles of the Almighty.

Over the years, (and thanks to some tear-jerking Oprah interviews), Tyler Perry has shared a great deal about his life and his childhood, and how every experience he endured helped to fashion him into the man his is currently. Nowadays he believes, “I am more of myself than I have ever been.” He says, “I didn’t come in to my own until I turned 40. I’ve just become more of myself and I love that I’ve really settled into my own skin.” Because for Perry, “Out of all that I’ve been through, it’s all found its place in my soul to help grow me and to help me be a better person.”

While Tyler Perry wasn’t formally educated in filmmaking, he was encouraged to keep a diary of his daily thoughts and experiences. This is where he began writing a series of introspective letters. These letters led him to personal healing, and led to his first musical.

Today, his work has garnered great acclaim and respect. The legendary, Cicely Tyson, who has worked with Tyler Perry on many occasions, recently stated she would be a part of any project that he was a part of. “That sounds amazing, because any project I’m a part of, I want her to do,” exclaims Perry.

Even with such an iconic validation, the road to success wasn’t easy for him. But he never gave up. And today, we know Tyler Perry as the mastermind behind Woman Thou Art Loosed! the Madea empire, as well as Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married? (one and two), Meet The Browns, The Family That Preys, House of Payne, For Colored Girls, Good Deeds, and the list goes on.

Born a fighter, Tyler Perry recognizes where he has come from and where he is heading. He is definitely a man who hasn’t forgotten about the people that have helped him reach the top. He once explained that his target audience consists of people in beauty shops, salons, barbershops, blue collar workers and lower income people who have supported him from the beginning. “More than a target audience, it is the core audience who’s been there with me from day one and they are still there,” states Perry.

Now his audience and realm of influence has definitely escalated. “I can stand in front of the stage and I see doctors, lawyers, the hair dresser, the barber, the drug boy, the pimp, the prostitute, the grandmother, the great grandmother, the child, the preacher, the psychic, the Muslim, the gay, the lesbian and the straight. Black, white, they are all represented in the audience.” And even more important, “What I have learned to do is to open the story up to wherever God wants it to land,” says Perry. “So I know my core. I am very clear on who they are, because they are me and we are one in the same. But I’m also very open to everything that God has for me.”

Keeping an open mind is exactly what Tyler Perry is doing. One of the greatest challenges he faces in the entertainment business are those critics who undoubtedly put him into a box, thinking they know his formula and all that he is capable of producing. “They don’t allow me to grow anymore,” says Perry. “But I live my life outside of the box, because when I die they are going to put me in one. So I always have to shatter the box, because I think a box is a casket.”

Shattering the nays Ayer’s and critics’ limitations, Tyler Perry has become the first Black studio mogul in American history, and is single handedly responsible for elevating the careers of many in the industry. “I have a huge responsibility to help,” Perry understands. “I definitely have a responsibility to young, Black people coming up who never got a shot,” he explains. However, he says, “I don’t just limit it to color; I have a huge responsibility for people who want to dream and who have a dream.” Perry is certainly willing to help those who want to be successful in the industry. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be handed to you just because you’re Black,” he says. “I don’t believe in that at all.” He reveals, “I believe if your work ethic is up to par and you want it bad enough, then I absolutely have a responsibility for you.” Nevertheless, he notes, “If you’re shiftless and lazy, and think it’s going to be handed to you, you’ve got the wrong dude!”

Tyler Perry is the kind of “dude” who truly enjoys what he does. As a screenwriter, playwright, producer, director, actor and author, he explains, “I enjoy all of them. They all have their place in my life.”
As if screenwriter, playwright, producer, director, actor and author weren’t enough, we can now add to his portfolio, leading man. Starring in the upcoming film, Alex Cross, Tyler Perry takes the screen not as a director or producer, but simply as the leading role. “It was a vacation for me [laughs],” he explains about only acting in this film. “I enjoyed the process very much, although I did not enjoy the down time, I’m not a person who does well with that at all,” he asserts. “But as far as making the film, working with the director and seeing someone else’s vision and understanding, it was truly a joy.”

