*Tyler Perry and cast members John Amos, Tom Arnold, Marla Gibbs, Eugene Levy, Romeo Miller, Denise Richards and Doris Roberts were in town recently at the Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan to promote “Madea’s Witness Protection.”
At the press conference I asked Tyler if Madea learned anything this time around? Laughing, he said, “I don’t know if she has learned anything this time around. What I’m trying to do is just make sure that as I grow as a filmmaker, as I grow in life, I just want to make sure that the characters grow and give people new things. This is a classic fish out of water story. She’s a fish out of water; a big fish out of water in New York and so is this family down south in her house.
I must say, the funniest line during the press conference came when reference was made to the recently news making 68-year-old bus monitor, Karen Klein, who was bullied by a group of adolescents.
Do any of you have any Madeas in your family or know of any?
Romeo Miller: I definitely have a Madea in my family, a grandpa Madea. My dad’s Pops. Yes, he has a crush on Madea. I said, ‘Pops, you need to fix your glasses.’
Tom Arnold: It’s funny because I do these Redneck shows on CMT and we took a big redneck family and we sent them to the Hamptons last summer and they’re in England this summer. I watch the way they deal with the cultural stuff and to me it’s no different. You know, it’s more socio-economic and that’s what I enjoy about it. People talk about those `aha’ moments, but Madea doesn’t really do that. She is, if you don’t mind me saying this, a player, you know what I mean and she talks about it. And watching this movie, you see at the end she’s doing her thing. I like that. I respect that. I don’t want to give anything away but she’s got herself in mind. She likes to help people but—
TP: As usual. As usual.
Is doing a Madea movie like money in the bank for you and do you think people will accept you as Alex Cross?
As far as Alex Cross goes, it’s such a departure for me; and the things that people have never seen me do. ‘Good Deeds’ is the closest character that I’ve played to Alex Cross. So I think people will accept it just as they accepted ‘Good Deeds.’ And as far as money in the bank, I never take anything for granted. This character, this movie, these Madea films are always about the audience. So it’s what I think they want to see, and I’m hoping they turn out. I never, ever take it for granted.
TA: You mean Tyler is Madea?
TP: Wow, wow. They forgot to fill you in. [Laughs]
TA: I was only there for one day, so. [Laughs]
Why chose dubious corporation as a theme and what experiences did you draw upon to flush out family dynamics in Witness Protection?
TP: Well, I had a bunch of money with Bernie Madoff and when he took off, my money—I’m kidding. No, thank God. I was having dinner with friends and that’s how the whole thing started. They said the best punishment for Bernie Madoff was to have him move in with Madea and I thought, ‘man, that’s funny.’ So I started writing this and that’s where the whole movie came from, that’s where the whole process started. I thought who is the best person that I could get to play someone close to this guy and of course, I thought of Eugene Levy, who does an amazing job in it. As far as the dynamic of drawing on my own experiences, listen; If my mother, God rest her soul, if you had put her in a five-star hotel, as I did once, if you had put her on an airplane and had her go through security, you have all of those scenes. If you put her at a dinner table with a bunch of white people, you would have a lot of things that we have there. So yeah, I drew a lot on my own experiences for that.
What were some of the funniest moments on set?
Eugene Levy: Being there for Tyler’s close-ups as Madea because when he isolates himself in a close up, he just goes crazy. He starts improvising and riffing and riffing in character. So the funniest moments were watching Mr. Perry here kind of just riff in character.
RM:: I definitely have to agree with him on that. Y’all remember that scene when we were in the room, we could not stop laughing when we were trying to convince Madea to go to New York. I think I had to pinch myself to not laugh.
Denise Richards: I had a wonderful time because he wrote a character that had slight dementia, so that gave me the opportunity to be very naughty.
TP: And she was.
DR: And the other thing is that we had this Jewish family going to church and behaving as if we were black. That was great!
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John, was it hard playing it straight with your background in comedy?
