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Madea’s Big Happy Family – Director Tyler Perry on needing a place to release his grief

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Madea's Big Happy Family - Loretta Divine and Tyler Perry
Shirley (Loretta Devine) and Madea (Tyler Perry) © 2011 Tyler Perry Studios

Tyler Perry went from living in his car to being one of the most successful men in show business, owning his own studio in Atlanta, Georgia, where he produces his movies and two TV series, House of Payne and Meet the Browns.

After touring with his plays for years, in 2005 his first feature film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, debut in first place at the box office. It introduced the character of Madea, whom he’d played on stage many times, the God-fearing, gun-toting, pot-smoking, loud-mouthed grandmother.

Perry has gone on to make a series of successful movies including Madea’s Family Reunion, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married?, Madea Goes to Jail and For Colored Girls. All of his movies mix humor and pathos, and have a strong Christian message.

In his new movie Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, Madea’s niece Shirley (Loretta Devine) discovers she is dying, and her only wish is to bring her dysfunctional family together for a meal to tell them the news. When everything falls apart, it’s up to Madea to gather the clan and make things right the only way she knows how, with a lot of tough love.

What inspired this movie?

Madea's Big Happy Family - Poster
Main poster © 2011 Tyler Perry Studios

This is born out of me needing a place to release [my grief] after my mother died. I needed somewhere to go and grieve, so I wrote this and went on the road with it. And then making it a movie it was really easy because a lot of the things that were in the movie, some of my family was going through.

I was supposed to do For Colored Girls, and I pushed it and went out on the road and we did crazy performances and I worked and worked. Cassi (Davis, who plays Aunt Bam) was right by my side, helping me work through it, because she had lost her father eleven years ago. Nobody prepares you for that kind of grief. I needed this and I’m thankful that the people were there to help me through it.

What’s your take on why Madea’s so popular with audiences? Is it that she gets away with things and will say things that you wish you could say?

I think everybody, black, white, Jewish, Latin, from a certain generation, you knew this grandmother. She said what she wanted to say, she didn’t care, you did something wrong, she’d smack you on your ass, and she’s not around anymore. So Madea is that old tough hundred year old cookie!

Madea has a larger part than usual in this movie. How hard was it to direct the movie and stay in character at the same time?

Madea's Big Happy Family - Poster
Joe (Tyler Perry) © 2011 Tyler Perry Studios

It wasn’t challenging for me because I work with most of these people, my team knows that when I’m in costume I’m still me. But I think for the new people it was strange seeing me sitting there in the wig and the costume, going, ‘Okay, now move over here and do this,’ and then they say ‘action,’ and I say, (in Madea’s voice) ‘Hello.’ It’s very interesting but it worked well.

How do you decide how big a part Madea has in each picture?

What is easy about this one is I was on the road with it doing the play. And the live audience told me what they wanted to see and what they didn’t. But the truth is, I think you can put all the movies together and this is more Madea than in any of them combined because I just wanted to have some fun. After For Colored Girls and Why Did I Get Married Too? I just wanted to really enjoy myself.

Are you worried about getting flack from –

I knew it was coming, flack about what?

From Christian’s, because there are some things in the movie they might object to?

Madea's Big Happy Family - Poster
Teaser poster 4 © 2011 Tyler Perry Studios

I thought you were going to mention Spike Lee. I was going to eat you alive! I’m so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee. Spike can go straight to hell, and you can print that. I’m sick of him talking about me, I’m sick of him saying this is coon and a buffoon. This is what he said, ‘You vote by what you see,’ as if black people don’t know what they want to see. Spike needs to shut the hell up.

I’m so sorry I jumped to conclusions, so let’s talk about church folks. On this one I did push the envelope a little bit. I know some of the church folk will have a problem with it a little bit. I’ve got some people that have a problem every time I say hell in one of these shows. There are going to be some people who are going to think it’s too much, but then there are others who know that Madea is not the Christian in the movie, but the Christian themes are represented.

What inspired you to write the e mail that you sent to your fans today?

Madea's Big Happy Family - David Mann and Tyler Perry
Brown (David Mann) and Madea (Tyler Perry) © 2011 Tyler Perry Studios

Just going into the junket, I was writing about how hard people work to discourage people from seeing my work. I don’t even understand it. This is where the whole Spike Lee thing comes from, the negativity, and they try to get people to get on this bandwagon with them, to get this mob mentality, against what I’m doing.

I’ve never seen Jewish people attack Seinfeld and say, ‘This is a stereotype.’ I’ve never seen Italian people attack The Sopranos. It’s always black people and this is something that I cannot undo. I’m sick of it from us. We don’t have to worry about anybody else trying to destroy us, and take shots, because we do it to ourselves.

And then they go on to say that people of other ethnic groups and white people don’t see my movies; that’s all a lie. I’m standing on stage looking at thousands of people, every race represented, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of just laying down, tired of just being nice, let them say whatever they want to say and however they want to say it, without people knowing what the attempt really is.

It’s never been about the money, honestly, not one day has it ever been about the money for me. I was always trying to use my work to uplift somebody, make them laugh and give them a message and all of that other stuff came, it’s never been about the money.