Alex Cross follows the homicide detective/psychologist from the best-selling novels by James Patterson, as he comes up against psychopathic serial killer Picasso (Matthew Fox). This time, the story takes a younger version of Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) back to the origins of the character while the two men face off in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse that will push Cross to this edge of his moral limits. From director Rob Cohen (The Fast and The Furious, xXx), the film also stars Edward Burns, Rachel Nichols, Cicely Tyson, Carmen Ejogo, Giancarlo Esposito, John C. McGinley and Jean Reno.
At the film’s press day, actor Tyler Perry talked about what drew him to this role, what it was like to be an actor for hire, how it was to be so stripped down for a character, how he enjoyed learning Krav Maga, whether he’d consider doing more role like this in the future, doing the fight sequences with co-star Matthew Fox, and what his Madea fans might think of him in this film. He also talked about his partnership with Oprah Winfrey for original programming on OWN, how he feels about being a mogul, if he’d ever want to direct a big-budget movie, his biggest fears, and the fact that he’s recently met with J.J. Abrams about a possible project, but he will not appear in the Star Trek sequel. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
TYLER PERRY: First of all, when I heard Alex Cross, my ears perked up. Then, I heard Rob Cohen and they got a little higher. And then, I heard James Patterson, so I said, “Okay, wait a minute, I need to see what this is.” So, when I read the script and understood it, and even saw James Patterson’s description of Alex, he was describing me. I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s me!” It all came together, for this moment to happen. I didn’t think about it as a black lead, or as an African American man. I just thought about it as a great role and a great opportunity to do it, so I decided to do it.
As a director, you don’t usually have an opportunity to observe other directors at work. Was there something that you picked up from watching Rob Cohen? How was it for you to take off the director’s hat and just focus on the acting?
PERRY: I completely, 100% made a commitment to let go. When I said yes to it, I showed up as, “You want talent? You want work for hire?” That’s exactly what I committed to do, when I walked in. I’m good at giving up control to people who know where they’re going and what they want to do. I can sit in the backseat and ride all the way across the country, if you know where you’re going and you know how to take me there, and Rob was that kind of director. He knew where to go, he knew what he wanted, and he knew how to get there, so I just followed along. That was easy for me. It would have been a tedious process, had it been a director who was unsure of every situation.
Is it easier for you, when you only have to focus on one aspect of production, or do you get restless, not having to wear as many hats as you usually do?
PERRY: What I know about me is that, in order to lead, you also have to know how to follow. With this, I was working with James Patterson, who created this brilliant character, and Rob Cohen, who’s a brilliant director, and I had an opportunity to learn from both of them. So, for me, it was all about surrender and staying out of anything that I would do, and just be the character. It allowed me to just go some places I’ve never gone before, so I’m grateful for that.
PERRY: Well, me being on screen and having the opportunity to just focus in on the character, be the character, and experience all of his different levels and complexities, from the doctor to the family man to being sensitive to being a complete animal when he’s been wrong and has to track the killer. All of those things were quite intriguing to me. I had the opportunity to play and be all of those emotions.
How was it to be so stripped down, for this role?
PERRY: When I said yes, there were certain things that made me say yes to the role – James Patterson, his description of Alex Cross and Rob [Cohen] directing. When he told me he wanted me to be raw in it, he also suggested Krav Maga and I liked it enough to keep it up. I had to trust him. It’s always been easier for me to have a costume and have something to hide behind. Here, I had nothing. It was challenging and a bit frightening, but usually that’s when I’ll take things on. If there’s a bitter fear, I’ll challenge myself to go as far as I can. So, taking the shirt off was a bit scary, but it’s okay.
Alex Cross is a family man with good character, but then he becomes seeped in vengeance. What was it like to develop the character and really get into that?
PERRY: I think every one of us, in life, have some sort of moment that has happened that we wish we could have done differently or that we wish could have had a different outcome. What I did, in preparing for those moments, was think about those things. A lot of it was rooted in past relationships, childhood situations, business deals, or things that I’ve gone through that I’ve learned from. There were many times that I’ve had to tap into my own experiences to be able to get to a place where I could convincingly become that character, in those moments, with the intrigue and the revenge and the fight back. It’s not me, by nature, but I think we all have a bit of it in us. I just had to find a way to tap into it.
What did you think of having to learn Krav Maga?
PERRY: It is the most intense, most amazing work-out that I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I kept it up, after the movie, because when it’s all done, it’s so relaxing. Being able to know how to defend yourself was really cool. It was Rob’s idea that I start taking it, for the movie, and I fell in love with it. It also helps me keep my weight down. It’s really intense, and I can kick some ass. I’m getting there!
