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  • Interview: Tyler Perry and the Cast of The Family That Preys

    Mon, 08 Sep 2008 13:56:55

    Interview: Tyler Perry and the Cast of The Family That Preys - Tyler Perry expands his cinematic empire with <i>The Family That Preys</i>

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    As soon as the cast of Tyler Perry’s latest film entered the room, it was clear that they behaved like a family. Perry joked and teased with producer Reuben Cannon and his cast members Cole Hauser, Rockmond Dunbar, Sanaa Lathan, and Taraji P. Henson like a big brother at the dinner table of a family reunion.

    Tyler, where did you get this story from?

    Tyler Perry: I was going through some stuff in my life at the time. I’d just finished a couple of movies and I’d been famous for a long time amongst the black people, so when I walked around I would get all this love and support and high fives. But when the movies started to come out, and I raised my head above water, people began taking shots at me. I hadn’t experienced the negativity, stalkers jumping my fence, and the foolishness that I’ve been dealing with. So I was at a place where I thought, "Maybe I should go behind the scenes, I don’t want to be out front." And someone asked me, “Are you living or are you existing?” And I was like, "Wow, what a good thought." Then I heard Lee Ann Womack sing “I Hope You Dance,” and I realized that I’m not enjoying my life, and that’s where this story came from. It’s my catharsis. I learned that every day is a gift, to just live. I’ve since learned to deal with the negativity. I have this philosophy called “go to hell” that I’m really enjoying right now.

    How did you pick your cast?

    TP: Usually when I write, I’ll have one or two actors in mind, and Alfre [Woodard] was definitely in mind. Reuben Cannon’s totally responsible for Kathy Bates. When he suggested her, I was like, “Kathy Bates in my movie—yeah right. I’ll be lucky if Alfre says yes.” And when they both said yes it was really, really wonderful. I’ve always wanted to work with these great people. You put these kinds of people around you, it’s a wonderful thing. As far as Kathy and Alfre and that story, their relationship came to me first, and out of that all these other characters were born.

    Kathy Bates’ character struggles with Alzheimer’s. Did that come from a personal place?

    TP: It’s just a twist in the story, but what Kathy’s character represents to me is that you can have everything in the world, everything that you’ve worked for, everything in life, all the money, family, everything. But if you don’t have your health and your memory, what do you have? So live every day like it’s your last.

    It seems like you were taking a chance with this film since it doesn’t rely on the success of your more famous Madea character.

    TP: I don’t see it as taking a chance. If you look at my work, there are two different sides to what’s going on here. There’s the silliness of Madea and Meet the Browns, they’re over the top and I do projects like that when I want to have fun. But then there’s a whole ‘nother brand at work: there’s Daddy’s Little Girls, Did I Get Married, and now The Family That Preys which I think are all in the same line. So I don’t think it’s taking a chance. There are just so many sides of who I am as a man and a person that I’m going to tell a lot of different stories.

    You have some strong political opinions about New Orleans in regards to Hurricane Katrina, yet you still shot there.

    TP: I didn’t want to go to New Orleans and spend money, so I only shot there one day. There are still so many people that need help. It’s a Catch-22. The city needs money, but then there are so many people who are still displaced, still living in FEMA trailers, being evicted from those trailers because FEMA wants their trailers back now. People are still struggling, still hungry. All those people who were on the rooftops, most of them are still displaced, and people are acting like everything is wonderful and great. So I wanted to go there and support my hometown, but I also had an aversion to being there because of those reasons.

    Sanaa, this is the third time that you’ve played the daughter of Alfre Woodard. Does that familiarity help executing the role?

    Sanaa Lathan: My dad is in the business and he worked with Alfre when I was a child, so I’ve known her all my life. I think that’s why everything comes so naturally with us. And I was so shocked when I found out that she was going to play my mother again. But it’s great because in each movie, we have a different relationship. We have such a great bond, and Alfre has such an amazing mind. I love to pick her brain. We have a lot of fun between takes.

    Maybe you guys were mother and daughter in another life.

    SL: Yes, maybe.

    Taraji P. Henson: Maybe they were lovers in another life.

    TP: That’s another movie.

    Sanaa, you play such a cruel character. What drew you to this role?

