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Tyler Perry has yet another hit on his hands.
The actor-writer-producer-director’s latest film, Madea’s Big Happy Family, scored a solid $25.8 million at the domestic box office in its debut this weekend, including the best per-screen average ($11,255) of any wide release. [Read The Hollywood Reporter’s review here.]
Here are five things to know about the multihyphenate:
1. He had a tough childhood. Perry says he was verbally abused and violently beaten by his father, Emmitt Perry Sr., until age 19, according to CNN. One night, while his mother was out, Perry’s drunken father “got the vacuum cleaner extension cord and trapped me in a room and beat me until the skin was coming off my back,” said Perry, who was born Emmitt Perry Jr. but changed his name to distance himself from his dad. He also has said that his mother packed up the car with him and his sisters and drove from his birthplace of New Orleans to California trying to flee their father, but he reported the car stolen, and the family went to jail until he picked them up. Perry said his father beat his mother the entire way home. Perry, who also attempted suicide twice and later was homeless, has said he got through the hard time by turning to religion.
2. He started writing because of Oprah Winfrey. “I was watching the Oprah show one day and she said that it’s cathartic to write things down, so I started writing down the stuff that was happening to me,” he told Ebony magazine. “I started using different characters’ names, because if someone had found my journal, I didn’t want them to know I had been through that kind of stuff. That’s how my first play [I Know I’ve Been Changed] started, which features a character who confronts an abuser, forgives him and moves on.” Incidentally, he now counts Winfrey as one of his close friends.
3. Madea, his long-running character, was originally intended as a small role in one of his plays. Perry introduced audiences to his now wildly popular character Madea in I Know I’ve Been Changed; he’s now played the character in several movies, TV series and theater productions, but it wasn’t originally supposed to be a big role. “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,” he told Winfrey in an interview. He also said fans have Eddie Murphy to thank for the creation of the character: “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.”
4. He was nervous the first time he directed a movie. Perry first stepped into the director’s chair for 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion, but he said it wasn’t an easy feat, and now Perry — who taught himself to direct by learning “in progress” — can’t even watch the movie. Why? “Because I didn’t know that the cameras should actually move!” he told Winfrey. “The camera is the eye of the audience. But it’s all a part of learning, and I’m grateful for the journey, and I’m proud of the work — every bit of it. In every film, I learned something to propel me to the next level.”
5. He is in a long-running feud with Spike Lee. Perry has been embroiled in a war of words with Lee ever since the latter a year ago described Perry’s projects — including his TBS shows Meet the Browns and House of Payne— as “coonery” and “buffoonery.” Perry has fired back at Lee in multiple interviews, including one last week. “I’m so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee,” Perry said at a press conference in Beverly Hills, as reported by Box Office Magazine. “Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that. I am sick of him talking about me, I am sick of him saying, ‘This is a coon; this is a buffoon.’ I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies. This is what he said: ‘You vote by what you see,’ as if black people don’t know what they want to see. I am sick of him — he talked about Whoopi, he talked about Oprah, he talked about me, he talked about Clint Eastwood. Spike needs to shut the hell up!”
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