Tyler Perry made a big splash in 2018, announcing he was retiring his signature character Madea after 20 years and 11 movies, which grossed more than $500 million worldwide.
“I just don’t want to be her age playing her,” said Perry, 49 at the time. Madea, inspired by his mom and an aunt, had served her purpose and he wanted to focus on his many other projects.
But the craziness in 2020 changed his mindset.
“A little thing called COVID happened,” said Perry in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The pandemic and politics and all the division and all the unrest that was happening, I just wanted to make something to make people laugh and take their minds off all the reality.”
The result: “A Madea Homecoming,” which debuted Friday on Netflix. The character has become iconic, a combination of wisdom and brashness that make his loyal fans cheer and detractors cringe.
Here are excerpts from the interview where Perry talks about the movie, the power of Netflix, a possible science fiction movie and opening Tyler Perry Studios up for public tours.
Q: Did the idea of this movie come about after the pandemic began?
A: Yes. A little after that. I was watching how angry we all seemed and removed we all seemed from the world. I wanted to do something to speak to that.
Q: Did you decide to address COVID in any way in the movie?
A: The character Joe does mention it but the problem is, we’re living it in reality so I didn’t want to put it in the movie.
Q: What was it like putting the Madea outfit back on after a couple of years’ break?
A: It’s old hat. It felt like what I’ve been doing for 20-something years. It was popping it on, getting it out there and getting it done. But I wanted to add some elements to it that would make it better for me and more fun so having Brendon O’Carroll as part of it because our careers were so parallel (O’Carroll made a name for himself in the U.K. playing a foul-mouthed matriarch Agnes Brown on stage and on TV). He’s older than I am but our birthdays are a couple of days apart. He was in Europe doing plays and television doing Mrs. Brown. I was in America at the same time. So when I found out about him and called him up, I said this was something we’ve got to do. The timing worked out.
Q: How did you hear about him?
A: I was doing this film “Brain on Fire” and the director said, “Have you ever heard of Mrs. Brown?” I said no, so I looked at clips on YouTube and I was like, “Whoa!” I was looking at his history and our careers and lives were so parallel. Pretty profound.
Q: Do you think a lot of your viewers will know who he is? They’re going to have to look him up.
A: It’s going to be a good mix of people who do and a lot who don’t. At the same time, a lot of his audience won’t know who I am. It’s a good match up. Both audiences will have to find out who the other person is.
Q: Can you give a little teaser on what Madea fans should expect in this movie?
A: Her great-grandson is graduating and he’s coming home and he has a secret he wants to share with the family. Once he does, it opens up a lot of conversations. But more than anything, what I want people to take away from it is the laughter. I don’t want them to take it too seriously. Don’t dig in too hard. Just relax and go with the ride.
Q: When you think about Madea, do you feel she has evolved in any way?
A: I’ve tried to keep her as close to what’s she’s always been. I didn’t want to water her down or change her too much. In this movie, I’ve allowed her to go as far as she’s ever gone and say things she’s never said. But you have to be sensitive of a lot of things going on now for sure.
Q: Your first 11 Madea films were released in movie theaters mostly in the United States. This is the first time Madea is getting a worldwide debut at the same time.
A: That’s the magic of Netflix. I’m really really excited about it because I want to see what that feels like... After all these years of being told that Black movies don’t travel, that they don’t do well overseas, to have a movie released all over the world and be able to get that real-time data is really powerful.
Q: Why did you decide to work with Netflix instead of staying with Lionsgate and release the movies in theaters?
A: It’s just the time and the day and how much things have changed. My hope is that theaters are around forever because I want my son and his son to have that experience in a movie theater with a big giant screen. Some movies are meant to be seen that way. But to be with a streamer as big as Netflix, from my first meeting I had with them, I was blown away by their approach to everything, what they know about diversity and being the company that they are, I was excited to work with them and it’s been great.
Q: Did your first Netflix movie ‘A Fall From Grace” shape how you approached this second film?
A: I think it shaped a lot more of their process than mine. I don’t think they were aware of how successful it would be. It was enormously successful for them and I think it just opened the doors for a lot of other things, which is great. And being such a small movie that we did so quickly and have it do so well is really powerful. I always knew what I could bring to the table. I think now with them understanding what I can do, it has shifted a few things, that’s for sure.
Q: This doesn’t preclude you from doing another movie in a theater, does it?
A: I’m absolutely going to continue to put movies in theaters because a lot of theater chains really love when I drop movies, especially in some areas of the country.
Q: “Don’t Look Up” received a best picture Oscar nomination. Are you surprised, having been involved in that project?
A: I’m grateful for Adam [McKay] who wrote it. The more nominations like that you get, the more eyeballs you get. I hope it raises more awareness of where we are and what we are doing.
Q: What’s your thought process when people approach you to do acting gigs that aren’t your projects? I presume you get a lot.
A: I really don’t! I have to feel like it’s a director I want to work with, the story I want to do and timing, how much time would they need. For that role, it was like 12 days.
Q: You came across very naturally as a morning host.
A: Adam is brilliant in that sense. He’s very much ad-lib. I hear him in the back screaming great ad-lib lines. He’s a great writer, really funny so I just did my best to honor what he had in his mind.
Q: Is there a new genre of movie or TV show you might pursue down the road?
A: Sci-fi, those kind of movies I would love. Doing “Star Trek” I loved. I’m there in a heartbeat. I have interest there. It depends on the character. If the character is going to be dark and crazy, I’m not necessarily interested in that.
Q: So could a Tyler Perry sci-fi movie happen?
A: I have written a sci-fi movie that I’ve been holding onto, so we’ll see.
Q: So you have time to write stuff and set it aside?
A: Sometimes I’ll get these ideas and start jotting things down. I’ll write 10 pages here, 12 pages there. A month later, I put it all together and realize I have 90 pages.
Q: Right before the pandemic, I wrote about your plans to open up Tyler Perry Studios to public tours. Obviously, the pandemic delayed that. What’s the status now?
A: Part of this 37-acre parcel I just purchased, there will be a restaurant, museum and theater in the front of the studio. There will also be a place to take a tour.
Q: Will this happen in 2023, 2024?
A: I’m hoping 2023, 2024, if everything comes together.