Oprah Talks to Tyler Perry
TP: Instantly. And I think the reason a lot of people don't want to have that kind of confrontation is that once that anger is gone, you're faced with, "Do I continue to thrive on the negativity? Or do I make the shift into what is going to work for me now?" I had to make that conscious choice.
O: Well, that was a miracle. That was a holy moment for you. What is your relationship with your father now?
TP: It's very respectful. I helped him retire a few years ago. But we still can't have a conversation, because all I get are tears. Tears and shrugging his shoulders. That's about as much emotion as he can give.
O: So you've tried to talk?
TP: I've tried to get as much information as I can, because I don't know him.
O: I believe in being respectful because that's what the Bible says you're supposed to dOprah: Honor thy father and thy mother. But do you hold any resentment toward him?
TP: I can't walk up to him and throw my arms around him and say, "I love you, let's go fishing." Honoring him is doing what he did for me. He took care of me. He made sure we ate, we had shelter. So I give him the things he gave me.
O: Yes. And then after that phone conversation, after you released all that negativity—the next time you did the play, it succeeded.
TP: The very next time. March 12, 1998. I had made the choice to do this last show. And this time there was a line of people around the corner trying to get in the place. From that moment on, the houses have been sold out everywhere.
O: What's the most people you've played to in a weekend?
TP: About 55,000.
O: When you first realized that people were showing up, did you think that was it—you'd made it?
TP: No, because then I was afraid every day that it was going to end tomorrow. You know the feeling.
O: Yeah, I used to think that same thing every time someone else came out with a new talk show. But let's get to Madea. I heard that you originally weren't even going to play her, that it happened by accident. Is that true?
TP: No. I was going to do Madea. The accident was that it was supposed to be a very quick five-minute scene, but when the lead actress didn't show up, Madea ended up onstage the entire time.
O: Do you love her?
TP: What she does for people gives me great joy. What she's done for me, yes. But as far as, you know, actually doing it every night, it's pretty much a pain, wearing the fat suit and talking in that high voice for hours.
O: Let's talk about how she came to be. She's a combination of your aunt who came to the house with the gun, and your mother.
TP: Yes. The softer, more sympathetic side is my mother. 'Cause I would often say, "She will beat the hell out of you, then turn around and offer you some pie and a Band-Aid or a ride to the hospital."
O: How was Madea created?
TP: I have to thank Eddie Murphy, 'cause after I saw him do the Klumps [in Nutty Professor II], I said, "I'm going to try my hand at a female character." It was the brilliance of Eddie Murphy. I need to write him a check. Say thank you.
O: Do you remember the exact moment she came to be?
TP: Absolutely. There was a sold-out house at the Regal Theater in Chicago, and five minutes before the show, I put on the costume and stood at the mirror for the first time. I'm saying, Damn, are you really going to do this? Then the show started and I had no choice—they pushed me out onstage. Madea had a cane and she didn't talk very loud and her voice was much deeper and she sat in one spot the whole time. But after a while, I finally had to move. And when I moved there was laughter. And then I said a joke, and it was funny. I wish I had that first night on tape. It was pretty damn scary. But at the end, man, there was a standing ovation.
O: For her?
TP: For the show, for her, for me.
O: But she got the loudest applause?
TP: Yeah. And I was blown away. I'm 66 and a man. I'm thinking, "Who knew?"
O: Who decided that Madea should become a movie?
TP: I did.
O: You weren't scared to make a movie?
TP: No, because I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I just saw all those people coming out to the plays.
O: By the time you did that first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, you'd been doing the plays how long?
TP: Eight years on the road.
Next: Tyler talks about taking on iconic material for his new film and what he wants for his future