Oh lurdeee lurd! Tyler Perry may be more well known for being a cranky, heavy set African American lady, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all that he is. Perry will be taking his biggest departure from character when he becomes the second actor to portray James Patterson’s hit literary character on screen in Alex Cross.
He’s only following in the footsteps of God. No pressure. Which he explains in this interview with Collider.
It took a lot of people by surprise when it was revealed that Tyler Perry would be the one to next play the role made famous by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider and All The Pretty Girls. Perry described how he became involved in the project, and what drew him to the role:
“First of all, when I heard Alex Cross, my ears perked up. Then, I heard Rob Cohen and they got a little higher. And then, I heard James Patterson, so I said, “Okay, wait a minute, I need to see what this is.” So, when I read the script and understood it, and even saw James Patterson’s description of Alex, he was describing me. I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s me!” It all came together, for this moment to happen. I didn’t think about it as a black lead, or as an African American man. I just thought about it as a great role and a great opportunity to do it, so I decided to do it.”
“When I said yes, there were certain things that made me say yes to the role – James Patterson, his description of Alex Cross and Rob [Cohen] directing. When he told me he wanted me to be raw in it, he also suggested Krav Maga [an Israeli martial arts used for self defence] and I liked it enough to keep it up. I had to trust him. It’s always been easier for me to have a costume and have something to hide behind. Here, I had nothing. It was challenging and a bit frightening, but usually that’s when I’ll take things on. If there’s a bitter fear, I’ll challenge myself to go as far as I can. So, taking the shirt off was a bit scary, but it’s okay.”
Perry also discussed whether or not he let what Freeman did in those earlier two films actually inform the way he approached this character, and whether he asked Freeman’s opinion on his take:
“I did watch both films. When they first came out, I remember seeing them both. But, that’s Morgan frickin’ Freeman. You don’t try to do anything that Morgan Freeman does. He was the voice of God in a movie. That’s Morgan Freeman! I knew, going in, that I could not try to be Morgan Freeman, playing Alex Cross. I had to be the best Tyler Perry that I could, playing Alex Cross. So, in that sense, I tried to forget everything I saw and just go in and be the best that I could with it.”
“I did not [talk to him about taking over the role]. He’s the voice of God, man! I’m not going to call him up and say, “What do you think?” I did not speak to him about it, but now that it’s all over, after he sees it, maybe I will.”
Perry was asked as to how he feels his core audience, most of whom have only really known him as a ghetto Mrs Doubtfire, would react to this much more serious role:
“As far as my audience goes, the great thing about my audience is that, even though there’s an association with me, with the character Madea, there’s also an association with Good Deeds and Why Did I Get Married? They’ve seen me in other roles before, and supported them, to that degree. I don’t think there’s going to be any resistence to it, once my audience is made aware of it. We’ll see what happens from there. They’ll be the judge of it. I’m pretty sure there will be a portion of them that is excited and looking forward to it. I may lose a lot of the grandmothers who come out after church, but I’ll do something for them, a little later on. It’s all about evolving, growing and trying something different.”
“…Let me just tell you, Madea doesn’t live with me, all the time. These are two very different, very specific characters. I don’t think there’s any part of her in him, and I don’t think there’s any part of him in her. It’s just me being a character actor, taking on both roles, as best I can and trying to be as convincing as I can, in both.”
While one may be a surly granny and the other a celebrated criminal psychologist, both Madea and Alex Cross are not averse to laying the smack down (one with a handbag, the other with Krav Maga), but doesn’t mean that Perry shared that comfort level with fighting, especially when it came time to fight with the super-pumped Matthew Fox.
“We practiced and rehearsed the fight sequences. We worked with the stunt people. We went over them and over them and over them. We were on the catwalk for the scene in the Michigan Theater, which was beautiful, and we were doing the fighting, and I kept feeling, within myself, that he was too close. So, I wouldn’t commit, all the way, to the turn. And Rob was going, “I really need you to just go in there and do it.” I was afraid to completely let go because the Krav Maga training was really amazing. I just had major issues because I didn’t want to hurt him. And this happened twice, once with [Matthew] and once with the waiter in a scene. Early on, Rob said, “You know, man, go in there and try to save your wife. I know the waiter. He’s a stuntman. Just go in there. If you knock him out of the way, you can save her.” So, I said, “Okay,” and I ran and knocked the guy out of the way, so I could try to save her. After the scene was over, Rob yelled, “Cut!,” and everybody was quiet. The head stunt guy came over and said, “Hey, man, that’s my son. You can’t hit him like that!” So, I was like, “Damn, all right, fine. Sorry!” And then, here I was, months later, in the scene with Matthew going, “I don’t want to hurt him!” He kept pushing me and pushing me and pushing me, and I finally just let go. He came around and turned and was too close, and the elbow came around and hit him in the temple and he spun around. We were on the catwalk and I grabbed him because I thought he was going over. He turned around and said, “What happened?” That was it, for me. I had to leave the set, after that. I didn’t want to be that committed to it. But, he was a good sport about it. He didn’t turn around and kick me. He was a good sport.”
Now that Perry is starting to branch out a bit, does he think there might ever come a day when he could perhaps hand the Madea character over to another actor while he kept on doing more serious roles?
“That old broad is going to die a slow, quick death when I’m done with her. She’s going to be buried with that dress, so I don’t think that will ever happen.”
You can read the full interview over at Collider, where he also discusses the differences in not directing himself in a movie, what it was like to exist in the Alex Cross headspace and what new TV projects he will be tackling.
Alex Cross opens locally on November 9, 2012.
Last Updated: October 18, 2012