When ESSENCE.com caught up with Tyler Perry this week, he was in the middle of promoting his latest movie, Madea’s Witness Protection, wrapping up his next movie The Marriage Counselor (while fending off criticisms of his casting Kim Kardashian), and running his Tyler Perry Productions studio in Atlanta.
Perry admits he’s often exhausted and that his habit of spreading himself so thin nearly drove him to a nasty drinking habit (which he kicked). He spoke with ESSENCE.com about Madea, kicking his drinking habit, his thoughts on Atlanta-based reality shows and his friendship with Whitney Houston.
ESSENCE.com: I noticed a kinder, gentler Madea in Madea’s Witness Protection.
TYLER PERRY: Really? [Laughs] I’m getting old. I look at some of the other stuff and the people on the road go, “Where is the gun? I say, “Hell, I’m tired.” I stopped using the gun a while back when I realized how many children were paying attention to it. But she’s getting older that’s all that is.
ESSENCE.com: You worked with Marla Gibbs, John Amos and Eugene Levy, comedy pros. What did you pick up from them?
PERRY: Eugene is what I expected him to be. He’s beyond brilliant, fascinatingly funny. To be around Florence from The Jeffersons and James [Amos] from Good Times… to stand in the presence of people that I’ve admired is amazing. If I had met them when I was 10 years old watching those shows I would have been blow away. So to have them working with me is fascinating.
ESSENCE.com: You wrote, directed and produced Madea’s Witness Protection. Do you foresee a time when a young filmmaker can direct a Tyler Perry production?
PERRY: I’d love that. I’m looking for them. I actually have a film coming out called We the Peoples that is written and directed by Tina Chisholm. It comes out sometime next year. She is one of the first directors that I am fostering. I’m looking for them but they’ve got to have the right spirit. I’m not looking for arrogance or ego and I’m not looking for people coming with their nose up in the air because they went to NYU film school and they’ve done this and that. They have to have respect for the guerilla, grassroots approach. I’m looking for people who are humble, hungry, and eager to learn and are also eager to teach. There are some young brilliant filmmakers out there. I would be excited to find them.
ESSENCE.com: So when do you sleep, Mr. Perry?
PERRY: I actually get eight hours of sleep. And I’m doing a lot better now since I stopped drinking about four months ago when my mother died. When she got sick in 2009 I started drinking every night because I couldn’t sleep — every night up to a couple of months ago. I never had a problem but I certainly was on way to having one.
ESSENCE.com: What was your drink of choice?
PERRY: Oh listen, Cognac. I’d have me a nice big glass of Hennessy and I would sleep through the night. It was President Obama’s visit to my studio, I don’t know what happened there, but when he came everything became clear. I just kind of came out of a haze. It was like, “Wake up, kid. You know life is still going on. I know you miss her, I know you care but wake up. Life is still going on.” I swear the day after he left was the day I just said I am going to sleep without it.
ESSENCE.com: Let’s talk reality show realness. There’s a lot of criticism of the shows coming out of Atlanta, like Love and Hip Hop Atlanta and Real Housewives of Atlanta. What’s your take on reality shows?
PERRY: I’ve never seen Love and Hip-Hop. The reason things are coming our of Atlanta is I fought very hard to have a 30 percent film tax incentive there. This year 58 movies were shot there and a bunch of television shows are getting this tax break so that’s why they are being shot out of Atlanta. I don’t have any criticism for other people’s work but I have seen one or two things that have made me go, “What the hell is this?” The quality, the film quality and they way it looks is so fantastic but the show itself is so bad. Im thinking, ‘Man, you’ve got it. Why can’t you find another way to make this better? You’ve got it but the show itself yeah.”
ESSENCE.com: You delivered an amazing speech at Whitney Houston’s funeral. Were you friends?
PERRY: Yeah, but it had been private for four years. I didn’t want to do make that speech. Her family asked me to do that because they knew I had been in the trenches with her for four years. Some of the darkest years.
ESSENCE.com: You sounded like a preacher on that podium. Ever thought of getting into motivational speaking?
PERRY: People don’t know this but I went to seminary school and was a minister in the church when I was about 18-20 years old, so that is very much ingrained in me. Very early on in my life I knew I would not be that kind of minister, though. Do I see myself transitioning? I feel like I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like I am so in the will of God in the way I am doing what I am doing right now because I can reach millions of people by doing this rather than another way.