Tyler Perry, 'Madea's Witness Protection' Star And Director, On Fractured Audiences And Why He Was In 'Star Trek'

On average, Tyler Perry's movies have grossed aproximately $23 million domestically ... on opening weekend alone. This average is a number that recent bigger budget films "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer," "Rock of Ages," and "That's My Boy" would have been thrilled with earning -- and Perry manages to succeed at a fraction of the cost.

Sure, Perry has a comfort zone. He knows what movies his audience will enjoy -- like this weekend's offering, "Madea's Witness Protection." And he has a comfort zone when it comes to press, granting few interviews and keeping his private life very private.

Perry will leave that comfort zone, however, something he seems more and more willing to do -- whether it's directing "For Colored Girls," appearing in J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," presenting at the Tony Awards or starring in "Alex Cross." On Monday afternoon I met a game Perry in a hotel room on Manhattan's west side to talk about a wide ranging host of topics: From the future of Madea (as long as you keep showing up, he's still going to make them), to why he thinks "The Cosby Show" would fail on network television today, to his appearance in "Star Trek" and how that directly coincides with his upcoming role as Alex Cross.

Eugene Levy is the main character in your movie? Why Eugene Levy? Only because I have never thought of you two in the the same sentence before.
Are you kidding me? I was sitting down at dinner with a friend of mine, we were talking about the greatest punishment for a Bernie Madoff was to have him move in with Madea. That's where this whole concept and this idea came from. I said, "Man, I have to write that movie." And I was thinking of who I could get to play this Ponzi scheme, crooked guy. And Eugene came up, but I couldn't see him as a crook; I could only see him as gullible, nice and fell into it. But, that's where it came from. And when he said, "Yes," I was beyond excited.

What did you like him in before? Did you watch "SCTV"?
He's brilliant.

I'll admit, if even "Armed and Dangerous" comes on TV, I'm in.
Yeah, yeah. He's fantastic. "Bringing Down the House," or looking at "American Pie." I mean, come on. The guy is just beyond brilliant.

Marla Gibbs and John Amos are in this movie.

I used to love watching "Good Times" in reruns and watching "The Jeffersons" in primetime. This got me to thinking: I grew up in the suburbs of the Midwest, yet three of my favorite television shows were "The Jeffersons," "227," and "The Cosby Show." Is the audience now so fractured that those shows couldn't get on network television today?
[Pauses] That's a very good question. That's a very good question. I think what is happening -- "fractured" is such a great word. I think all of the audience has been divided in so many different places. It would be interesting to see someone try and do another "Cosby" or try and do a show like that in this time.

Could "The Cosby Show" succeed today? The same show on NBC on Thursday nights.
I don't think it would. Because these are the days of reality shows. And people don't want the kind of positivity that was on "The Cosby Show." So, if you look at the reality shows and the things that are going on, people don't want that type of positivity anymore.

You mentioned someone trying to do another "Cosby." You're Tyler Perry, you can do anything you want, have you thought about that?
Listen, "House of Payne," I'm beyond grateful and excited about. It's second only to "Leave it to Beaver" in the number of episodes. The audience is fractured, as you said, so it's a smaller audience, but the loyalty is undying. So I get to do all of those same kind of wonderful messages that they had on "The Cosby Show," in "House of Payne."

I interviewed Jaleel White last year and he was upset about the number of episodes "House of Payne" gets to shoot and feels "Family Matters" has a claim to this argument.
Yeah, I heard him say a couple of things about that that weren't too nice. But, yeah. Yeah.

Obviously Madea has a big audience. And maybe I'm reading too much into this, but does casting Eugene Levy and Denise Richards open the character up to an even expanded audience?
You know, that's a great thought. It's always a great thing that you want to hire people who have an audience that follows them. But, that wasn't my thought process. This is the story I want to tell and these are the people I'd like to be in it.

So I read too much into that?
Yeah, but it's OK because I think a lot of people have and think, What are you trying to do? Is he trying to cross over? This is the story that I want. Just like in "Family That Preys" with Kathy Bates, which was five years ago. It's just the story I want to tell.