Some people may recognize the name Alex Cross as the main character from the James Patterson book series. Others may be even more familiar with Morgan Freeman’s version of the character in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. “Morgan Freeman is a legend, he’s brilliant, he’s amazing,” says Perry. But for him, there wasn’t pressure to fill Morgan Freeman’s shoes in the role, because “I didn’t try to be Morgan Freeman, I tried to be the best Alex Cross that I could as Tyler Perry.”

In this latest film, set to release in October, you’ll see Alex Cross, a young homicide detective and psychologist in Washington DC, take on a serial killer (played by Matthew Fox). “James Patterson did some interesting things with this story,” says Perry. “It is a prequel to Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, so it goes back a ways.”

A fan of the author James Patterson, Perry was excited to work on a project like Alex Cross. “I thought the character was rich and there aren’t a whole lot of people who write for characters like this, so it was pretty important to me to take it on and try to do my absolute best with it,” he states.

Preparing for the role, Perry spent a lot of time with homicide detectives who profile serial killers. “It was really dark preparing for it, but it definitely put me in the mind frame of what a person like Alex Cross would go through on a day to day basis.”

Unless you’re name is Will Smith, it seems that these kinds of roles are never written with a Black lead in mind. With that, Perry knows full well the importance a role and film like this one has. He states, “First of all, it was great that someone else did it and I didn’t have to [laughs].” Furthermore, Perry understands in order to pull off a project like this, it takes a great deal of support; “The studios, director and writer put their faith in it and money behind it, that means a great deal, not just to me, but to all of us who have an opportunity to work in this business.” One thing Perry has learned about Hollywood is that they follow trends, “So the success of this film will generate success of more films, not just for Tyler Perry, but for more African Americans taking the lead role.”

Conceivably this film series can become a groundbreaking opportunity for other African Americans to work as leads in this genre. Hopefully, it will not only set a new precedence in the whole world of casting, but also set records at the box office. “Everyone who has seen it and these are my real friends who would call me and tell me it was crap, are blown away by it,” says Perry. All in all, “I hope that people are entertained and leave the theater feeling like they have been on one hell of a thrill ride!”

But don’t worry; if you are a fan of Madea, Perry hasn’t let this new “leading man” status steer him completely away from his core. He will be also starring in a live production of Madea Gets a Job at Madison Square Garden for four shows on November 16 and 17. “Yeah, I’m finishing the tour out, this is the last part of the tour,” says Perry. After the tour however, Perry plans to take a long break from the character.

However, for Perry what Madea does for people gives him great joy, “People love her, so she’ll be back!”
But what else gives Tyler Perry great joy? “You know it is seeing hope, seeing hope in people’s faces,” he states. He recently sent out on Facebook the message that stated, “If you quit or give up, you don’t deserve it, process that, get back in the fight, dreamer.” In about 45 minutes, the message received 38,000 likes.

Inspiring others is what Perry is all about. “I love to give people hope, I love to see hope reign over people, when their face changes, lights up and they get it!” Because, for Perry, “One of my greatest motivations it just having hope.”

Succeeding in any industry on your own terms isn’t an easy fete. But Tyler Perry has certainly found the key to success. “Oh my God, I wake up every morning knowing that I am doing what I completely love, what I want to do!” he explains. “I’ve got no boss, nobody telling me what to do, and nobody owning anything that I’m doing.” For Perry, “Success is freedom, and if that means running a popsicle stand on the corner of 125th Street and Harlem, and you are happy with it, then you are successful!”

But Tyler Perry is not a filmmaker.

Perry is man who came from nothing, learned from it, rose above it, and now seemingly has it all. “You know I’m a man who has lived my life to the wall. So I’ve done just about everything that I want to do in career and success.” At the end of the day, “Anyone who can look at my life and where I’ve come from can get hope, and that is where I want my legacy to be.”

“All I want to leave on this planet is hope.”

Tyler Perry is not a filmmaker. Tyler Perry is a creator of dreams, an emissary of hope.