    SL: I’m a big fan of Tyler’s, and I feel what’s lacking from the industry is “our” story. And Tyler is obviously is putting different aspects of “our” story out there. And there’s such a lack of being able to see yourself on screen in Hollywood, so I’ve always admired him for that. And I’ve always loved the women that he writes. He writes great women, and not only great in the sense of strong women, but complex women. And for me, I’ve been lucky enough to play the ingénue and do the romantic roles, but I’m an actress and the fun of acting is to stretch and do things I haven’t done in the past and challenge myself. So when I read this, I thought, "Why not? This will be a great experience," and it was really fun actually. And Tyler pushed me, he made me be meaner.

    TP: After every scene, she’d come to me and say, “Oh my God, that’s too mean, people are going to hate me if I do this!” And I’d tell her, “Get over there and do the scene!”

    What did it feel like playing those scenes? There are several parts where you cut your husband, played by Rockmond Dunbar, to shreds.

    TP: She’d be like, “I don’t mean this, but I’m gonna rip you up in this scene.” It was really great to watch.

    SL: I know, Rockmond got lots of hugs afterwards.

    Rockmond Dunbar: Not enough.

    SL: But it was fun. I think we all have bitchy moments. I don’t have them that often.

    TP: [Coughs]

    SL: We all know people like Andrea, and we’ve all been on the other side, so for me it’s about representing humanity. As an actress, one of the first lessons you learn is that you do not judge your characters. In fact, I think at times, in terms of my mind in playing her, she felt like she was the victim. That’s my process.

    But Rockmond finally stands up to her with a firm right hand. Why was that scene included in the movie?

    TH: She needed it.

    RD: Don’t ask me, I didn’t write it.

    TP: I wrestled with it because I’ve never had a man hit a woman in anything, but as I looked at this character and as I looked at everything she was doing, when I really thought about it, I wondered, "How far can you push the nicest guy in the world?" At one point in the movie, he says, “If you keep pushing me like this, you’re going to meet somebody else.” So I had to show somebody else. And besides, Reuben Cannon forced me to make that scene happen. And Reuben didn’t think it was enough.

    SL: When you’re making movies, you’re dealing with art, and everything doesn’t have to be politically correct. That’s not life. I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of feedback about that; I’m sure there will be people that say you’re justifying abuse no matter how much she deserved it, but I think this is art and these are just these two characters. And people get hit in real life. People get pushed to the limit all the time.

    Cole, the chemistry that you had with Kathy Bates was incredible. How did you rehearse together? Did you talk to each other between takes or…

    Cole Hauser: No, she’s just a mean bitch. Kidding. In this particular film, we’re at odds with each other a lot, and she’s one of those fantastic actresses that if you bring it and you look at her a certain way, she’ll ping pong with you. I would improvise things with her that would make her angry, and it really came off on film that she was unhappy. And Tyler would egg me on saying, “Do something different and get her off keel.”

    How was your experience with Tyler as a director?

    CH: It was fantastic. What can I say? The guy is probably the hardest working man I’ve ever been around as far as how he operates not only as a director but also as a writer and a producer and as a creative mind. I think he’s the top guy that I’ve worked with in the last five years as far as directing. Plus, he’s doing everything, so when you go to him with questions to create your character, it’s one stop shopping.

    For the other actors, what kind of rehearsal process do you go through?

    RD: I do most of my process at home. When I get on set, I love everything to be new and fresh because everything gets really old to me if I keep rehearsing over and over and over. That’s how I started my process even in college. I like everything to be new so everything is fresh and crisp and I can respond in the moment.

    TH: I was trained in theater so it was a different animal. I like to read the script over and over. I’ll be filming the project and still reading the script because every day when you read you’re in a different place; you pick up something new each and every time you pick up the script. And with film you shoot out of sequence and out of order, so it’s important for me to know where my character is in the story. That’s why I read it so much, but I don’t rehearse the lines; it’s just a matter of knowing where my character is. By the time you get to set, you’re going to rehearse it anyway. You’ve got to map out the scene; blocking helps with the memorization of lines. It’s very technical. It’s more than just getting in front of the camera and being cute and reciting lines. My process is all contingent upon how the director works, too, because you can’t "x" him out of the factor. It’s about finding a happy medium.

    TP: My biggest regret in this film is with you.

    TH: Why?

    TP: Well, the role was so small, I’ve got to find something where me and you can go and play.

    TH: Say that again, please. I have how many witnesses in here?

    TP: And you’ll see it soon. I don’t think the world knows about Taraji yet. The notes she can play…I mean everybody’s fantastic in the movie, but being in those intimate moments with her playing against you, this girl’s got some gears. So that’s my biggest regret.

    Taraji, how do you choose your characters?

