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Tyler Perry Is Ready to Cede (Some) Control

"My plan is to relinquish to a lot more directors and writers," says one of Hollywood’s most hands-on auteurs, whose Atlanta-based studio is celebrating 15 years of culture-changing projects.

Inside one of the 12 soundstages on Tyler Perry Studios’ 330-acre Atlanta grounds, its namesake producer churns out episodes at a dizzying pace for his TV empire — seven shows and counting at ViacomCBS. It’s not unusual for him to bang out a full 25-episode season in fewer than three weeks, a feat made all the more baffling by the fact that Perry still writes and directs nearly every episode by himself. But the 52-year-old, who plays an equally major part in his robust film slate and has a thriving career as a for-hire actor, is considering loosening the reins. Speaking on the occasion of the studio’s 15th anniversary, one that comes two years after opening the impressive production compound that’s booked solid for the next few years, Perry said that pulling back a bit will only be in service of even more growth.

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You’re someone who can film a season of television faster than anyone else currently working, so is it safe to assume you’ve had a busy day?

I just finished directing for half of the day. We’re in season three of my show Bruh. I usually take the rest of the year off [after a season], but because they’re burning them up on BET, we had to re-up early this year.

You are the volume guy.

I’m the volume guy for about three or four more years. My plan is to relinquish to a lot more directors and writers to take over a lot of these shows that I’ve started. So yeah, for sure.

You famously don’t have writers rooms. What does relinquishing look like for someone with that much creative control?

It’s going to be more of me overseeing, rather than doing the hands-on work. For the past six weeks, I was in the mountains. I wrote 72 episodes of television — just me in a room by myself, sitting out there, looking at the moose and the mountains. I treat it like a job. Every morning, after I work out, I start writing at 7 and don’t finish until 7 in the evening. I do that every day until it’s done. I love it. And I love directing for 12- or 15-hour days. But I realize there’s so much more that I could be doing if I were to hand some of the other stuff off — rather than doing it all myself.

I’ve always wondered how you plow through when you’re not feeling creative. An entire economy would shut down if you had prolonged writer’s block.

I think that’s generous. (Laughs.) If you look at the DGA and a lot of unions, they credit what we’ve done here for having the most diversity of any place. And I do know that would affect a lot of people if I weren’t doing all that I am doing. But I also don’t get writer’s block. That comes from childhood. In my pain, in my abuse, I was able to disassociate and go into another world and see all these beautiful places in my mind. When I’m writing a script, I access that place and I can create those worlds pretty easily. I’m sure psychologists could tell you what that is … I don’t know.

The opening of the new studio facility in 2019 forced a lot of people in Hollywood — some of them maybe for the first time — to recognize all that you’ve accomplished. Do you think your relationship with the town has changed?

Hollywood has never been a goal — to fit in or to be a part of it. To have the last few years [of honors] at the Oscars, the Emmys and the star on the Walk of Fame, I was very moved and pleasantly surprised by it and thankful for it. But it’s never been my intention.

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“Working here has afforded me to not have to pay attention to what’s going on in Hollywood,” says Perry, who produces (clockwise from top) BET’s Sistas, Bruh and House of Payne in Atlanta. Sistas, House, Bruh: Charles Bergmann/BET/Tyler Vision, LLC.

Your speech asking people to refuse hate at this year’s Oscars, when you won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, got a lot of attention.

Oh, for sure. I had the most beautiful conversation with Bradley Cooper that really moved me. I still think about it now and I get emotional. Maybe one day he’ll share it, because I don’t feel like it’s mine to share. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people in the country are worried about where we’re going. What we’re seeing, on so many levels, it’s frightening. I think about all the vitriol, all the hatred. Everybody’s grabbing a corner, a color and a flag, and nobody’s wanting to come to the middle to solve issues. That’s just a very dangerous place.

For a lot of us, a reason to retain some optimism is seeing what happened in Georgia during the last election. What’s been your experience living and working in the state as the spotlight shifts there?

The beauty of Georgia, Texas and Florida and all of these great states, they’re going to outlive us, our politics and politicians. Georgia being the home of Dr. King and his memorials was a place that I could thrive and be my best self. It nurtured me and gave me so much hope. Just the level of positivity of seeing Black people do well. That’s what I hold on to. That’s what I make sure is in the front of my mind, because every four years we have an election and things can change. Seeing what happened with the two people we sent to Washington [Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock], it shows you the power of what that is.

You’ve been credited with setting an industry standard for COVID-19 protocols on set. A year and a half later, what’s still a frustration?

The scariest thing now is people who are not vaccinated. They have to test every day, and it’s almost 50 percent of my crew that are not vaccinated. It’s shocking to me, the level of misinformation that people will lean toward rather than lean toward people who are educated on all of this. It’s heartbreaking because I’m tired of seeing people die when there is a vaccine because they’re reading misinformation as truth.

Do you see it getting to a place where there’s a mandate?

At Tyler Perry Studios, you have to be vaccinated to work at my office and the company. But as far as individual productions, that’s a whole other thing. It’s not mandated for production. And I think that it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.

You still act in a lot of films you don’t make. Knowing how efficient you are with your own production budgets, do you ever look around on other sets and think, “I could make a hundred episodes of television for this much”?

You are not getting me into that conversation, buddy! (Laughs.) Here’s what I’ll say. Having a studio here, there are always major productions here [made by other studios]. I’m watching them reconstruct sets and build things. It hurts me to my heart to see millions and billions of dollars in pure waste. That, for me, is the most frustrating thing. I grew up in construction. I can build a house for $300,000. And then I see a production build something out of glue-on that won’t withstand weather and will be torn apart in three days — and they spent $3 million. It’s shocking to me that this can happen.

How is it that A Jazzman’s Blues and your next Madea movie are both going to Netflix when it seems like ViacomCBS would be wanting to distribute all of your work?

I did put the movie Nobody’s Fool with Paramount. Looking at the changes that are going on over there, I’m hopeful that it becomes a much different place. I would bring things in — and there was a slate and a time and a roster … I just never worked that way. I’m like, well, you can’t hold me to do this if you don’t have [room]. We took it to other places. A Fall From Grace was enormously successful for Netflix.

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Madea (Tyler Perry, left) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely, right) in A Madea Family Funeral. Chip Bergman/Lionsgate

It’s funny to hear you say that when creatives are constantly being asked to do things faster.

I can do three, four, six, eight movies in a year without a problem. Doing two a year for Lionsgate, I was twiddling most of the time. I have very, very high output. I just wrote a new show. I wrote it over the weekend, 10 episodes! We start shooting it next month. I’m just ready to go, man.

It is so impressive and maddening to hear that.

I’m sorry. I’m never thrown!

Who’s a creator in TV that you’re still completely enamored with?

Oh, Norman Lear, are you kidding me? I’m going to get arrested because I’ve been stalking him. I just want to meet him.

How have you never met Norman Lear?

Ain’t that something? I’ve got to really make that happen. Norman is an incredible talent … all of the things he was able to do and how he was able to do them. The brilliance of it is something that I’ve watched very closely.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for a morsel about working with Whoopi on Sister Act 3.

The script is being written, and I am the producer on it — not directing. We brought on an incredible director [Tim Federle] and Whoopi’s really excited. I think that this is just what the country needs. We need that feel-good moment in the movies where you go, “Oh my God, I left there singing.” That’s my hope.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.