John Amos: It wasn’t that much of a departure from some of the other serious roles like Percy Fitzwallace on The West Ring. That certainly was a serious role but I do a lot of stage work. I love to work on stage, which is my favorite medium. I apologized just now to Tyler because the only direction he gave me that I remembered that was constructive criticism was about me blowing Romeo’s ears out ‘cause I was projecting a little bit too loud. But that’s having done so much theater. After a couple of times, he said, ‘Damn, bro, are you gonna be this loud the whole movie [laughs]?’ But this young man [referring to Romeo] has one heck of a future in front of him. It’s always a joy for me to see younger talent coming along who got the chops.
RM: Thanks, dad.
TP: He was talking about me, no.
TA: I would like to say just one thing about Tyler as a director, you know you go into these things—and we didn’t know each other—and I wasn’t that familiar with his work and what he did. But he stands next to the camera egging you on, literally like he wants you to come up with something to make it better. It’s not about doing your lines. He’s literally cheerleading you and I thought that was a pretty amazing thing and something you don’t see that often.
Will we ever see a Madea biopic?
Listen, the backstory happens on every film. I found that out in one of the plays when she started talking about she was a stripper and all the other stuff. Like there was an adlib that happened and I didn’t even know this happened in her life, where Brian says to her, ‘I have an offer for you’ and she says, ‘The last time a man told me that, I found myself chained to five other women in Mexico.’ That came out of nowhere. I didn’t even think about that but she tells me her backstory as we go. So everyday something else comes up.
JA: I think you all can feel the joy and lightness in this room and that’s the same spirit and feeling we had on the set. I mean, you never knew when you were going to break out into a smile or laugh but inevitably Tyler was going to come up with something in the script or just organically that was going to make you crack up. So I think that’s going to happen on the screen too with the audience. There’s lot of magic going on.
TP: And sitting here with these legends and this energy, it’s been amazing. This has been a joy for me. This has been a real joy.
Romeo, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned being on set with Tyler Perry?
RM: The most valuable lesson I learned would probably be seeing his worth ethic. He’s a hard worker. He wears many hats. I remembered when I talked to him he said, ‘you gotta enjoy and you gotta be happy. You can work all you want, but you have to remember why you’re doing this. So that was something that I really took to heart and it just made me more passionate about what I do. I’m doing this to inspire people and he does it as well. So it’s just an honor for me to be working with him. I can now X this off my bucket list—I’m good now.
TP: He talks about work ethic but a lot of kids coming along these days don’t have [it]. I’m so proud of his father for how he’s raised both of them. You know you think a rap star and his life and all that his life must’ve been being Master P, but when you think about these kids and how smart, articulate and well grounded [it’s amazing]. He’s there on time, he does what he’s supposed to do, I was very impressed. And he’s very talented, very talented. He’s got a bright future.
RM: Here’s the $5.
TP: That’s all right, your daddy already gave [Laughs].
What are the themes in this movie?
TP: I think the biggest thing in this movie is clear. It’s about this man and his family and how he had lost his family in the middle of chasing a dream and it wasn’t until his life was turned upside down and things were simplified that he got to know his family again. I think that’s what we all need to do is take time, take a moment—no matter what’s going on in the hustle and bustle and madness—and focus on what’s important and not have some situation make you focus. So that’s what it was about for me and I’m hoping that people walk away from this movie, not only laughing and dancing and having a good time, but also remembering that your family is important.
DR: I was in awe watching Mr. Perry. To play three roles, direct, to produce and to write—I don’t know how he even slept because he would have to get up early for Madea’s makeup and be in character for her, act with her and then cut and direct. But just as an artist to have the opportunity to work him was such a blessing, to be able to be directed by him—
TP: Even in costume.
Could you see Madea in any other present day relatable situations?
TA: I would like to see Madea as a bus monitor for 12-year-olds. See how that goes down.
What made you use the elements from the film ‘Ghost’?
TP: Listen, ‘Ghost’ is a classic. That movie is a complete classic and I think that Oda Mae Brown played by Whoopi Goldberg was one of the funniest characters on film. So when I was writing the scene I just kept thinking if Madea’s gonna go into the bank, that feels too much like ‘Ghost.’ Then I thought, ‘just pay homage to ‘Ghost.’ So rather than doing it and having it feel like ‘Ghost’ and not be ‘Ghost’ just pay homage to where the idea came from.
What’s next for Madea?
TP: Don’t know next. Thought about having Madea go to the White House and baby-sit for Sasha and Malia.