What's the future of Madea? I only ask because, again, you're Tyler Perry, you can do whatever you want. Do you still want this story to be going in ten years? Is there a grand plan?
There is no grand plan. Madea's life is in the hands of the audience. Period. Because I think it would be ridiculously unfair for me to just walk away from it when there are millions of people who love and adore what this character has become. So, her life is literally in the hands of fans. As long as they want to see it and show up for it, that's great. The minute they stop coming, that old broad is going to retire to some far away place. Her and the boots and the muumuu and the wig and everything else, I'm going to bury her somewhere. In the Smithsonian, or something.

At the same time, you have "Alex Cross" coming up and you've already done films that are a departure for you like, "For Colored Girls." Will we see you try more prestige type films in the future, along with Madea?
Well, what I've found with this audience is Hollywood is uncomfortable if you do more than one thing. It makes everybody uncomfortable because you're only supposed to drive in one lane. But, I'm not that type of person. So, I don't know why I can't do several types of things.

Who's saying that you can't?
Absolutely. Who's saying that I can't? But the rules are set up that you only survive in one lane. But, you know.

But you're the exception to that rule. You've survived quite well in every lane you've been in.
Right. So, for me, what I want to do is what I feel. I don't want to feel obligated to, "I can't do one thing because I'm doing another."

Are you a Trekkie?
You know, I didn't know very much about "Star Trek" at all.

It's not just that you were in "Star Trek," the Vulcan salute is also in "Madea's Witness Protection."
[Perry forms the Vulcan salute with his left hand] I became more of a Trekkie after the "Star Trek" movie, yeah.

How did you get approached for that?
J.J. Abrams. I just got a call for the part. A small part. "Would you like to do it?" I'm like, "How long is it?" He's like, "Well, it's going to be about a month." I'm like, "Hmmm, can't do that. Is there a smaller part?" He said, "Well, there's one that's three weeks?" I'm like, "What do you have for one week?" That's how that worked out because I wanted to see if I could work with another director. And I wanted to see the process because the only time I'd ever done it has been on my own set. It was really great.

I'll never forget the audiences reaction to seeing you in "Star Trek" in the theater that I was in. It was overwhelmingly positive.

You mentioned Hollywood rules that are set, but when you break them, sometimes people do like that. In that situation, people liked it.
Right. Well, when you break it, you have to do a really good job. That's why I'm excited about "Alex Cross."

So, you did "Star Trek" to see what it's like to work in a different production. Now with "Alex Cross," you're the main character, but you're not the director. How has that experience been for you?
There are three things that allowed me to do that. One is doing "Star Trek" and knowing that I could work with another director. Secondly, "Good Deeds," my own film where I played a serious character -- and those two things showed me I could do "Alex Cross." The most difficult thing for me is hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of downtime. That is torture.

Which you don't have on your productions?
No, I don't have the budget to, or the time. Or would want to. I don't want to be on set from six in the morning until seven in the evening and still have not shot. That makes me crazy.

So do you like acting under another director?
I love the acting, I love the process, I love becoming the character. I've seen the movie and it's fantastic. I love the finish of it. But, yeah, that downtime thing, we've got to talk about that.

Are you worried about stepping into Morgan Freeman's shoes? It has been some time.
And not only that, I wasn't trying to.

So it's a different take?
Totally different take. Because the character is sensitive and vulnerable and a SOB all at the same time. And I had fun being all that.

You play multiple characters in your movies, were you a fan of "Coming to America"?
Are you kidding me? Eddie Murphy is the man. Eddie is brilliant, man. The only reason Madea was born is that I saw "The Klumps," -- "The Nutty Professor." I had been playing the old man character, but I saw him doing the old woman character and I said, "Let me try my hand at it." Had I not seen him do it, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. Eddie is beyond brilliant.

You two should work together.
He's underrated and very brilliant, but he's also Eddie Murphy. So, that would be depend on Mr. Murphy. I'm totally open to it, but that would definitely depend on Mr. Murphy.

Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

Tyler Perry Movies