Cover Story - Why Tyler Perry hates (playing) Madea

More from our sit down with the media mogul

Madea’s Big Happy Family opens April 22. I’ve heard that sometimes Madea’s lines as written aren’t always the way they end up coming out. Is that always the case?

It is! I tell you, man, I put the costume on and I become possessed. Whatever the spirit of my grandmother and aunts and cousins, they all come through her. A lot of times they’re spur-of-the-moment things, things that happen in the moment that I didn’t even know was coming. As much as I hate playing the character, it works pretty well.

Why do you hate playing the character?

Oh my God. Being in Georgia in a fat suit, and wig and makeup, in the middle of summer? The physicality of it is no fun.

Were you ever nervous about being an actor in front of people?

No. I was very nervous about Madea. I had an actor who didn’t show up, and I had to go on as Madea, but it was just a quick little scene that people would just see, and get off the stage. But since the actor didn’t show up, I was on stage for two hours in that costume. That’s the most I’ve ever been afraid.

Has Madea changed much over the years?

She doesn’t have her pistols any more. She doesn’t have the pot smoking any more. You know what I did? I realized how many children were paying attention, so I wanted to her to be a little more responsible. So in that sense, she’s changed. But for the most part, she’s pretty much stayed true to the same old pain in the ass.

In 2010 you toured with the stage version of Madea’s Big Happy Family and released two movies. I wonder not only why you work so hard, but HOW you work so hard.

I don’t know what happened to me early on, but I’ve gotten used to working at a brutal pace, and I enjoy it. I love the excitement of it. I love the fact that I’ve got all these people working for me, and if I’m sitting around at home, twiddling my thumbs, saying “Enough is enough,” a lot of people aren’t going to be working. So they keep me going. There are about 400 employees here when we’re up, fully staffed, running a few things at once, so I definitely feel a sense of responsibility for all of them. And if I’m away for too long or taking too much time off, I feel a sense of guilt.

Was there a time when you realized how rich you were, or reached a new level? What did you do?

I don’t know about being rich, but I knew something had changed when I was going to a play on Broadway with Oprah and Tina Turner. And Oprah went out there first, and people were screaming, “Oprah, Oprah, Oprah!” And Tina went out and they were screaming, “Tina, Tina, Tina!” And I went out and there were like two people saying, “Tyler!” And I thought, “Something’s changing here!”

Or this is what was so great. I got nominated for an MTV Movie Award, so I decided to go. And when you step out of the car, they say, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Tyler Perry!” And I step out of the car, and there’s all these photographers there and one of the photographers goes “Click.” “Can you move? Jessica Simpson’s coming through.”

When do you have a sense that you’re making a difference, and your message is getting out there?

My message board is my lifeline. There’s a million messages on there, they are not filtered, they are positive, 99.9 percent of them, of people saying how their lives have been touched and changed. So that’s how I know I’m on the right track, that’s how I know what matters.

As a culture, we’re not people who go to therapy, or can afford therapy in general. “House of Payne” addressed diabetes and eating right and exercise, things that are plaguing us as a people and a society. Being able to do it, on such a level as that? That’s pretty incredible.

Because here’s the thing — if you look at everybody else who has tried to present a positive message, it doesn’t work the same. If Madea does a sex education class, which I’ve been thinking about doing, a sex education video to play at schools, I kid you not — I think it would clearly make a difference. Because people will laugh, they’ll joke, they’ll enjoy it, but they’ll get the message.

In For Colored Girls, you had the subplot with Janet Jackson’s husband, who’s on the down-low, and I was wondering if, having that character, you might be inclined to have more gay characters in your stories, because it seems like there hasn’t been that many up until then.

The new one I’m writing there now, Good Deeds, there’s a character in there who’s gay. He’s just a regular guy. People are people. We’re all people, our own experience, gay, straight, black, white, we all share the same experience. This character is estranged from his family because of his choices in life — not because he’s gay, but because he’s chosen not to pursue the family business.

Why do you stay in Atlanta?

I love the South, I love the feel of it. I love people telling me the truth. You know, in Hollywood, people don’t tell you the truth. Here? It’s like, “Tyler, we didn’t like that movie.” Listen, I got cussed out so bad getting’ on the freeway up here, this woman trying to run me off the road. She was just cussin’ and cussin’ and cussin’, and I looked over and she saw who I was, and it was like SILENT GASP FACE!.

You’ll be starring as Alex Cross in a film that you didn’t write or direct. Have you ever played much in shows you haven’t written?

No, I haven’t. Kenny Leon won’t hire me.