Tyler Perry has tried on a variety of outfits in his career – some more admirable than others – but it’s his latest get-up that has many of his fans wondering if it could be the most outlandish of all.
In his upcoming film Alex Cross, Perry takes on an action-thriller flick for the first time ever, starring as a crime-fighting detective on the hunt for a serial killer, a role formerly portrayed by Morgan Freeman. It’s a bold move for the 43-year-old entertainment mogul, known more for directing and starring in slapstick comedies like Good Deeds, Why Did I Get Married?, and of course, the Madea series. Perry must not only win over Freeman’s fans, but also convince his own core audience that he can handle guns, martial arts, and a type of role that’s not so, well, stereotypical.
Nevertheless, it’s a challenge he says he’s more than equipped to handle.
“When you know how to lead, you also have to know how to follow,” Perry tells theGrio at a press junket Oct. 6 in Los Angeles. “I know my lane; I know it really well. I realized here is a moment for me to learn.”
To prepare for the movie, which hits theaters Oct. 19, the 6’5” Perry studied krav maga, an Israeli style of martial arts, and developed a workout routine he calls “intense and amazing,” something he still keeps up with today. He also worked with the homicide division of the Atlanta Police Department to research his character’s day-to-day regimen, and tapped into his past relationships, childhood, and business experiences to understand the complexities of Cross’ character.
“For me, it was all about surrender and staying out of anything that I would do, and just be the character,” the actor remarks. “It has always been easier for me to have a costume – something to hide behind. Here I had nothing. It was challenging, a bit frightening, but that’s usually when I’ll take things off.”
Perry believes he shares many similarities with Cross, which is a factor that convinced him to take on the project. The story was originally made famous in a book series by author James Patterson, who developed the character as a counter to African-American stereotypes he saw commonly portrayed in entertainment. While Freeman has carried the role previously in the films Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, according to Patterson, time passes faster in real life than novels, thus, Cross needed to be played by a younger actor.
“When I read the script and understood it, and even James Patterson’s description of Alex, he was describing me,” Perry recalls, noting he did not consult with Freeman nor try to imitate his previous work in any fashion. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, that’s me.’ It all came together for this moment…I just thought it was a great role.”
For Perry, it’s also a step in a new direction, as he points to the fact that this is not a movie to “raise consciousness,” nor did he consider it in terms of playing a strong “black lead.” Rather, he saw it as an action thriller at its finest.
Similarly, the actor-director shows little stress when considering how his audience will react to the violent context of the story and darker nature of his character. They’re smart people, he observes.
“I don’t think there will be any resistance to it once my audience is made aware,” Perry comments. “I may lose some of the grandmothers that come out after church.”
And Perry continues to advance exponentially. On Oct. 3, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) announced a partnership with the entertainer that will include two new scripted series in mid-2013, the first of its kind for the television network. At a glance, the coupling of the high-profile figures seems to make perfect sense – two behemoths in the business symbiotically joining forces – and has all the promise of a lucrative investment.
Little else has been revealed about the deal, but Perry appears confidant with the decision.
“Oprah and I have been talking since the beginning,” he says. “When she started her network, I was starting my own network, and we thought it was a great opportunity for us to partner up, and not just do programming, but be partners in the network…It’s a win-win because I get to give her what she needs, which is programming, and I get to learn what it’s like to run a network.”
Like in the film world, on TV Perry is known for creating comedy series primarily depicting African-American family dynamics. His latest show, For Better or Worse, premiered in 2011 on TBS and began its second season this past July; his show Meet the Browns ran from 2009-2011 on the network; and his longest-running program, House of Payne, aired its final episode in August after eight years.
Both his movie and TV endeavors have propelled Perry’s career into the clouds, rendering him what Forbes magazine has deemed a “Billionaire In the Making.” With an estimated net worth of $350 million, the deal with Winfrey could push him closer to those brackets, though he never acknowledges such claims. The most he will say is that he is grateful, and thinks everyone should “be able to do what we want to do, and how we want to do it.”
From the $12,000 savings he used to make his first play in 1992, to the million dollar bank account he now balances, Perry describes his career as simply “trying to walk the path,” “doing what feels right and what feels natural,” and adds that, with OWN, he’ll be mixing up the scene.
“Just like Alex Cross, it’s going to be something a little bit of what I do, what I know my audience wants, and be a lot of other things,” Perry remarks. “I’ve got a few other ideas. I’m starting with a drama which is something I haven’t done before.”
Likewise, Perry shows hope that his film-going audience will appreciate his new spin in Cross, and that maybe one day he’ll be able to venture down the action movie road as a director, if he can acquire a richer understanding of the field.
As for the fate of dear old Madea, don’t expect an end any time soon.
“That old broad’s gonna die a slow, quick death when I’m done with her,” he jokes. “She’s going to be buried with that dress. I don’t think that will ever happen.”