    TP: I like meaty roles. I like roles that scare me. Roles that most people will judge and say, “I’m not playing a thumb-sucking baby momma. I’m not playing a pregnant ho. A lesbian sniper?” I just like to do things that are so far left of who I am because that’s the joy of acting—playing these different characters, something you would never ever imagine yourself doing. So that’s how I choose. And the charm in this film is that it wasn’t so character heavy. It was just a regular woman. I didn’t have to wear a weave or corn rolls. It was just a regular girl. Happy with her life, married and funny. That’s the part I like, that she was funny.

    Tyler, all the men are vulnerable in this movie.

    TP: I don’t want all my movies to be the same thing over and over again, so with this one, I wanted to try some different things. I wanted the guys, especially Rockmond, to be really, really…dumb. Heh, no. I wanted him to be a guy who really believed his wife and really trusted her and really loved her.

    But it’s to such an extent with Rockmond’s character that it starts to get on your nerves.

    SL: Now you know how my character felt.

    TP: See? So when he slaps her, it makes it all the more powerful. It’s like, wow.

    TH: Don’t you know this character? My cousin is this character. Every time I see his wife, I’m like, “I can’t wait for that to be over.”

    RD: We all have known so many guys in our family, or even women in our family, who wear their hearts on their sleeve. And they get taken advantage of time and time again because they’re so forgiving and willing to love.

    Reuben Cannon: Like me.

    TP: Reuben’s been married five times.

    RD: I think it’s funny that we persecute those people for loving so openly. As a society we say, “Oh, they’re just weak.” No. They are who God says we should be. And they get persecuted so much. Like the character, he got on your nerves, which is really interesting to me.

    How did Robin Givens get involved with the project?

    TP: I worked with Robin on House of Payne, and the first thing I thought was, “Damn, she still looks good.” And the second thing was, “Why isn’t she working?” And when she was on the set, she was so professional and so giving and so kind. She’s not at all what people think she is, so I thought if nobody else is putting her to work, I gotta find something for [her] because she’s really a phenomenal woman.

    Cole, what was it like going head to head with Robin in the board room scenes?

    CH: Fantastic. She is probably one of the best actresses I’ve worked with, as well as Sanaa. I didn’t get the chance to work with Taraji…

    TH: You wanted to.

    CH: But the reality is that with Robin, she is so in the moment. I like to play on film and Tyler allowed us to do that. The greatest compliment to give an actor is that when you do certain things, you can see the effect in their eyes. And Robin was always in the moment; it’s one of the great qualities of an actor or an actress. And as Tyler said, she is probably one of the most pure souls I have ever met.

    Taraji, you were Sanaa’s conscience in this film. What was it like playing off her?

    TH: It was juicy. I loved it. Sanaa is great. I’ve always wanted to work with her anyway, and this was a great opportunity to do that. I really admire her work, and I don’t admire many people’s work. I really look up to her.

    SL: She’s a Virgo, I’m a Virgo, and Tyler’s a Virgo.

    TH: Excuse me, I’m talking.

    TP: Typical Virgo.

    TH: Ha. It was great, it was fun. I like to fly by the seat of my pants and so does she, so I would throw stuff at her, she would throw stuff back at me. It was great.

    Tyler, what does Reuben add to the team as a producer?

    TP: Besides a senior discount? Naw. I tell you, from the first time that we started working together, Reuben has tried to prove that he can work harder than me, and it’s been a true blessing having him on my team. In the beginning, when I didn’t have any credibility and nobody knew who I was, he would lend himself to my project. So he’s been very instrumental in making sure that every film we’ve done has everything it needs to succeed. I can have a vision to do something grand, but if I don’t have the right people with me, then I can’t get it to go.

    Reuben, what’s it like producing with Tyler?

    RC: It’s hard to describe the way we work at TPS because the only reference I have is the way Hollywood works, and Tyler has a different way of doing things. I’ve even had to rethink my own way about how a production can be done because I’ve spent so many years in Hollywood. But the great thing about Tyler is that he wasn’t reared in Hollywood so his dreams and his thoughts about what’s possible are not conventional. Look at what is a Tyler Perry movie. Madea is a character, but Tyler Perry is a brand. And that brand will continue to expand as Tyler continues to provide entertainment. I think the pact with the audience is that I will continue growing and I hope you’ll grow with me.

    —Jacob J. Mauldin

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    Tags: Tyler Perry, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson, Sanaa Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar, Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys

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