Was working with a budget like this a more luxurious situation for you than what you’re used to?
PERRY: Because he had three times [the budget] that I have? Yeah. But, what he managed to put together with this movie, at that budget, is really astounding to me and he should be applauded for it. As I watched it play back, it looks like a big, huge $100 million movie. I think he did a fantastic job.
PERRY: I have some of those ideas, but I know my lane and I know it very well. Being on the Alex Cross set, and watching and learning about and paying attention to everything that was going on there, I realized, “Here is a moment for me to learn.” So, until I learn and understand more about how those types of films – action and sci-fi – are done, even though I have a desire to do it, I won’t go into it until I’m very clear that I can do it, and that moment hasn’t come yet.
Would you like to do more roles like this, in the future?
PERRY: It depends, and I’ll tell you why. I really committed to being this character. I spent a lot of time with the Atlanta police department, with their homicide and cold case [divisions]. I was really involved with some things that I don’t do, in my day-to-day life. So, after it was all over, I had to check in with myself to see how I felt about it. When you take on something that dark, you really have to commit and go into some dark places. So, I would consider it, based on how far I would have to take my mind, myself, and my body, soul and spirit into that type of world, before I do it again. The only way to do it right is to go in and try to understand it, as much as you can, and that’s not always comfortable.
Did you take anything from Morgan Freeman’s performance, in the previous Alex Cross films, Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls?
PERRY: I did watch both films. When they first came out, I remember seeing them both. But, that’s Morgan frickin’ Freeman. You don’t try to do anything that Morgan Freeman does. He was the voice of God in a movie. That’s Morgan Freeman! I knew, going in, that I could not try to be Morgan Freeman, playing Alex Cross. I had to be the best Tyler Perry that I could, playing Alex Cross. So, in that sense, I tried to forget everything I saw and just go in and be the best that I could with it.
Did you talk to him about taking over the role?
PERRY: I did not. He’s the voice of God, man! I’m not going to call him up and say, “What do you think?” I did not speak to him about it, but now that it’s all over, after he sees it, maybe I will.
PERRY: We practiced and rehearsed the fight sequences. We worked with the stunt people. We went over them and over them and over them. We were on the catwalk for the scene in the Michigan Theater, which was beautiful, and we were doing the fighting, and I kept feeling, within myself, that he was too close. So, I wouldn’t commit, all the way, to the turn. And Rob was going, “I really need you to just go in there and do it.” I was afraid to completely let go because the Krav Maga training was really amazing. I just had major issues because I didn’t want to hurt him. And this happened twice, once with [Matthew] and once with the waiter in a scene. Early on, Rob said, “You know, man, go in there and try to save your wife. I know the waiter. He’s a stuntman. Just go in there. If you knock him out of the way, you can save her.” So, I said, “Okay,” and I ran and knocked the guy out of the way, so I could try to save her. After the scene was over, Rob yelled, “Cut!,” and everybody was quiet. The head stunt guy came over and said, “Hey, man, that’s my son. You can’t hit him like that!” So, I was like, “Damn, all right, fine. Sorry!” And then, here I was, months later, in the scene with Matthew going, “I don’t want to hurt him!” He kept pushing me and pushing me and pushing me, and I finally just let go. He came around and turned and was too close, and the elbow came around and hit him in the temple and he spun around. We were on the catwalk and I grabbed him because I thought he was going over. He turned around and said, “What happened?” That was it, for me. I had to leave the set, after that. I didn’t want to be that committed to it. But, he was a good sport about it. He didn’t turn around and kick me. He was a good sport.
Your own films have a very strong moral core to them, but Alex Cross goes to some very dark places, over the course of the film, and his morality is somewhat more flexible. Do you feel like your previous core audience will see this film as being in the same moral universe as all of your own films, and was that a factor in choosing to do it?
PERRY: I think the audience will be very clear that this is different from anything that I’ve done before. My audience is pretty smart. They understand that this is an acting role for me, that was something that I wanted to do and was something that I didn’t write, produce and direct. I showed up as work for hire. I think that, as they come and see it and understand and appreciate it, they’ll take it for what it is.
PERRY: As far as my audience goes, the great thing about my audience is that, even though there’s an association with me, with the character Madea, there’s also an association with Good Deeds and Why Did I Get Married? They’ve seen me in other roles before, and supported them, to that degree. I don’t think there’s going to be any resistence to it, once my audience is made aware of it. We’ll see what happens from there. They’ll be the judge of it. I’m pretty sure there will be a portion of them that is excited and looking forward to it. I may lose a lot of the grandmothers who come out after church, but I’ll do something for them, a little later on. It’s all about evolving, growing and trying something different.
