Media mogul Tyler Perry is as good as movie gold. His latest film, Madea Goes to Jail, held the top spot at the box office and grossed more than $68 million in just two weeks. "I'm just so excited that the country is getting the opportunity to laugh," he says. "I think that's what the success is about. People just want to release."
Tyler himself plays Madea, and he says he takes on the strong female lead as a tribute to the women who have affected his life. "I think there's no greater form of flattery [than imitation]," he says. "The people who have most influenced me are women."
Tyler says his mother and his aunt are the inspiration behind his title character. "Madea is the PG version of them," he says. "I kid you not!"
Though Tyler says he's thrilled Madea Goes to Jail is doing so well, he tries not to pay attention to the box office predictions or ratings. "All I wanted to do—especially right now, with everything that is going on in this country—is make a film that we can go out, laugh, forget about it for an hour and a half and enjoy ourselves," he says. "So that's what was important to me—to see that so many people saw it, to see that it's doing very well, means that I get to make another one."
When it comes to movie reviews, Tyler says he avoids them at all costs. "I sat in a show at the Kodak Theatre, and there were two reviewers in the same row, both saw the same show," he says. "One loved it; one hated it. Great review in one paper; awful review in the next. And I knew that it was about experiences."
Tyler has a gift for making audiences laugh—but he also has a gift for making his friends smile.
In the summer of 2007, Tyler went to Oprah's house to show her his upcoming film, Why Did I Get Married?, and his white Bentley convertible caught the attention of Oprah and her best friend, Gayle.
After the screening, Tyler, Gayle and Oprah had lunch at a place called Molly's. "Gayle's going, 'Oh, you should get this car,'" Oprah says. "And I go, 'I don't need a car, because all I do is go to Molly's.' So we drive in Tyler's car to Molly's, and I thought that was the end of it."
On Christmas Day, Oprah found a surprise in her driveway. "There is the car!" Oprah says.
Inside the Bentley was a note from Tyler that said "Now you can go to Molly's in style."
Oprah immediately called Gayle, who in turn called Tyler to thank him for doing such a nice thing. "Oprah's so generous to so many people, and it's very rare that anyone can do that kind of thing for her," Gayle says.
The day after Christmas, Gayle found her own surprise in the driveway—the same car! It came with a note thanking Gayle for her friendship. Gayle's car was supposed to come on Christmas but got delayed. "I could not believe it," Gayle says.
Gayle says she ran to call Oprah right away—to say she couldn't keep the car. "It's not like we're boyfriend and girlfriend," Gayle says she told Oprah. "We're not even boinking! We're just really good friends."
"And I say, 'You're not boinking him—I'm not boinking him either!" Oprah says. "If you give back the car ... I'd have to give back the car—and I'm not giving back the car!"
"This was a couple years ago, before the economy went to where it is," Tyler says. "For this Christmas they both got phone calls saying 'Merry Christmas!'"