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Tyler Perry’s more than 40 films; his past and present deals with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN and Viacom, respectively; and his relatively new 330-acre Atlanta filming complex, which made him the first African American to fully own a major film production studio, more than prove his power as an entertainment mogul.
Yet, for those who have worked with the multihyphenate on his ever-expanding media empire, his latest release, the dark Netflix thriller A Fall From Grace, is an illustration of not just how the writer, producer, director and actor has mastered his style. It’s evidence that still has more places creatively to take himself and his audiences.
“It does move his library forward — the way it was shot, the filters, the look, the artistic direction, our sets and all of that,” executive producer Mark E. Swinton told The Hollywood Reporter at A Fall From Grace‘s New York premiere Monday night. “The look of the film is unique, and it’s a new diamond. But what’s great about it is that it’s still a Tyler Perry story.”
His first collaboration with Netflix and set to drop Friday, the second thriller in Perry’s catalog was written before his 2018 Taraji P. Henson-led thriller Acrimony and was filmed at his Atlanta studio over five days before Christmas. At Monday’s premiere, Michelle Sneed, another executive producer and president of production and development at Tyler Perry Studios, said that this latest project was yet another example of the entire team’s efficiency and mission.
“I think that we have one of the best crews in the business that I completely stand by,” Sneed told THR on the red carpet. “And it was quite the feat, but we’ve known each other for a long time. We are like a family, and we’ve had our presence in Atlanta for 25 years now, which makes a difference.”
For Perry, A Fall From Grace was familiar narrative territory that he wanted to “take up a little bit,” while still adhering to his signature production methodology. “We have a shorthand,” Perry said before the screening of his new film. “While it takes people in Hollywood seven days to shoot one episode of a primetime drama, we shoot two in six to seven days. I just have a crew that does the impossible every day. They work closely with me, and we pull it all off, so it’s really amazing.”
Matthew Law — who plays Jordan Bryant, a police officer and husband to Bresha Webb’s leading character Jasmine Bryant — says the experience was intensive, but it was also a privilege. The actor appreciated being able to work with Perry on a film he said the writer-director was “clearly passionate about” and on a set where “every shade, and creed, and color and language” was represented. It’s something, Law noted, that is not typical of most Hollywood studio setups.
“The stereotype is that using a black built production is slow,” Law said. “That it’s secondary, that it’s subpar. And so to see this world-class production — not see because we know it already — but to be a part of it, it’s so rewarding.”
Law, along with two of the film’s leading women Webb and Crystal Fox, said that the project’s exceptionalism extended beyond the production process and was present from the moment they read the script.
“The script blew me away, but it was also juicy,” Fox told THR at the premiere. “I was in my house reading it to myself going, ‘Ooh! Ooh.’ It was hysterical, but it also made me think, which then made it even richer for me to dig into, to plant my seeds, and to not be afraid of going deep with my character.”
A film that both fully embraces and transcends the standard “thriller” label, A Fall From Grace had to tackle quite a bit in the script to deliver this final product. At the premiere, Perry explained to THR how he navigated writing his latest film’s multitude of themes and character arcs.
“I don’t really know how it’s going to lay out until it’s laid out,” Perry said. “I do something called dissociative writing…so I write from a place of I let the characters speak to me in my head, and then I’ll chase down their motivation to answer, well, ‘Why do you say that? Why do you say that?’ and then that starts to unfold the story.”
Co-starring Oscar nominee Cicely Tyson and Perry, A Fall From Grace follows the recently divorced Grace (Fox), who, with some convincing from a friend (played by Phylicia Rashad), opens herself up to a handsome stranger, Shannon (Mehcad Brooks). But her whirlwind romance goes from dreamy to full-blown nightmare overnight, and soon Grace finds herself awaiting trial for his murder. Her one hope is Jasmine, an increasingly dispassionate public defender who has never tried a case but who is slowly reminded by Grace of what — and who — she is fighting for.
“The dimension is what I loved about this script and the character,” Webb said. “It’s hard for many writers to create black women that can have the strength and the softness that we show in our normal lives. But in so many other realms of characters and for other women, they get to show those layers of who we are, so I’m so thankful that I get to be a part of an experience and character with this effect.”
In a genre that can lack diversity, A Fall From Grace features a heavily female black cast who not only lead its story, but explore multiple facets of black women’s experiences, from their professional to their personal lives and across age and socioeconomic lines. It’s a depth only furthered by the film’s messages around abuse, trust and the inequities of the criminal justice system.
“There’s so many things to take from this, so many, but one is that we have to reform the criminal justice system. We call it the department of corrections, but we’re not correcting anything. We’re punishing people,” Brooks said on the carpet. “But another thing people should take from this film is to trust your gut. There are many forms of abuse. Some of it is physical, some of it is verbal, some of it is monetary. But if you feel like you’re being victimized, you are. So trust your gut.”
Law also warned that audiences shouldn’t get too comfortable with where they think A Fall From Grace is heading.
“I thought that I was seeing a pattern that Tyler was writing and that we were going to drive through, and it would emotionally resonate, but to find that it kept twisting and turning — it was exhilarating and bold,” he said of his first read of the script. “Some people have said that the trailer gave the whole thing away, but that’s what is funny. It has so many kinks in it, [the trailer] doesn’t even scrape the surface.”
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