Did you find that Madea informed Alex Cross, in any way?
PERRY: Let me just tell you, Madea doesn’t live with me, all the time. These are two very different, very specific characters. I don’t think there’s any part of her in him, and I don’t think there’s any part of him in her. It’s just me being a character actor, taking on both roles, as best I can and trying to be as convincing as I can, in both.
Having worked with her before, how was it to work with Cicely Tyson, in this capacity?
PERRY: I had nothing to do with her being cast or hired. I was very surprised, elated and happy that she was. To have an opportunity to work with her, when I wasn’t directing her, and to have dialogue and words opposite her, with the legend, class and grace that she carries, it was mind-blowing for me. That was a great moment in life, for me.
With this movie, do you feel like you have turned a corner and that things are just wide open for you to do whatever you want to now?
PERRY: I don’t know if it’s wide open. I think the audience is going to determine whether it’s wide open or not. But for me, what I’ve never wanted to do and I’ve never allowed for myself, is to be put in a box. I try to do a lot of things. This is just a step in trying to do something a little different. So, we’ll see how it goes. I’m under no delusion that this is a slam dunk and an automatic shoe-in. I did the best that I could, and that’s all I can rely on, right now.
PERRY: I’ve been doing television with TBS for quite some time, and it’s been a great journey. Oprah [Winfrey] and I have been talking, from the beginning of her starting the network. She knows that I am going on to my own network. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to partner up and, not just do programming, but actually become partners in the network, so that I could take the moment to learn, as I’m going into my own network. It’s a win-win because I get an opportunity to give her what she needs, which is programming, and at the same time, I get to learn what it’s like to run a network. So, it’s a win-win situation that I’m very, very excited about. I think that it’s going to do really, really well. I don’t know if it’s as much of an evolution, as just I’m doing what feels right and what feels natural, and trying to walk the path. As opportunities are presented to me, I’m carefully evaluating and taking them all in.
What sort of programming will you be doing for OWN?
PERRY: Just like Alex Cross, it’s going to be something a little bit like what I do and what I know my audience wants to see, and it will be a lot of other things, as well. I’ve got a few other ideas. I’m starting with a drama, which is something I haven’t done before.
In a business where there are fewer and fewer independent companies and more conglomerates, how do you feel about being a mogul?
PERRY: I didn’t create it and I didn’t put that on me. I don’t even think about it, actually. I’m just trying to be true to everything that I have going on. Everything that is in my head, that I want to do, whether it’s television or movies, I think that we all should be able to do what we want to do, how we want to do it. This was all born out of necessity. I wanted to find my a way to do my own version television and film. In that, I ended up being in this great position, which I appreciate and respect, but it is what it is. I never thought of myself as a mogul, but it’s really great to be in this position. Norman Lear is my all-time, ultimate hero. He’s an amazing man. That’s one person I’m looking forward to meeting. What he did, with shows and sitcoms, he’s my hero.
Madea belongs to you completely, but could you ever see a day where you pass the baton on to another actor?
PERRY: That old broad is going to die a slow, quick death when I’m done with her. She’s going to be buried with that dress, so I don’t think that will ever happen.
Could you ever seen yourself directing an Alex Cross movie, if the opportunity arose?
PERRY: No. My movies are simple stories, where you put the camera over there and tell the story. It’s about the audience wanting this type of story. The way that these [Alex Cross] movies are shot, the things you have to know and understand about action and camera angles, and all those things, I’m not there yet. Maybe one day I’ll be there, but I don’t want to direct it. I enjoy just playing the character. Maybe I’ll enter a whole new realm in life, here.
PERRY: I’m a 6’6″, 260-pound man. I feel like I express myself, as an actor. Whatever the character is put in front of me, I try to bring truth to it, whichever way it lands. I try to bring as much truth to it and make it as believable as I can. I think that’s the job of an actor.
Many people believe that if an actor can do comedy, then they can do anything. Do you agree?
PERRY: Well, I think that an actor who can do both has to be careful about what they do, so they look like they can do anything.
What’s your biggest fear or phobia?
PERRY: It used to be flying, but I conquered that, so I don’t have that anymore. I’m trying to conquer swimming. I’m getting there. I’ve gotta conquer it. I had a fear of drowning and tunnels and flying. I started flying and got my pilot’s license, so I conquered that. Now, I’m onto swimming and tunnels. Putting me in that tunnel to run through was a complete nightmare for me to do that, but that was the beginning of me getting over it.
Are you going to be in the Star Trek sequel?
PERRY: No, I’m not in that movie. I just talked to J.J. Abrams, the other day, about something else.
Alex Cross opens in theaters on October 19th.