*As Tyler Perry prepares to say goodbye to Madea, he recalls how he owes the success of the character in part to his mother and aunts and also to an actress who didn’t show up to perform a role in his play, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.”
Perry explained to Variety how Madea was truly born one night at the Regal Theater in Chicago.
“It was an actress with a hit song on the radio, and she didn’t show up. I was playing Madea, who was only supposed to be on stage for two minutes, but I ended up incorporating the lines from the other character and being on stage for the whole time.”
Perry says after the performance he tried to apologizing to the audience because the actress was a no-show but “They were chanting: ‘We don’t care! We don’t care! We want Madea!’” He laughs and adds, “To look at it from there to here, I really fell into it. This was meant to be.”
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The “here” Perry refers to is backstage at the 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, where the writer/actor/director/producer/mogul has just completed a performance of “Madea’s Farewell Play Tour” to a raucous, sold-out crowd. On this particular Saturday, Perry will perform the show three times to sold out houses, prompting the Dolby Theatre to note, “In the 17 years we’ve been in business, no artist has ever had 10,000 people in this building in a single day!”
Perry has played Made in nine plays and 10 films that have grossed over $500 million worldwide. Madea is the reason why he was able to launch his own production studio, Tyler Perry Studios, in Atlanta, and the character has been instrumental in transforming him into one of the most profitable movie moguls in Hollywood. But Perry announced last year that this would be her final play and her final movie, “A Madea Family Funeral,” is hitting theaters March 1.
“I just don’t want to be her age, playing her,” he says. “I’m turning 50 and I just want to do different things.” He cites his recent performances as Colin Powell in “Vice” and in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” noting, “I had so much fun, I’m going to be looking at more roles like that.”
Perry says he “never dreamed” of playing Powell, adding, “The first thing I did was call him because there are very few living African-American heroes and he’s one, and I wanted to be sure this would honor him. He was so gracious on the phone. He sent me his book, I sent him mine, he texts me now and then.”
As for the critics to his works, Mr. Perry says he learned long ago not to listen to their noise.
“Let me tell you what happened in this very theater,” he says. “I had two critics who sat in the exact same row and watched ‘Madea Goes to Jail.’ They both saw the same play, they both gave very different reviews. One talked about how amazing and wonderful it was, the other said it was the worst thing he had ever seen.”
He added: “This is people’s opinion and there are people who listen to people’s opinion, and they’re valid and valuable opinions. But to me, when I happen to stumble upon one, I look for: what is the truth in this? And what they don’t get. You saw the audience, you see the engagement and the reaction. I have a shorthand and communication with them. So if a critic says ‘why is this-and-this-and-this-and-this happening, he doesn’t understand the people I’m targeting.”
If Tyler Perry has any reservations about retiring his beloved Madea, it’s because of that that very audience. “I know what it means to people. It’s church, it’s vaudeville and where else can they get that experience?”